For about an hour Tuesday morning, Brownwood City Council members listened to an impassioned debate in packed council chambers over a zoning issue.
Business owner Erma Allen asked council members to change the zoning on three lots of property at the east corner of Cordell and Hall streets, near Cecil Holman Park and the Bennie Houston Community Center, to allow Allen to place a food truck on the property. Numerous neighborhood residents asked the council to keep the zoning as it and prevent businesses from coming into their neighborhood.
After a debate among themselves, council members voted 3-2 in favor of Allen’s request. The council’s vote means zoning for the three lots — at 510 and 512 Cordell and 906 Hall — will change from R-2, two-family residential, to C-1, local business district.
Council members Ed McMillian, Larry Mathis and H.D. Jones voted in favor of the zoning change. Councilmen Draco Miller and Jerry DeHay cast the “no” votes.
The issue at its root, Mayor Stephen Haynes said, was simple: entrepreneurship versus neighborhood. Residents expressed several concerns including how allowing a business would impact their property taxes, the likelihood of drawing more traffic and the unknown of what other businesses might come in if Allen’s business did not succeed.
Haynes made several lengthy statements as he tried to broker a peaceful solution and empathized with both sides of the debate.
Neighborhood resident Wanda Rainey said taxes are “tricky. You know what I’m saying?”
“Believe me, I know very well,” Haynes replied, drawing laughter.
Haynes asked Brown County Chief Appraiser Brett McKibben to come forward from the audience and talk about taxes. McKibben said there are two ways for taxes to go up — if a taxing entity raises its tax rate or if the appraisal district increases property values. But residential property is appraised on its own, apart from business property that might be in the neighborhood, McKibben said.
Joel Johnson of Emanuel Chapel United Methodist Church said the church’s biggest concern is “the historical value of the neighborhood.” Three churches are in the neighborhood, Johnson said, and “we hate to see the traffic pick up. Beaver is already a race track.”
Another resident, Rachel Carothers, said she has no problem with the food truck but “what comes after … that area is not the most prosperous area, but it’s my area, that I love dearly.”
Allen then stepped forward, saying “I come in peace.” Allen gave council members packets she said contained signatures of residents who support her. Allen said she understood residents’ concern about taxes. “This is my community, too,” Allen said. “If it affects anybody, it affects me as well.”
Allen said she would never do anything to hurt her community. “I’m going to respect my neighborhood and respect my churches as well,” Allen said. “I didn’t come to start a fight. I’m not trying to do anything behind your back. I’m not trying to raise your taxes.”
Allen said she leases the property from owner Leo Johnson Jr.
Haynes said he believed Allen was a “good-hearted entrepreneur who wants to open a business, but it only makes good government if we walk out of here as friends. … your concerns are real, and I thank you for coming. … If we love and care about our community, we win.”
Jodie Miller, the brother of Draco Miller, stepped forward and declared, “Isn’t this wonderful? This is wonderful, guys. Democracy in action. Entrepreneurship in action.”
Most of the neighborhood’s residents are working on their sixth generation, Miller said. Miller also noted that Allen had a food truck on Commerce, where there is much higher traffic, and asked why she wanted to set up in a neighborhood with less traffic. Allen said the traffic on Commerce was going too fast to notice her food truck and she shut that business down.
As council members prepared to vote, Draco Miller said he would not support a zoning change that would destroy the “moral fiber” of a neighborhood and community.
“I’m not trying to change all of the community — just a little section of it,” Allen said.
Before casting his “no” vote along with Miller, DeHay said he’s “big on entrepreneurship.” But DeHay said he’d spent some time driving around the neighborhood and “it kind of reminded me of the neighborhood I grew up in.”
DeHay went on to speak of “the values that (residents) have and why they chose to live where they live … I’m leaning toward Draco.”
Before council members voted, another resident declared that council members would “do what they’re going to do and go home. At the end of the day, I’m the person that’s going to get screwed. The answer is ‘no.’”
Haynes said both sides had “great arguments. The issues are, business or residential.” Haynes said he would support whatever the council decided.
The issue first came before the council on March 27 with a request to change the zoning for 10 lots. Council members approved the zoning change on first reading, and took it up on second and third/final readings Tuesday.
Since the March 27 council meeting, individuals opposing the zoning change came forward. Because of the opposition, the request for the zoning change was reduced to three lots.