Discussion regarding Libba Land LTD’s request to rezone property north of Interstate 30 light commercial was the main focus of Tuesday evening’s Sulphur Springs City Council meeting. Three individuals and two couples who live near the property asked the City Council to consider denying the request, while City Council members sought clarity regarding the proposed development.
Sulphur Springs Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director Tory Niewiadomski noted Libba Land requested the northeast corner of the property north of I-30 at State Highway 19 be rezoned from heavy commercial to light industrial. That would allow the developer to construct a new CEFCO truck and travel center just west of Coleman Park. He pointed out that the developer did hold an informal neighborhood meeting in late spring, with only those living near the proposed site invited to attend, giving them time to pose questions and concerns before a rezoning application was submitted to the City of Sulphur Springs asking for the change.
When the application was submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission in May, city staff recommended the application for rezoning be approved as the applicant’s letter noted ways to address and alleviate any concerns voiced previously, with two stipulations. Niewiadomski said city staff recommended requiring property be platted in accordance with the rezoning request, 12 of 24.83-acres changed from heavy commercial to light industrial, and the items addressed in the letter with the April application be incorporated into the building process to include solid fencing to screen the center from residences, lighting be addressed for safety but not to cause light pollution for neighbors, and working with Texas Department of Transportation on traffic impacts. The Planning and Zone Commission approved the request in May on a 3-1 vote, with Pat Chase voting against the request. The P&Z Commission noted the request met zoning requirements, which is their task, then forwarded the request to the City Council for consideration.
Concerns were voiced by community members at the June 2022 City Council meeting regarding potential traffic issues, safety issues for children at the park and nearby residences, light, litter, transients, property values. Questioned was the need for another truck stop in that particular area; the south side where truck stops are currently located, doesn’t have residences as close by, including an addition for elderly residents, nor are Love’s and Pilot next to a city park where children play, City Council members pointed out. The addition of another truck stop/travel center on the north side of I-30 would likely cause even more traffic congestion in that area, especially for residents of Woodbridge Crossing. It was also pointed out during the June 2022 City Council meeting that truck drivers already have difficulty navigating the I-30/SH 19 south (Industrial-Hillcrest Drive) intersection and turn around in business parking lots and other properties where they should not be. While TxDOT is planning to redesign that intersection in the future, the local office was unable to give a specific timeline of when and what that will entail at the time
The City Council approved on first reading in June 2022 the Libba Land’s rezoning request in June 2022 on a 5-2 vote, with Place 7 Councilman John Sellers and Place 2 Councilman Harold Nash voting against the request.
In order for an ordinance rezoning the property to pass, it must be approved by the City Council twice. The request was presented again for City Council consideration Tuesday night, July 5, 2022.
Niewiadomski Tuesday noted the area behind the 12 acres would remain heavy commercial; the developer has not intention to touch the rest of the property on that corner beside and behind it. The developer has agreed to install a fence to shield it from other property. Since the last meeting, TxDOT has advised in addition to plans to realign SH 19 across from Woodbridge in a way that provides an outlet for trucks traveling north to make a U-turn and will move back the on/off ramps for League Street and Hillcrest Drive, to give motorists more time before approaching the interchange.
Place 1 Councilman Jay Julian asked what could potentially be placed on the property with the current heavy commercial zoning. Among the things that would be eligible for development on the property are nursing homes, grocery stores, car dealerships, hotels, a bowling alley, dance hall or other activities of that nature.
If a tiny home dealership were proposed for the site, it’d first have to pass the P&Z Commission as meeting city requirements.
Julian said he’d checked into some of the concerns expressed at previous meetings by citizens and address some of them.
City statistics pulled from the past 7 years do not support concerns that truck stops increase crime and vagrancy. Truck traffic has increased during that time as has all traffic as the area becomes more developed, the councilman noted.
Litter is a management issue for the business; when he toured the businesses’ stores in Mount Vernon and Paris, they appeared well maintained, according to Julian.
