City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday evening to rescind a resolution passed on Jan. 22 supporting a proposed affordable housing development on the city’s southeast side.
Four people spoke against the proposed 48-unit apartment complex that BETCO, a development company, wants to build on Galloway Drive during a public hearing that began just after 6 p.m. Tuesday. Each speaker lives near the area.
One speaker, Mark Watson, said he had noticed that not all low-income housing developments now in the city are full. That means there must not be as much demand for affordable housing as the developers have claimed, he said.
“Nobody there wants it,” Watson said of the people in his neighborhood.
Another area resident, Wally DeLaGarza, said he is concerned that the development might bring crime and other disturbances to the neighborhood. That is something area residents do not worry about presently, he said.
Another area resident, Carol Strickland, said she was concerned that an apartment complex near her home might affect property values and she chose not to move to another home a while back because a similar development had been built near the other home.
Les Ewing, another resident of the neighborhood, echoed what DeLaGarza had told the council. He said he does not worry about thefts, burglaries or other types of crime in his neighborhood now and was worried that those issues may become a concern if the project is allowed to be built there.
Councilman Mike Scotten spoke briefly, saying he had visited a BETCO development similar to the one proposed here in Mathis. The complex, if built, would be in Scotten’s ward. He also had spoken to Mathis Police Chief Hector Sanchez about the number of calls his officers had made to the development, Mariposa Gardens.
The chief reported that his officers had responded to 158 calls there during 2007 alone. Of those, 41 had been for disturbances. In addition, officers had responded to 15 criminal mischief (vandalism) calls, 10 assault calls, four burglary calls, eight theft calls and nine civil disputes.
In addition, ambulances had been sent to the complex 13 times last year.
“Average that out,” Scotten said, “and it’s every other day, more or less.”
Scotten said he had visited the complex and had found that the level of upkeep and maintenance at the complex was disappointing. “I was very unimpressed,” he said.
Councilman David Carabajal and Mayor Pro Tem John Fulghum both said they had visited a nearby apartment complex and had been assured that the management of that facility was against having a low-income complex built in the area.
Fulghum said he had received a number of phone calls recently from people in the area who were against the project.
Councilman Jimbo Martinez, however, addressed the need for more housing in Beeville and he suggested that the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission address the problem of finding suitable locations for affordable housing.
Martinez called the opposition to the development “a small part of a bigger problem and that’s the lack of affordable housing. We need to throw this back to the Planning and Zoning Commission.”
“I’m going to vote against it (the project) because you came here,” Martinez said. But he recommended that city planners find a way to allow for similar developments “so the city can grow.”
Commenting on the number of vacancies at other low-income apartment complexes, Martinez suggested that people are not moving into them because the apartments have been there a long time. He suggested that low-income people might move into newer developments if they become available.
“Low-income people have a right to have a place to live too,” Martinez said.
Mayor Kenneth Chesshir wrapped up the discussion by noting that “we’re here for the will of the people.” The mayor then closed the public hearing after making sure no one else had comments.
When Chesshir asked for action on the matter, Scotten made a motion to rescind the resolution that stated the council’s support for the BETCO project and its authorization for the developer to seek state funds from the Texas Department of Community Affairs HOME Fund to finance the construction.
Fulghum seconded the motion and it passed without opposition.
BETCO has contracted to purchase the five acres of property from Bee County. The development company has until the end of June to act on the contract. BETCO executives told commissioners they are attempting to acquire a grant to help fund the project and whether or not they get the grant may determine whether or not they go through with the deal.
Company executives assured commissioners that the complex would lease 85 percent of its apartments at market rates and reserve 15 percent as “affordable housing” for qualified individuals.
“This would be an affordable housing complex, not a low-income housing complex or public housing,” Precinct 2 County Commissioner Susan Stasny explained to the Bee-Picayune on Thursday. “Because it isn’t low-income housing or public housing, BETCO can be more stringent on who it leases to.”
One company official reassured commissioners that BETCO will carefully screen those who lease and stay in the “affordable” apartments.
The price the company is willing to pay the county, agreed upon in executive session, was not disclosed to the media. However, Stasny said the county is required to ask for and get the “appraised value or more” for the property.
Stasny said she has fielded numerous calls from individuals opposed to the sale.
“We’re getting hammered on both sides,” she said. “We had people calling us and telling us the county is in bad shape financially and has property it’s not using and that we should sell the property. Now we have a deal that falls out of the sky — we didn’t go looking for it — and we have people calling us and telling us not to sell the property. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
In other business, the council voted to:
— Approve a request from the Beeville Boys and Girls Club for $15,000 to help fund the club’s summer recreation program. The money had been included in this year’s budget.
— Authorize the city staff to finalize a list of streets to be seal coated this year, using $137,000 that had been included in the budget for that purpose.
City Manager Ford Patton said to have a contractor seal coat 46 blocks in the city’s southwest corner. That part of town, Patton said, was the last one scheduled for the work before its seal coating operations were suspended four years ago.
— Uphold a decision by the Building Standards Board to raze a substandard house in the 1000 block of West Crockett Street after the property owner failed to take advantage of a previous six-month extension of a demolition order approved the board in October 2005.
— Approve the first reading of an Economic Improvement Corporation budget amendment that would allow the city to use $30,000 to build a new drain field for the septic system at restroom facilities located near the Little League Baseball facilities at Veterans Memorial Park.
Councilmen also heard a report from John Heizer of American Electric Power regarding his company’s upcoming tree-trimming activities in the city to clear the company’s utility rights of way of limbs.
Heizer said 10 crews of trimmers will be in the city during the next several weeks conducting a “seven-year cut.” Heizer said trees have caused an increasing number of power outages recently and all residents will be notified in advance when crews are to be working in their neighborhoods.
He encouraged all residents to cooperate with the effort.