City rejects variance for apartment project

Property tax rate set

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The Sealy City Council discussed a proposed apartment complex at 405 Gebhardt Road, deciding against allowing a variance for more units per acre than is currently permitted.
Meeting online on Aug. 18, the council received comments from two residents on Gebhardt Road who were strongly opposed to the project, mostly because the roads in the neighborhood are too small for the traffic and the drainage would be a problem.
“Gebhardt Road is not structured for this kind of heavy traffic for the project they’re planning… The developer is proposing three-story apartments. …This is not good for our area and our roads cannot handle that traffic, in addition to the drainage problems that would create here,” said Cynthia Grigar.
According to Assistant City Manager/Planning Director Warren Escovy, the applicant is developing a 96-unit apartment on 4.1 of 5.6 acres at the site and is seeking a variance for an additional 26 units across all the acreage. Current regulations only allow for 18 more units.
“Staff had originally looked at recommending 20 units,” Escovy said.
“The planning commission recommended denial of 26 units and also denied the 20 that staff thought might be OK,” he later noted.
“The recommendation is to deny the 26 unit per acre, 18 is standard at this point,” Escovy said.
The council was in agreement with him.
“What bothers me is the high-pressure gas line that runs through there,” Councilmember Larry Koy said. “The 26, I’m totally against it.”
Councilmember Jennifer Sullivan said the city should not allow more units on property than regulations allow.
“There’s a reason we have regulations and we grant variances for a hardship and I do not consider this to be a hardship,” Mayor Pro-Tem Sandra Vrablec said.
Councilmember Dee Anne Lerma said she did not see a benefit to the city to grant the variance. “We don’t have zoning but if we did have zoning that would be right there in the commercial area. I think we do have a concern about the sizes of roads,” she said.
“Nothing can stop them from building the 96 units on the 5.6 acres. Not granting the variance won’t stop them from developing the project the way they have it,” Escovy noted.
A motion to deny the request passed unanimously.

Property tax rate
The council unanimously approved the property tax rate for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. At the recommendation of Finance Director Steven Kutra, the tax rate is dropping from $.39807 per $100 of valuation to $.26898. He said that drop was due to the shifting of debt from the Interest and Sinking fun to the public utilities fund. He said the city’s certified value of $773,252,294 would generate about $1.5 million for general fund and $574,000 for debt service.
“I think it’s great that we have an opportunity to lower our tax rate for the City of Sealy for our citizens,” Lerma said.
“I do believe the valuations will likely rise next year,” Kutra noted.
In other action:
• The council voted on second reading to create an Enterprise Zone and to submit Hailiang Copper Texas as a nominee for tax refunds from the state through the program. Councilmember Chris Noack was the lone dissenting vote.
• The council voted to approve having the Sealy EDC fund the city’s Comprehensive Plan, adding that the council will start a fund to pay for the next update to the plan.
• The council approved Jim Turnbull, Sterling Schiller, and Rene Kofman as members of the Parks Board.
• The council took no action on requests for Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds for the Sealy Community Foundation and the Sealy Chamber of Commerce and Visitor and Convention Bureau. Lerma wanted to know the distinction between the chamber and the visitor and convention bureau because they seem to operate as one entity and it is illegal for the city to give HOT funds to a chamber of commerce. The requests will be renewed at a future meeting.

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