Danny Haywood, who lives on a street within Woodbridge Crossing neighborhood, said he’s driven around the loop and by the park. Trash, water jugs and other items litter the roadside, and some have been there for days, others weeks or longer, on Hillcrest Drive along the overpass.
Ken Mikos, whos property on Brandy Circle is adjacent to the proposed site, pointed out that while similar, convenience stores are different from truck stops. The two in the other cities are convenience stores. Truck stops/travel centers have constant truck traffic with extended parking and stays for trucks.
Joel Thomas, who also live on Brandy Circle near the proposed travel center/truck stop, pointed out that the plan calls for 70 spaces for truck parking. The facility in Mount Vernon does not offer overnight parking, he reported.
As for concerns a truck stop would negatively impact property tax values, the information he observed showed tax values went up 60%, not down, according to Julian.
Julian said he is of the opinion that there should be fewer government interventions, which requires some restraint. He feels the mission of the City Council, who serve the citizens, is to make Sulphur Springs a place where everyone wants to be.
“I will not support putting any industry next to single family homes or parks,” Julian said.
Place 3 Councilman Oscar Aguilar said looking at the drawing presented with the information, that it seems to him it’d make more sense to put a fence along the side of the property closest to homes rather than the pasture area behind it. Niewiadomski said they can require the fence to be put in if the zoning is approved when a plat request is submitted for consideration.
Aguilar also asked if traffic would still enter Coleman Park through Gossett Lane if the station is constructed by it. A gated entryway would likely go in north of the water tower, providing people on the north side of I-30 access to the park without having to drive around and enter from League Street.
Joel Thomas pointed out that while TxDOT may allow the business to install traffic lights, that does not mean it will happen. That would be up to the business unless it’s required in future plat or other permit requirements.
More than one resident expressed concern for the safety of children in the park as well as nearby back yards. Joyce George said while it is adults’ responsibility to monitor and watch over their kids, but expressed concern with so many in and out at a travel center/truck stop, it’d only take a quick trip inside to grab the phone for a kid to go missing. She asked the City Council to have compassion and empathy for those whose backyards the proposed truck stop would border.
Brandy Circle resident David Poskey said they’d heard his concerns previously and likely have seen his social media post regarding the matter in the last few weeks. At the top of his list are security for everyone in transit next to the park, which is already congested. He asked if people would be exiting at the Coleman Park entrance on Industrial Drive/Gossett Lane. He also questioned whether the business would be constructed first or if the traffic light and restructuring would come first.
City Manager Marc Maxwell asked the developer if they would be putting in the traffic light if the zoning request and project are approved. He affirmed, “Yes, we are willing to do it.” In fact, officials reported when initially approached about a light, TxDOT denied the request to put a light at the intersection.
Another traffic light across from Love’s also would be allowed by TxDOT.
One of the couples said they’ve lived in Sulphur Springs for 6 years, but have been considering other options for housing. If the truck stop doesn’t happen, they plan to stay. It it does happen, changing the scope of the neighborhood, they are looking to leave.
Niewiadomski said having a convenience store at that location could be helpful and convenient for people who attend tournaments and events at the park.
Place 5 Councilman Gary Spraggins lobbied in favor of granting the zoning request. He sees a business near the park that offers services of a convenience store as an asset as opposed to a detriment to the city. The business could sell goods to people who come from all over the state to play or watch their youth play in tournaments at Coleman Park. He said residents in the area, who already live just off the busy interstate should already be used to the noise and lights from truck traffic traveling by. He sees complaints about that as being similar to someone purchasing a house on property just beyond an airport runway, then complaining about the planes flying over. He things allowing a store at the location, which would contribute to the local economy in taxes, would be good for the city, especially one located on the north side of I-30, to catch traffic going that direction as opposed to south and east bound traffic.
Jay Julian and John Sellers motioned for the City Council to decline the request from Libba Land LTD for a zoning change to allow construction of a truck stop. The vote was much more split Tuesday night. Four City Council members — Julian, Nash, Aguilar and Sellers — voted to decline the rezoning request and the other three voted in favor of the rezoning request. At 4-3, the rezoning request was officially rejected on second reading.