Council ties votes on developments

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The importance of having an odd number of members on council became evident Wednesday night as two items failed to pass due to tie votes during an online meeting of the Sealy City Council.

Councilmember Dee Anne Lerma was absent from the Zoom meeting, leaving the five other council members and the mayor to decide a number of agenda items. They tied in two votes, sending the measures back to be reconsidered at another time. The council was divided about approving a preliminary plat for Red Oak Estates Section 1 on Sens Road, and also on a request for four setback variances on a property on Fourth Street.

Although the proposed Red Oak Estates subdivision is outside the city limits, it is in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and the developer, Ron Bryant with A-Surveying, Inc., said he wants to eventually annex into the city. Of primary concern to council members is the proposed use of septic tanks for the 87 homes in the high-end, 113-acre development. The homes would be built on lots ranging from one to 1.25 acres.

Council members were also concerned about the lack of detention ponds, adequate drainage, and the request for city water and gas to serve the neighborhood, but no sewer. They also noted that the city would have to annex portions of Highway 36 and Sens Road since the property is not contiguous to the city limits.

“It’s not always about the financial impact,” Councilmember Chris Noack said. “It’s how it impacts the community, how it impacts drainage… I don’t have a warm fuzzy about that.”

Noack made a motion to deny, but before it was seconded City Attorney Tim Kirwin interrupted and said they cannot deny it if it meets all the legal requirements.

Assistant City Manager and Planning Director Warren Escovy, who presented the case to council, said it does meet all the legal requirements. Noack withdrew his motion and Councilmember Adam Burttschell moved to approve. He was seconded by Councilmember Jennifer Sullivan. In a roll call vote, councilmembers Noack, Larry Koy, and Sandra Vrablec voted against and Burtschell, Sullivan, and Mayor Janice Whitehead voted for.

In the next item, the council considered four setback variances for a house at 402 Fourth St. The applicant wants to turn the house into a real estate office, but in order to do so the building must meet specific distances from property lines, which it does not. The house is located across Atchison Street from Trinity Lutheran Church and across Fourth Street from the splash pad at Levine Park.

“This house has been there for 60 years and should be grandfathered,” Councilmember Koy said.

He noted that there is already a massage parlor cattycorner to the house across the street from the church.

Mayor Whitehead was concerned about a previous land-use change that was denied, but Escovy said that request was within the historic district and this one is just outside it. Whitehead also wanted to know how the neighbors felt about having a business next door.

Koy made the motion to approve three of the variances and to deny the fourth, related to a shed, per the direction of the city’s planning board. He, Sullivan and Burttschell approved, but Noack, Vrablec, and Whitehead voted against.

In other action, the council approved four items related to the Sealy Economic Development Corporation. The first was for the EDC to spend up to $205,000 to aid in an expansion by Maass Flange. It will be paid out over four years as the company meets certain performance requirements.

The second was for the EDC to spend up to $28,000 in a Historic District Grant for Andrew and Erin Krampitz of Edward Jones to improve their building downtown. The third was to allow the EDC to fund up to $250,000 to COVID-19-impacted businesses.

The final item was an adjustment in what the EDC pays the city for administrative services each year. EDC Executive Director Robert Worley said they had been paying the city $40,000 a year but wanted to reduce that to $30,000 since the EDC is no longer using City Secretary Brooke Knoll as its secretary. Each of the items were passed unanimously.

The council also voted to reduce the number of members on the Parks Board from seven to five at the request of Parks Director Lawrence Siska. The board has been unable to meet several times due to a lack of a quorum.

The council also agreed to hire Stateside for $68,700 for right of way services to help the city acquire the necessary right of way to complete a major drainage project between Fowlkes and Front streets between Eighth Street and Highway 90. The is part of a $2 million grant the city received from the Texas General Land Office.

One of the final items was a presentation by Escovy about creating an enterprise zone that encompasses the city and voting in Hailiang Copper Texas as its first member. This would allow the company to quality for state and federal grants at no expense to the city. The item was information only. A public hearing will be held online via Zoom on Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 6 p.m. to discuss the proposal.

Prior to the meeting the council held an online workshop about various drainage issues. A few members of the public complained about flooding related to new apartments and other developments, along with concerns about the use of the pond at Cryan Park and Mills Creek to handle flows related to the developments. Erin Knesek, a project manager for Schaumburg & Polk, Inc., talked about a study the firm did in 2010 that has been largely unfunded and unused since it was completed. Escovy and Siska pointed out that a lot of drainage work and clearing of ditches and steams has taken place in that time and is ongoing.

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