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New city secretary, Wal-Mart containers on council agenda

Written by Bobby Vasquez. Posted in News

2015 City Hall SmallIN NEWS
Deer Park City Council will discuss the use of external shipping containers at Wal-Mart and take action on appointing a new city secretary at its Tuesday regular meeting. Council’s workshop begins at 7 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 7:30. Both take place at City Hall, 710 E. San Augustine.

Tuesday’s Deer Park City Council workshop and regular meeting agendas are set. The 7 p.m. workshop will be followed by the regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 710 E. San Augustine.

During the workshop, council will hear the results of the Fiscal Year 2015-16 audit and a discuss a request from Wal-Mart regarding the use of external shipping containers.

According to a memo from the city manager’s office, the City’s Zoning Ordinance prohibits the use of shipping containers for external storage in a commercial zoning district. Historically, the only exception to this rule is the Public Works Director on occasion has granted commercial businesses the ability to use one shipping container for external storage during the holiday season. This generally entailed the unit arriving no earlier than mid-October and being removed by mid-January.

Through 2015, enforcement of this zoning restriction has been a low priority, to the benefit of Wal-Mart. During the 2015 Holiday Season Wal-Mart used 30-40 shipping containers in support of its holiday layaway program. These were placed along the western and northern boundaries of their property. In early 2016, City staff informed Wal-Mart officials the shipping containers were not allowed by Code, the 30-40 containers used during the 2015 Holiday Season needed to be removed, and zoning restrictions forbidding these shipping containers would be enforced during the 2016 Holiday season. Wal-Mart officials then complied by removing the containers, and did not bring them back last fall.

Over the past year or so, Wal-Mart staff has made numerous inquiries regarding the future possibilities of allowing them to utilize external shipping containers for their storage needs. Several times they have questioned the definition of a “shipping container” and have questioned if the Zoning Ordinance as presently written allows for the use of shipping containers via a Specific Use Permit. City officials have informed Wal-Mart officials that the zoning ordinance presently contains no mechanism for Council to allow this as a commercial district, though shipping containers may be permitted via SUP in an industrial zoning district. Only City Council could make such a change to the zoning ordinance which would allow the use of shipping containers in a commercial zoning district.

Wal-Mart officials will be on hand to discuss possibilities with council.

During the regular meeting, council will take action on the appointment of Shannon Bennett as city secretary. Bennett would move into the position vacated by Sandra Watkins, who announced her retirement last month. Bennett has served as the city’s deputy city secretary.

Council will also take action on an interlocal agreement with Harris County for the reconstruction of Ivy Street between First and Eighth streets. The project includes a new concrete curb and gutter. The city’s portion of the $2,510,184 project cost comes to $1,135,673.40.

In other business, council will take action on the third reading of the zoning ordinance, an agreement with Belt Harris Pechacek for professional auditing services; and a resolution opposing Senate Bill 2 in the 2017 Texas Legislative Session.

Should the bill become law, it mandates an automatic election should a municipality adopt a tax rate in excess of 4 percent of the effective tax rate. Current Texas law allows for voters to petition such a rollback election if the adopted ad valorem tax rate exceeds 8 percent of the effective tax rate. As noted in the resolution, this Bill does not provide for meaningful property tax reduction for Deer Park homeowners, yet could lead to significant revenue reductions for the City. Calculations from 2015 show had Senate Bill 2 been in effect, the owner of a home appraised at the average market value of $153,904 would have saved $1.76 per month, but the City’s total revenue loss would have been $790,926 due to the corresponding decline of ad valorem taxes and industrial district revenues. Also, Senate Bill 2 removes local control and decision-making by the City’s elected officials; officials who are attune to the needs of their community.