City Seeking Grant Funding To Improve Mine Road
The Planning and Zoning Commission Monday recommended zoning of the old Thermo mine property as heavy industrial, despite communication from multiple area residents who are opposed to the idea and an online petition in opposition to the zoning change.
Tuesday evening, the City of Sulphur Springs also authorized the city manager to apply for grant funding to improve the old Thermo/Luminant mine road.
Mine Zoning Proposal
A public hearing was conducted Monday, Sept. 21 during the virtual City of Sulphur Springs Planning and Zoning Commission meeting regarding the city’s request for the 4,857-acre former Thermo/Luminant mine property located between Highway 11 and FM 1570 to be rezoned as heavy industrial.
The city-owned property, annexed into Sulphur Springs city limits on March 3, 2020, was not brought in with a zoning designation at that time. The property was previously utilized for heavy industrial use while a coal mine operation from the 1970s moving forward, and has potential to be used for industrial purposes in the future, city staff stated in their recommendation for the zoning request.
“There’s a rail. The KSC line comes right through and there are a couple of 7,000-foot spurs that come off from that,” Tory Niewiadomski, Community Development Director, said. “That will probably be where the actually industrial development happens. As we move forward in the future, we can rezone different tracts of the property out there.”
Most property near railroad tracks in the city limits are zoned heavy industrial, Niewiadomski said. However, zoning the mine property as heavy industrial does not mean that’s all the property can or will be used for, however, the community development director pointed out.
“We are putting that as placeholder on the property for now,” Niewiadomski said. “We hope that there are parts of the property we can use. … There’s talks about having some of it as parks, which that can still happen. Heavy industrial just give us a lot of flexibility.”
If the Economic Development Corporation were to invest in the area for development, it would have to be for infrastructure and industrial purposes. The EDC is already in discussions with some businesses to potentially relocate on the property.
If one of the businesses chooses to relocate there, the development would essentially double the city tax base, according to the city manager. Those funds could then potentially be used for much needed infrastructure improvements and repairs such as streets, water and sewer, according to the city staff.
Niewiadomski acknowledged that not all of the 7 1/2 mile property between FM 1870 and State Highway 11 will be “developable.” There are some areas due to the way the land was mined in the past that are not suitable to sustain construction of structures on the land. Luminant is still in the reclamation process required by the Railroad Commission for some parts of the property as well. Area H, which has a lake and tall hill, has been identified for potential recreational uses. However, it is “still under bond” until 2027. Utility infrastructure is also limited on the old mine property, which will “dictate where we have mine development.”
If the city were to attempt to develop every developable part of the property, doing so would likely take generations due to the sheer size of the property and the cost, which would be $30-$40 million, according to Niewiadomski.
The city doesn’t have split zones on the property; the survey for the full property alone when the city began attempting to purchase the land cost $65,000. Surveying smaller areas within the property and identifying them for specific uses at this point would be be costly as well, the community development director told the P&Z Commission. The city will look for potential opportunities for the property use over the next few years, and conduct additional zoning at that time as needed, Niewiadomski said.
P&Z Commission member Pat Chase asked what the setback from the other properties was previously when the mine was in operation, and if that transferred to the city in the land deal.
“The mine had an internal policy of 100 feet from the state right-of-way. It was their own policy,” City Manager Marc Maxwell. “No, that’s nothing that would transfer. That was their own internal policy.”
Response to Notification Letters
Niewiadomski told the P&Z Commission Monday night that 102 certified letters had been sent out to owners of property within 200 feet of the mine property. By Friday, 10 people had replied, 7 in opposition of the mine, 2 indicated they were undecided and 1 was in favor of the zoning designation. On Monday, they received 12 additional comments in opposition to the mine.
“Most of the people who live out there like the quiet country lifestyle. They like having the wildlife that’s abundant on the property,” Niewiadomski said. “They feel that having heavy industrial uses would increase the noise and traffic, which would negatively affect their property values. I think some of this is fear of the unknown of where this industrial activity could occur.”
As far as potential impact a zoning change would have on nearby property values, Niewiadomski said, “This rezoning alone does not affect property value. As many properties in Hopkins County are not zoned.”
Others, the community development director reported, expressed concern that the designation would require their property to become annexed, then, subject to city taxes. The only area annexed was the mine property; the March annex did not include any other property. Those living around it are still county residents only.
