By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
A proposed amendment to the Form Based Code (FBC) was the catalyst for some minor debate at the most recent meeting of the South Padre Island City Council.
Development and growth on the Island is guided strongly by the City’s FBC, which delineates sections of the City and outlines everything from appropriate color schemes to the type of business or residence that is allowed. New and existing businesses must seek the City’s approval before making improvements or changes to their properties to ensure that they meet the guidelines within the FBC.
Such was the case with a car wash business located within a section of the City designated as a Town Crossing zone that encompasses, among other things, City Hall and the movie theater, Island Cinema.
The Council was set to approve, as part of the consent agenda, the second reading of an amendment that would allow the car wash to make upgrades and expand their services. Previously, the business had received the approval of the City’s Form Based Code committee, though the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) committee still had reservations.
Councilwoman Alita Bagley, too, voiced concern with approving the amendment to the Code. “It may not seem like a big deal, it may seem like a small issue, but it’s not. It’s going to affect the long term, long range of the development of this city,” she said.
Bagley spoke of the FBC’s purpose as a long term guide for the City and her concerns that multiple revisions to it would negate its effectiveness. “When we developed the FBC and we’re looking at years down the road, 5 years down the road, 10 years down the road, even 15 years down the road this is where good city planning comes in. You have to look to the future and you have to set standards of what you want your city or your town to be in the future,” she said.
“When you make decisions based on the short term goals then you lose that long range of what the vision is going to be for your city,” she continued. She urged the Council to take more time to consider the amendment.
Mayor Barry Patel disagreed, saying that adhering too strictly to the borders that outline the different City zones could be an example of poor city planning, as well. “I have a problem with the transition zones being so rigid. I think we have to have some flexibility to allow for transition zones to move up and down or sideways,” he said.
“There’s a transition in the transition and so, for that reason, I think it’s bad city planning to be stuck on a particular area and then hope, just hope, that something will happen there to make your dream or your plan for that area come true,” he said.
During public comments on the subject, Planning and Zoning Commission member Russell Judah spoke of his reservations regarding the amendment, as well. “We spent half a million dollars getting someone to tell us what we should do,… and now it appears that if you have a special situation you can break the Form Based Code and do doggone anything you want to do,” he said.
“I think you ought to take a more serious look at it,” he said.
After some more discussion amongst Council members, Patel called for a motion and the FBC amendment was approved.
Another item of much discussion was a public hearing regarding the City’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. While the Council was not set to take any action on the budget, they did open the floor to comments.
Vic Sprecher, of the City’s Beach Patrol, came forward to plead with the Council to delegate more funds to the service. “SPI’s City Beach Patrol is understaffed, we’re underfunded and we utilize equipment that is terminal,” he said, describing how, of the Patrol’s three vehicles, only one is currently operational.
The Patrol is also unable to man all of its lifeguard stands, what Sprecher called ‘towers.’ Because of that, the Patrol’s response time to a call for help can be extraordinarily long, Sprecher explained. “It takes upwards of 45 minutes to one hour for a Beach Patrol team to drive by where your family is swimming,” he said, repeating the time frame for emphasis.
“That’s absolutely unacceptable. Once a swimmer finds his or herself in trouble, it only takes three minutes to drown,” he said. Sprecher mentioned the recent drowning of a Houston man on a City beach, saying an increased Beach Patrol presence may have prevented the situation. “Had we had a stand on that beach, or what I call a tower, that would have never happened,” he said.
Finally, Sprecher mentioned the disparity in funding for the City’s Beach Patrol in comparison to that of the Cameron County Beach Patrol. The County allocates $385,000 for its patrol to service 2.5 miles of beach, Sprecher said. The City, on the other hand, currently allocates $252,000 for the patrol of five miles of City beaches. Under the current budget proposal, that number would be cut to $210,000, he said.
“I understand budgets, but what is even more important is saving lives,” he said.
“Currently, we’re operating a really unsafe patrol in protecting all those visitors,” he said. In Sprecher’s estimation, the Beach Patrol would need a minimum operating budget of $542,000.
With public comments on the proposed budget concluded, the Council moved on to consider an increase of the tax rate. Patel made a motion to increase the rate by 7.84 percent. The motion carried, and the new tax rate was approved.
Though not an agenda item, during public comments at the start of the meeting Councilwoman Bagley addressed the Council in regards to an issue that has, in recent weeks, seen discussion in governing bodies and public entities across the Laguna Madre region: Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).
Bagley noted that the City has thus far not received any requests for support from any of the three LNG companies seeking to build export terminals along the Brownsville Ship Channel.
“I personally, as a resident of this town, and as a council member, as well, have a lot of concerns about the proposed development, mainly because I do not see a positive aspect for our island, rather I see a lot of possible negative outcomes that could happen here,” she said, adding that she submitted her personal opinions to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is currently seeking public comments on the three projects.
Bagley continued, saying she would be willing to add an item to discuss the projects to a future Council agenda and urged the public to make their own comments to FERC.
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