Ah, good ol’ Boerne local government went and surprised itself yet again by trying to sneak a giant monstrosity CVS drugstore onto the corner of River and Main. You know, the most visible intersection in the entire town. The entrance to our entire Historic District and currently the most congested intersection in town. Yes, that one. It was found that because of our insane zoning regulations in this town, the CVS could theoretically smack their big box corporate drugstore smack dab into the middle of Historic Main Street.
So, of course, the citizenry has lost their collective minds. I’m not sure if many of you will remember, but this very little column was started by blowing the lid off Mad Money Mike $chultz’s Taj-Mah-City-Hall after he had worked TIRELESSLY to hide the project from public view, and similarly, the populace went more than a little nuts when its cover was blown, and for good reason. However, the bad news is that when confronted with an overwhelming backlash against the project, including a legal petition to stop the construction, $chultz and City Council holed up at the Dodging Duck poring over legal documents until they found a loophole, which they did, and congratulations – you are now paying for a new $20m City Hall that you didn’t want and actually petitioned against.
So, what do you think is going to happen with a proposed CVS? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that the entire thing could have been avoided. I’ll tell you how.
I’m not a smart man and have never claimed to be one. I get frustrated with this article from time to time because I feel like I’ve made some common sense suggestions to our beloved City leaders (and some ridiculous ones, too), but I get pushback with this eternal excuse of “our hands are tied.” I grind my teeth when they tell me this. Traffic isn’t their fault, it’s TxDot. The bad roads are because of budget cuts. That new giant shopping center that we put in a beautiful pasture right next to a neighborhood was because “nobody showed up to our meetings.” Taj-Mah-City-Hall is for future generations, even though this generation didn’t want it. Sign ordinances are for the public good, but did you know that Buc-ee’s just got a sign variance for a giant neon lit sign? It’s this eternal conversation of talking out of both sides of their mouths. Frankly, it sucks.
But, because I’m not a smart man, I realized that there were probably things that I could learn, so I hit the books. I discovered that Boerne is governed by what is called a Home Rule Charter. Any town over 5000 people in Texas can vote to be governed by this law, and it sounds pretty good in practice. It is defined as, “The right to local self-government including the powers to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals, and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt. Home rule involves the authority of a local government to prevent state government intervention with its operations. “ Pretty straightforward, huh?
As I continued reading, this is the Zoning section from our very own Home Rule Charter:
Section 7.01 Planning and Zoning Commission
Consistent with all applicable Federal and State laws with respect to land use, development and environmental protection, the City Council shall: 1. Establish a Planning and Zoning Commission to carry out the planning function and such decision-making responsibilities as may be specified by ordinance; 2. Adopt a comprehensive plan and determine to what extent zoning and other land use control ordinances must be consistent with the plan; and 3. Adopt development regulations, to be specified by ordinance, to implement the plan.
So here’s what this very not so smart old man has ingeniously come up with to solve the revolving door of zoning madness that the City subjects us to and will preserve our disappearing natural beauty and resources. Are you ready? I mean, this is seriously good stuff. It’s pretty complicated, though, so stay with me. Here’s the plan:
Zone appropriately. Plan ahead.
Whew, that was tough to come up with, but that’s the entirety of my plan as DIRECTED upon our City leaders by our own Home Rule Charter. This is the very plan that they are working tirelessly to avoid implementing because (in my opinion) it removes the decision making from THEM. How can they cherry-pick which developments they want on which piece of land if ALL the land is zoned appropriately? Ah, but you see, there’s a catch – MOST of our properties in our area ARE already zoned appropriately. MOST of it. So you see, the City Council is taking the existing zoning, used as the foundation to create the town that you see, and the one that you love, and is then accepting the Zoning requests to alter the zoning to something so that Mr. Developer can build an amazingly bland high-density strip center and then they act completely confused when they hear the collective groans from the population. These zonings are often decades old, and again, they are the cornerstone of why we have the town that we have.
So if MOST of the City is already zoned correctly, how do we fix things?
Well, I said MOST. Things like this CVS deal are just comically stupid that our zoning regulations are so lax that, in theory, CVS could even dream about building in the middle of a small town’s historic district. What about the empty lot right behind CVS? You think that is “zoned correctly”? Not a chance, and then we will all freak out when a damn Arby’s picks up the lot and our City Council shrugs their shoulders and says “Gosh, not our fault.”
Back to my solution: We fix things by assembling a citizen led panel that will sit down and review the zoning for all lots in the City. They will attempt to maintain green space, residential areas, walkways, and even some beautiful pastures. It will be hard, but a citizen led panel could do a pretty good job. Then when they are done, we, the citizens would approve it. And then we would print out the Home Rule Charter from above and force the City Council to memorize this section: “Adopt a comprehensive plan and determine to what extent zoning and other land use control ordinances must be consistent with the plan; and 3. Adopt development regulations, to be specified by ordinance, to implement the plan.”
If they followed the above, would we even be having this conversation?
In all fairness, I can understand how growth happens and when Ol Miss Johnson dies and leaves her 12 acres on a crazy busy intersection, it probably makes sense to allow it to go commercial and approve the request to re-zone such a property. However, what about the hodge-podge that is now Old San Antonio Road? What about 17 Herff? Did you see that 12 Herff is now wanting the same zoning as 17 Herff? Do you want a CVS on River/Main? What about the insanity that is happening across from Wal Mart? Do you see how important the zoning is?
I will say a 3rd time that I’m a brilliant soul, but I can read and I can think. My plan is: Develop a plan. Follow the plan. That’s it. As a sidenote, I’ll add that 2008’s RUDAT study (which was basically the City’s vision for what the town should look like) has been completely ignored as the Council now feels that it’s “out of date”, so they are actually attempting to put together a citizen led panel to begin thinking about “the plan”. I just read this proposed plan, which is set to be implemented at the end of July. In the Future Directions chapter, I think I counted the use of the word “consider” approximately 22,893 times. Consider new zoning. Consider ways to conserve water. Consider new recreational opportunities. Consider ways to preserve green space. The next chapter, Plan Implementation, is not complete as of my writing, but does anyone really think that the City leaders can get their arms around new zoning needs for the entire town BEFORE the entire town is developed? I don’t. We’re going to “consider” things until there’s nothing left to consider.
So my question is, “What will be left by the time you’re done?” I’m serious about that question. Please remember that in 2008 the economy tanked and development slowed big time. We knew growth would come, but I can safely say that nobody thought it would be coming at the speed it’s coming now. If we act like “typical government” and have no urgency, we are going to have a mess of town as the lots are selling right and left, and our Council is approving their re-zoning right and left as well.
We need a PLAN. Bad.
Disclaimer: This is just my standard statement that I always feel obligated to throw in because I think that our City Council is full of some great men and women. I sincerely do like them as individuals and I think that they have a tough job. I think that they drink the Kool-Aid too much sometimes, but I know that they live here too and that counts for something. I do wish that I could sit behind each of them at Council meetings just to womp them on the head, but apparently my request was turned down.