“The city cannot unilaterally annex property anymore based on the 2018 Legislative Amendments,” Niewiadomski stated. “What that means is that any annexation which occurs in the future will be voluntary and property owners will have to petition the city in order to be annexed into the city. This particular zoning designation would only apply to the city property. So we’re not adding county residents.”
Niewiadomski pointed out that the county residents will still have many benefits of living in the county, including not having to pay city taxes or have to follow city zoning rules and regulations. They also are close to city amenities. That, he pointed out means, that while the city cannot tell property owners outside of the City of Sulphur Springs limits, that also means those individuals also can’t tell the city or their neighbors what they can and cannot do with their property.
Any major changes to the property would require approval of Sulphur Springs City Council.
Some, he added, have the false impression that the property was gifted to the city for use as a park. That was not the case, city staff reported.
“The property was not donated to the city on the condition that it was going to be used for a park. This is something that the city has identified as some potential uses, recreation and opportunities for this 5000 acre site — 7 1/2-square mile. Just by rezoning this property, it does not change the outcome of what happens on this property in regards to parks and recreation,” Niewiadomski said.
Zoning Change Petition
The city also received from Change.org website information regarding an online protest with 214 signatures, that included individuals’ names, city of residence and date they signed the petition. Some protesters listed Sulphur Springs addresses and the rest listed addresses for other cities in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and California, Niewiadomski told the Planning and Zoning Commission Earlier this week.
Started by Jennifer Moon 2 weeks ago, the online petition alleges:
City of Sulphur Springs is trying to turn land on Hwy 11E from FM 1870 to FM 2560 into Heavy Industrial instead of Parks and Recreation that like they originally stated they were planning to do. This zoning will allow big companies, factories and who knows what else to ruin the peacefulness of where we live, take away homes of Deer, pigs and other wildlife that have been living in the area. They are trying to do this with only letting the people that live within 200 ft of the property and keeping it quiet from the rest of the people in the area, including the people over 200’. One solid argument is that this cannot be voted on by the people it affects due to it being city and not county. The citizens of Sulphur Springs (inside the city limits) will be able to vote the outcome for us without us (county citizens) having any rights or say in the matter. We, as county citizens are not allowed to vote on city ballots. We need your help in opposing this plan to ruin the peace of the country and disruption of country wildlife. I agree with factories and jobs, including the expansion of Sulphur Springs, our hometown, but not in our front yards.
“I don’t believe only those who vote on city ballots should be able to decide the outcome of something that will drastically affect the people in the county who cannot vote,” Betty Bettes of Cumby posted 2 weeks ago on the website.
“I believe that the people that live around this should be able to vote . Are you willing to buy them out if they want to sell due to this plan?” Melissa Gammill of Sulphur Springs posted.
“I’m signing because my home is within 200 ft. of this property. This will affect our property value, our country views, and the wildlife that calls that area home. When the city acquired this property, it was presented to the citizens as something that could be used for recreation and enjoying nature, not as a possible money-making venture!” Cheryl Blount commented.
Clay Bartley who has a Yantis address posted a belief that “residents in the area should have a say in what is happening!”
Jeff Moore and Gail Boles indicated they understood the land had been gifted to the city for parks and recreational purposes. Jamie Pearsall comments an understanding it had been designated for the latter purpose as well.
“I am signing because Sulphur Springs needs to be a part in the best use of our natural resources, including a bird sanctuary at the Thermo Mine Property,” Jeannie Pearsall posted on the website petition.
Comments During Public Hearing
One caller said she doesn’t care what the city does on the old mine property but does not want heavy industrial traffic entering and exiting and entering the property at State Highway 11 east. She said her family’s property spans to SH 11, where it’s already hard enough to get onto the highway due to traffic. She said she too thought the property had been designated for parks and recreational uses, and didn’t want to see or have heavy industrial crossing family land.
Maxwell said in all of his discussions with the EDC regarding proposals for the mine property, the entrance to the property has always remained the same — on the county road off FM 1870 and College Street.
He pointed out that the area has been for heavy industrial use for the last 40-plus year, and consideration would be given to surrounding properties during development
Jennifer Moon, a SH 11 east residence, also called in during the public hearing to voice her opposition to zoning a 5,000-acre property as a heavy industrial zone.
