Anyone craving a plate of Fuzzy's Tacos will have to wait to get their fix. The eatery and other investors looking to set up shop in downtown Stephenville were stalled by a split vote by the city council Tuesday.
The vote was issued on a proposed amendment to the city's zoning ordinance to include a DT "Downtown District" classification.
The creation of the district would have exempted specified businesses in the downtown area from parking regulations that some believe were created to address parking at newer, sprawling developments that have space to spare and available land to increase their parking capacity when needed.
The proposed ordinance says the DT classification is "intended to encourage redevelopment of the original township, which includes the historic courthouse, offices, retail businesses and residences." It also states the land uses permitted by the classification are "compatible with existing uses to preserve the integrity of the area and deter urban deterioration" while providing interaction between retail, service, residential, government and public use.
The area in question is a perfectly square, 25 block area, in the heart of the city bordered by Green Street, Floral Avenue, Long Street and Barton Avenue.
Most of the area currently falls under the Central Business District classification, which comes with attached parking regulations that require dedicated parking facilities within 300 feet of the businesses they serve and one parking space per every 200 square feet of floor area for many retail establishments and one space provided for every 50 square feet of private club space.
The problem, as pointed out by Mayor Nancy Hunter Tuesday, is that almost every lot in the downtown area is land-locked, allowing no space for parking lot construction. Many of the properties which are currently unoccupied do not offer adequate parking for businesses that have already expressed interest in moving into the city, like Fuzzy's Tacos.
In speaking to the issue on Wednesday, Hunter said the proposed zoning amendment is simply an effort to promote economic development and revitalize the city's center and county seat.
"Exempting businesses in the downtown district from providing onsite parking is not intended to create any undo hardship on customers," Hunter said. "It is intended to attract new businesses to the area in order to increase growth and development downtown. There is simply not enough space downtown for every business to provide their own parking. Because of this, we are losing potential businesses to other cities. Under the DT District ordinance, patrons will be able to park in any available public parking spot."
On Tuesday, Hunter said current parking in the downtown area, including the city lot across from City Hall and spaces lining city streets offer parking accommodations and more. She said increasing foot traffic would add up to increased exposure for downtown businesses, which would also help promote the local economy.
Meanwhile, Dell Burdick, vice chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, shared further insight on the issue. He said the current zoning regulations and requirements have "created buildings that are now unusable."
"That is why there are vacant buildings in downtown Stephenville," Burdick said.
Burdick also said that the establishment of the DT District is something that has been on the drawing board for many months, and joint work sessions between the council and P&Z offered plenty of time to voice concerns.
"Mayor Hunter had the foresight to ask for the establishment of a downtown district two years ago," he said. "Planning and Zoning has been working on this issue for some time. There have been multiple joint work sessions and public hearings. This issue was not rushed at all, council members had time to review the (current and proposed) ordinances and raise their concerns."
Moreover, Burdick said the motion to delay approval of the ordinance, made by council member Alan Nix due to parking angst, contradicted what a council member should be fighting for - the best for the city and its citizens.
"They say they care, but they are not willing to do their homework and put forth the effort," Burdick said. "They are not doing the best thing for the city of Stephenville."
At the meeting Tuesday, Nix said it is the city's burden to provide parking and once parking is established, businesses will follow. He also said the council has failed to address the need for adequate parking and should consider adding public restrooms and possible traffic control measures to forthcoming discussions.
"We need to be careful to not adopt something that we are not fully prepared for," Nix said, making the motion to table the vote for further discussion, which was seconded by Don Zelman.
In providing an example as to how the city could be impacted by the establishment of the DT District, Burdick pointed to other nearby cities that have flourished for years, offering visitors an array of retail shops, museums, entertainment, restaurants and more with limited parking. Take for example, the city of Fort Worth.
"Parking is a nightmare in downtown Fort Worth," Burdick said, adding that despite the walk to and from parking garages and parking fees, people still flock to the heart of Cow Town. "Downtown Fort Worth is thriving."
The same could be said for Granbury's less populated center.
Hunter said a great deal of effort has been put into improving the east side of the city and into the downtown area through the construction of the Bosque River Trail, the extension of sewer services to the east and through the support of other projects.
"When visitors enter Stephenville from the east, those measures are readily apparent," Hunter said. "We now have a fabulous hike and bike trail that is being heavily utilized. Once the Oxford House move and renovations are complete, it will offer another beautiful attraction to the existing museum grounds. And there are business owners in the downtown area who have already taken the time and money to make improvements - they have an invested interest in this issue."
Despite the delay, Hunter said she is pushing to have the Planning and Development Committee meet on the issue as soon as possible so it can be taken back to the full council in April for another vote.
"The Planning and Zoning Commission, city council and city staff have worked on this proposed ordinance for quite some time," Hunter said. "I am hopeful it will be passed at the next council meeting."