Tuesday night’s Van Alstyne City Council meeting resulted in positive decisions made for some business owners and negative votes against others’s business plans.
The meeting started with the Council sitting as the Zoning Board of Adjustments, weighing the pros and cons of two business requests for ordinance variances. The first had been submitted by the new lessee of the property on the northwest corner of U.S. 75 and FM 121, or Van Alstyne Parkway. This property is owned by a Whitewright resident, and now newly leased for three years to the requestee, who also plans to use it as a car lot, as it was previously used. However, the Council, after hearing comments, denied the request. The property must meet current codes, which include concrete paving and upgrade the facade of the office building there. That vote was Councilors Russell Moore, Billy Plake and Brad Clough for denying the variance and Robert Jaska voting to allow it.
The second request was approved, unanimously. This was for the property at 278 N. Dallas, currently zoned commercial and formerly used to house the Van Alstyne Leader. The owners, including Harold Slankard, were approved to separate and rezone this house from the smaller building setting on the same property. The house will be zoned residential, once all the replat is completed, and the small building will remain commercial.
During the citizen communication portion of the agenda, which followed, there were several business owners who expressed their opposition to several factors and obstacles concerning their opening businesses in Van Alstyne.
Gerry Shehan, a new co-owner of the Van Alstyne Medical Clinic, expressed his concern about problems he encountered when he moved the clinic to its new location on the northeast corner of U.S. 75 and Van Alstyne Parkway. He, and some others who followed, said he was met with non-helpful information and attitudes when he went to get his appropriate permits, mentioning City Manager Frank Baker in particular. When he tried to get the correct occupancy permit, Shehan said, “He (Baker) was adversarial, hostile and didn’t take any constructive criticism whatsoever.”
But, Shehan didn’t leave it at that; instead, he said that the city should create a welcoming pack, featuring a check-off list, for new businesses moving into the city, to reduce the trial-and-error method of compliance to all ordinance and required permits.
“It’s a laborious process, and I found out that one employee of the city may not know what another does know,” Shehan said.
Business owner Tiffany Clum, who encountered compliance obstacles last year with her store Upholstery Girl, said later that she submitted a written complaint to each of the Council members against Baker.
Still in the citizen communication section, Robert Young and Clint Murphy spoke about the difficulties they are having to be in compliance with city codes so that Young can move his business, Force Performers, from McKinney to Van Alstyne, using a building that Murphy owns on the U.S. 75 frontage road. Young said he went to the Economic Development Corporation in 2016, and the EDC is encouraging and helpful to his prospective move. He signed the lease for the 10,000 square foot building and has completed some improvements.
But now, Young said, a change in requirements he was initially given now require a fire suppressant system to be installed, which he said was specifically not required in the earlier phase of the process.
“March 1, I didn’t receive any advice from anybody at city hall about codes changing,” Young said. “I think this hits on what the first man (Shehan) was speaking about, a check list.”
During the citizen communication portion of any council meetings, city officials can only comment with factual information, and Baker said the city has adopted the 2015 codes.
“I think you did start this project before we changed the codes,” he said.
This exchange became heated.
“I now have a lease for a building that I cannot move into,” Young said. “I cannot hire kids from the community college, or help the community in other ways. I just want to build some turbos and Clint (Murphy) owns a great industrial park.”
Murphy was vocal about this situation too.
“Robert (Young) came to me about a year or so ago,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s Council or the city manager, but somebody is dragging their feet. It seems like the city has an attitude about new businesses coming in.”
Christy Bryant, the new owner of the now-closed hardware store in downtown, said the city and Baker have been proactive and helpful in her endeavors to remodel and make the historic building a worthwhile store again.