A State Highway 11 resident asked if there would ever be an opportunity for people who grew up next to the mine to purchase any acres of the property?
Niewiadomski said those interested would need to visit with city officials, with those determination to be made on a case-by-case basis.
A County Road 2307 resident said there a children on that street and any 18-wheelers would be using that road to enter and exit the old mine property. Maxwell said that would not be a good route from the property, so he does not anticipate large vehicles using CR 2307 to access the former mine property. The preferred entrances are by the overpass and another from just off of College Street.
A caller asked about the status of two large ponds dug by the mine near her property. Niewiadomski said those are still retained by the former coal mine owners. They are part of the 40-50 acres of the former mine area that are not in the city limits, according to Maxwell and Niewiadomski.
Ricky Orr, a CR 2307 resident whose yard faces the large hill, asked about the pond in Area H. Maxwell noted that 400 to 500-acre area has been designated for future recreational purposes as a park. That area is still under reclamation by Luminant and not expected to be available for use for 10 about 10 years. After reclamation is complete, the area has to “sit for 8 or 9 years after that.”
P&Z Commission’s Response
P&Z member Pat Chase said the property in now city-owned and under “responsible ownership” as opposed of some other potential options that could have occurred, such as becoming a landfill or a hog farm.
P&Z member Matthew Mattison asked Maxwell if the city official had any preliminary estimates for the tax benefit the land use could have for the city?
“It’s tough to say at this point because we don’t really know what kind of institutional investment we’re going to have. But, I can tell you the EDC has been speaking to a couple of companies that would like to relocate over by the railroad tracks. I can tell you that if one of them decided to pull the trigger, it would nearly double the tax revenue of the city. And, the other one, not quite as much but still would be huge. I say that, but for every 50 that will come and see us, 1 will land. We’re seeing lots of interest from some big companies,” Maxwell said.
Mattison made the motion to move forward with the request to zone the old mine property as heavy industrial. The motion was seconded by P&Z member Tommy Harrison and receive unanimous approval of the commission.
Sulphur Springs City Council during a special meeting Tuesday night approved a resolution authorizing the city manager, or his designee, to act on behalf of the City of Sulphur Springs to prepare and submit an application for $2,976,960 from the Economic Development Administration Program Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance Program, including CARES Act funding.
According to City Finance Director Lesa Smith, the city has the opportunity to apply for the EDA Public Works grants throughout the year.
“This has CARES Act funding with it. I did speak to an EDA grant representative last week and he did say wee would qualify based on the things that have happened in the economy in regards to the pandemic,” Smith told the council during the meeting, conducted via Zoom and streamed on YouTube.
The CARES Act funding allows an 80/20 match, which gives us up to a $3 million grant amount whereas if we only did a Public Works grant we would only be eligible for $1 1/2 million. The CARES Act, given the amount of funds available, time is of essence to from what we are hearing from EDA and and our ArkTex as far as trying to get this going,” Niewiadomski noted.
If granted, the funds would be “used to engineer and construct roadway into the old mine property to provide heavy truck access as an intended Industrial Economic Development Property that is located at FM 1870 Southeast of downtown Sulphur Springs approximately 3-miles from I-30.”
The project we would help pave 2 miles of concrete road going into the mile, starting at FM 1870 and going into mine. Funding is tied to economic development of some sort. This would provide opportunities for industrial development in the mine. Without road, it will be harder to attract economic development, according to Smith.
Sellers asked if the proposed paved road would follow the established road that lead from FM 1870 into the mine headquarters.
Maxwell said there are two haul roads, one that spans east to west and the other that spans north to south. The intended road would be on top of the existing north-south road, across the railroad tracks then go onto FM 1870
“So there would be a new entrance out on 1870,” Niewiadomski said. “Rather than follow the curve parallel to the railroad track, once it crossed the railroad track it would go straight to 1870. So, it would be a shorter distance.”
The council gave unanimous approval to the resolution to submit the grant.
A public meeting is scheduled to be held at 5 p.m. on Sept. 28, at 5 p.m. at the City of Sulphur Springs City Hall, 201 North Davis St, regarding the matter. For more information, contact Tory Niewiadomski at 903-885-7541. “Written comments must be received at the City of Sulphur Springs City Hall, 201 North Davis Street, Sulphur Springs, Texas 75482 or email [email protected] on or before Monday Sept. 28, 2020.