Comprehensive re-zoning talks move forward

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by A.C. Hall

Talks of establishing a commercial neighborhood zone within White Settlement moved closer to becoming reality on Tuesday, as City Council and the Planning and Zoning board further discussed the proposal.  This zone is being established in an attempt to capitalize on the 2014 opening of Hawaiian Falls.  The commercial neighborhood zone will stretch north from Central Park to the northern border of the city, while expanding east from near the 820 access road to Las Vegas Trail.  The zone will allow all existing residential to remain, but prohibits the building of new residential, instead putting the focus on bringing commercial into the city.

The first step in implementing this change and other zoning changes within the city will be taken this Thursday, Dec. 5.  The Planning and Zoning board will meet at 7 p.m. and hold a public hearing where anyone can sound off on these proposed zoning changes.  Following the public hearing, the board will consider adopting this comprehensive rezoning plan.  If it is passed, it will then move on to the City Council for approval at a later date.

City officials seem positive about the changes.

“We like to think we’re on the verge of a big step here,” Economic Development Director Jim Ryan said.  “We need some serious changes to move into the future.” Several in the meeting spoke about the commercial neighborhood zoning and the importance of instituting it.  Council member Danny Anderson spoke about the challenge of bringing businesses onto the limited land available to White Settlement.

“We have to do the best we can with what we’ve got,” Anderson said, saying the commercial neighborhood zoning is the way to do that.

City leaders once again put an emphasis on not creating hardships for those who live and own homes within the proposed commercial neighborhood zone.

“We do not want to create any pressure to sell,” Ryan said.

Mayor Jerry Burns spoke about the ability of anyone who lives within the zone to keep living there for as long as they like, saying it’s completely up to the home owners whether or not they choose to sell their homes to a commercial business.

One concern that came out of the last meeting about this matter was what happens if a home within this zone is destroyed through some occurrence such as a fire or a tornado.  Originally, it appeared that if a home was destroyed, it could not be rebuilt at all.  Council member Steve Ott was not in favor of that rule.

“If that owner wants to rebuild that home, he should be allowed to,” Ott stated.

Most in the meeting agreed with him, and staff will work with the city attorney to add this provision into the commercial neighborhood zoning rules.  It was also established that a home owner within the zone can pass the property down to heirs, and that homes within the zone can be sold to other people who will still use them as homes.

As these zoning changes prepare to go before the Planning and Zoning board and the City Council for official consideration, some other alterations were discussed. A removal of a 5,000 square foot maximum size limit for businesses coming into the commercial neighborhood zone seemed to have the favor of the room.  One board member felt like there should be some maximum limit on the size of businesses that can come into the zone, but Ryan cautioned against that.

“We at least want the opportunity to sit down and speak with them,” Ryan said.

Anderson got involved in the conversation, saying that existing ordinances will manage what a business has to do if it builds in the commercial neighborhood zone.  This includes having enough parking, sound and drainage considerations, and landscaping, all of which could help limit its impact on the neighborhood.

“We’re asking for the possibility of urban renewal,” Ryan added.

One board member voiced concerns that home owners’ property rights might be hurt by this new zoning. Ryan assured the member that there would never be any pressure brought by the city on someone to sell.  He went on to say that home owners may experience pressure from neighbors who want to sell, but that will be business between them and won’t involve the city.

Continuing talks about zoning changes, a new use was proposed called general retail that staff felt would simplify some zoning issues.

“The city could utilize this to help businesses wanting to come into the city instead of being so specific,” Building Official Kyle Reeves said.

Current uses were described as being too specific at times, which has made it difficult to find ways to fit businesses into areas.  Establishing a general retail use would make it easier to fit most retailers into commercial areas without having to find an exact match to the business within the approved uses for the zone.

One item that has been mentioned several times in recent months is the fate of the infamous red iron “building” behind Wells Fargo bank. This unfinished structure has been a thorn in the side of the city for over a decade, but talks are now being held about the possibility of an indoor storage facility taking it over.  The building would be finished, and then would be used for storage.  This use would generate better property tax numbers, and some sales tax when items left inside the building were sold off.

“That would be an ideal fit for that building,” Ott said.

This particular use would limit the need for a lot of parking, which is something that has hindered other plans for putting businesses into the space.  Most seemed excited at the possibility of finally having the structure finished, including council member Anderson.

“We’ll get rid of that monstrosity,” Anderson said.

The zoning categories for such a structure were discussed, but it appeared that an indoor storage facility is something that could work in the area.  Talks are ongoing with those wishing to bring this business to the city.  The zoning of the land around the base was also discussed.  With another Base Realignment and Closure on the horizon, some changes to the zoning in that area were brought up.  Better defining the land as an airfield, and making it clear that the areas around the base are set up mostly for industrial use and not residential or commercial could help make NASJRB look more appealing if it comes under scrutiny for possible closure in the BRAC.  Incompatible uses such as high capacity businesses or hotels surrounding a base can be factors that might sway the government when deciding if a base should be closed or not.

Extending commercial zoning down Cherry Lane to Clifford was also discussed.  Currently that area is zoned for industrial use, but council member Anderson voiced his belief that restaurants would like to come into those spaces to take advantage of the Lockheed lunch crowd.  Staff was instructed to look at bringing the commercial zone further down Cherry Lane so that restaurants could possibly build near the Cherry Lane/Clifford area.

Food truck regulations were discussed, with council member Clements wondering if some might show up in the city once some of the new projects like the Region 11 Service Center building open up.  He was told that there is an exhaustive process in place now for those to get regulated through Tarrant County and the city, but that they could revisit the process again at a later date if needed.

Anyone wishing to be heard on these matters should make plans to attend this Thursday evening, Dec. 5 so they can speak to the P and Z board and city leaders about these proposed changes.