It’s not my nature to write letters to the editor, but I’m very disturbed about the events surrounding the recent petition drive for the City. Still, I want to say a few things, which may rub people the wrong way.
I was born and raised in Rockport and now serving on my fifth term as a City Council representative and Mayor Pro-Tem. Throughout my tenure I have never seen such friction brought on by inaccuracies and accusations exhibited by certain individuals, associated with a single Facebook page.
First, I’d like to address the negative comments made towards Mayor Rios, who I’ve known personally and professionally for more than a decade, and his predecessors. These are not “good old boys” – they’re dedicated individuals who moved to Rockport and chose to become involved in its future. There are no hidden agendas, desire for attention or financial gain to be made. The fact that Mayors Rios, Wax and Pearson were/are at the office daily, speaks to their character and devotion, especially since their annual salary is $4,000.
Secondly, many people claimed they weren’t aware of the Certificates of Obligation (CO) or the Downtown Anchor Project. They blame the City, but have not taken the time to read the newspaper, visit the City website, talk to their council rep or attend a council meeting in person/zoom.
Third, throughout this entire process, the group claimed the CO would increase City taxes claiming it was a 4% jump. In actuality, and as published and shared with the group, the increase is less than $3 a year for someone owning property valued at approximately $231,000.
Fourth, this sudden interest came about through the efforts of certain individuals under a single social media page. At first, it was solely directed at the County, but expanded to the City, as well. I find it interesting that some of the key players have demanded transparency from the City, but have chosen not to reveal that they don’t reside in or own property in the City. C’mon let’s think about this, they’re NOT even taxpayers shouldering any burden.
When all of this started, one of the individuals talked to members of City Council, staff, and consultants about the City’s Certificates of Obligation. He stated he was okay with the process and what was being asked and wouldn’t be pursuing it. Then, after the petition drive for the County was successful, he and the group set their sights on the City. When asked about his change of mind, the comment was that “others didn’t feel comfortable coming to the forefront so I’m doing this on their behalf.”
I think what bothers me the most is that I feel this group had an agenda and sought to place the blame elsewhere. I personally know of several outreach efforts made by the Mayor and City Manager inviting him and others to come in and talk about the issues, but they declined.
In closing, I want to reiterate how important it is for citizens to be involved in their government and to remember City Council meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at 6:30 pm. What’s equally important is that decisions should be made on facts, not hearsay or inaccuracies from an individual(s) who have no stake in an issue.
This past Friday, thanks to the city’s enlisting the aid of the AgriLife Extension Service in distributing the proposed comprehensive plan and the 2020 proposed future land use map (FLUM), I learned that our neighborhood near Aransas Bay in south Rockport is being targeted for rezoning within the next twenty years from R-2 to mixed use.
As you may know, the lots bounded by Live Oak, Austin, Market, and Second streets were rezoned to R-2 (single-family homes on 5,000-sq.-ft. lots) about 12 years ago. I don’t recall exactly what the previous zoning was, but it allowed apartments.
During those dozen or so years of tighter, more restrictive zoning the neighborhood has blossomed. Previously empty blocks have filled with houses, sparsely developed blocks have seen houses built on empty lots. Texans from the Hill Country and elsewhere have invested their precious capital in the belief they were buying into a stable neighborhood with a bright future. Playing Ping-Pong with zoning is in no one’s best interest.
The rezoning proposed by this plan is akin to a large, nefarious, destructive camel poking its nose into our tent. I realize that adoption of the plan would not automatically rezone our neighborhood, but it would substantially lower the threshold for rezoning. In the future, residents objecting to rezoning would be informed, “But it is the Comprehensive Plan.”
Mixed-use zoning is clearly a direct threat to a vibrant neighborhood. Why would someone from Austin or elsewhere contract for a new-build house or buy an existing house knowing that, the next month, the neighboring property could be developed into a boutique, a restaurant, even a bar?
The comprehensive plan calls for expanding the old downtown, the Heritage District. That district is filled with empty lots. Surely there is sufficient supply to accommodate any foreseeable development over the next two decades. In 20 year’s time perhaps the old downtown will need to expand. But that expansion can be done organically, methodically. Allowing leapfrog development as far south as Second Street, next to someone’s beach house, is not a recipe for success.
With warm regards,
John D. Fulton