LETTER TO COUNCIL & P&Z FROM CITIZEN & FORMER CITY ATTORNEY, BUILDING OWNER
JOHN W. ALEXANDER
WINNSBORO, TX. 75494
August 3, 2020
A LETTER TO THE CITY COUNCIL AND THE PLANNING AND ZONING COMMISSION OF THE CITY OF WINNSBORO, TEXAS
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am the owner of a building located within the proposed Historic Overlay District Ordinance (No. 1029-2020).
I write to oppose the adoption of the proposed ordinances 1029-2020 (Historic Overlay District), 1030-2020 (Regulations and Administration of Historic Districts), and 1027-2020 (Vacant Building Ordinance). I have been a resident of Winnsboro for forty years and raised two children here. For thirty of the forty years, I was the City Attorney of the City of Winnsboro. I retired for health reasons in 2011, but I remain a licensed attorney and a member of the State Bars of Texas and Tennessee.
For continuity, I will divide my letter into three sections: First, the Historical District ordinances, No. 1029-2020 and No.1030-2020; Second, the Vacant Building Ordinance, No. 1027-2020; and Third, a brief conclusion.
I. Ordinances 1029 and 1030
Most functional towns and cities have a mixture of new and old buildings consistent with the growth or needs of the town during its history. The proposed districts currently have such a mix of the old and the new, yet even the relatively new will be subsumed under the Historical District rubric and made to conform to its regulations and rules. Further with the effort " to freeze the structures in amber" by these ordinances, that functional evolutionary blending of old and new will effectively end except in the unlikely event that a structure is demolished under the onerous terms of the ordinances. Even then, the erection of a new structure must comply with layer upon layer of regulations and bureaucracy. It has become a truism that regulations and bureaucracy equal costs.
It was represented to you that these ordinances were adapted from the similar ordinances of the City of Fredericksburg. I have spoken with a number of citizens and officials of Fredericksburg about their ordinance and our proposed ordinances. I learned that their ordinance was carefully thought out over a period of years.
One gentleman inquired about our "historical surveys," telling me that Fredericksburg had done 3 historical surveys by architectural historians and others from the State of Texas who catalog and grade potential historical districts so it is known what buildings have historical significance within the district and what level of significance they have.
For example, a building with significant historical architectural features and with actual historical significance, as for example, a building with finely adorned parapets and spires from the 19th century, plus actual history that it was the law office of Governor Sam Houston, would be in the highest significance category.
On the other hand, a ten-year-old bank building with no actual recent historical significance would receive the lowest grade and would be free to undertake most alterations its owners choose with only minimal pro forma scrutiny by the Historical Preservation Commission. Only with this survey can it be determined the level of intensity that building owners can expect from the Historical Preservation Commission and its Historical Preservation Officer.
Also, the proposed ordinances call for the City Administrator to appoint a Historical Preservation Officer from among his staff, city officials, or appropriate local residents. I was told by a Historical Preservation member in Fredericksburg that much time and energy was expended in filling that important position and that the Historical Preservation Commission and others interviewed a number of applicants attracted to the position by widespread advertising, and a person was ultimately hired with a degree in the historic preservation field. Further, it is a full time position.
It is apparent that this ordinance needs further study and input. It is a bit of a shock that the first notice I had that a historical district was being considered was the letter I got notifying me of the hearing. Why did no one come to the owners to ask our thoughts? Some of us are sympathetic to a well considered ordinance, but not to this Frankenstein variety creation seemingly prepared in secret as an August surprise for some 52 residential homes, 94 commercial buildings, one apartment building, 3 church buildings, and the Winnsboro ISD administration building.
Looks like an ordinance that will affect so many would be subject to much more study and advertisement, unless it was conceived and hustled on the agenda in the midst of a pandemic to see who would brave the virus to show up.
The notion that you must make written application to a Historic Preservation Commission and obtain approval to paint your house or building a new color is difficult to swallow. Yet, this is the working reality of what is proposed--only much worse: your paint must be selected from a "Historical Palette," of colors selected by the Historical Preservation Commission or the Historical Preservation Officer who is selected by the City Administrator.
That's only the beginning. To get to the point of your safely buying the paint, the City, acting through the new Commission and its Historical Preservation Officer, must first decide the appropriateness of painting at all, and a detailed application must be submitted (likely with a fee), which must include much data, photographs of your structure and those around it, drawings and more.
The example of painting is the merest tip of the iceberg. Any exterior "new construction, reconstruction, alteration, restoration, exterior new rehabilitation, . . . material change to the light fixtures, signs, sidewalks, fences, steps, paving, building exterior elements visible from a public right of way. . .which affect the appearance and cohesiveness of the historical district" will be required to get a certificate of appropriateness. The road to such a certificate is long and arduous. Once you apply, the Commission has 45 days to act, then another 30 to write up and send its decision reflecting their action. Thus, your painting or new light fixture could be delayed 75 days from when you complete all the paperwork. This is oppressive and will doubtless prove costly.
The decisions of the Commission can be appealed to the City Council. No such appeal from decisions of the Historical Preservation Officer is contained in the ordinances, even though he is charged with administering the Ordinances. He is chosen by the City Administrator from staff, city officials, or an appropriate resident of the city. It is almost a certainty that the Historical Preservation Officer will be staff or city official, unless it is made a paid position. This vests much too much control of our property in one person: a City Administrator.
In short, the import of the Historical Districts Ordinances, is to make the property owners within the districts mere stewards of their own property, who are without meaningful control of their own property because it will have become the beneficial property of the City of Winnsboro, which offers no economic incentives nor choice to join the district, nor to comply with the rules and regulations that come with the ordinances, or rules and regulations that shall come as adopted by the Historical Preservation Commission.
I urge the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny a recommendation to these two ordinances, I urge the City Council not to pass them.
II. Ordinance 1027-2020
The Vacant Building Ordinance is fraught with dangers of creating the very evil it purports to seek to correct. In addition, it is sweepingly broad and cynical in its ultimate end game. I strongly oppose this Ordinance.
Vacant Building Ordinances began in larger cities as a method of deterring homeless and the criminal from inhabiting the buildings. A cursory computer search for such a ordinance reveals advertisements by lawyers offering to help cities with such ordinances, and making it implicitly clear that the purpose of the ordinance is to eliminate such vacant structures as part of a scheme of "Gentrification" of vintage neighborhoods, where low income houses and less desirable buildings don't fit into the City's vision for the future of the town. This is unamerican and unfair.
This ordinance seeks to eliminate unoccupied buildings by stigmatizing the buildings and, by association, their owners by, for example, requiring signs on the buildings that are 18 by 24 inches with black letters that must be 1 3/8 inches high and 2 inches wide that say, "VACANT BUILDING.' The whole thing must be on a "bright yellow background."
In addition, it must have printed on it the name, address, and telephone number of a 24-hour emergency contact, who will arrive at the building within one hour of being contacted about an emergency. The penalty for not so arriving could be as much as a $2000 fine. This sign must be posted in a "conspicuous location" on each exterior of the building that faces a public right-of-way.
Though the Ordinance is quite specific about the size and color of letters, the content, and even the background color, the format must nonetheless be approved by the City Administrator. The bright yellow sign with "VACANT BUILDING" on the front of the building harkens back to the "PLAGUE HOUSE'' signs of centuries past. It is inconceivable that these signs will do anything other than further discourage the sale or lease of buildings to which they are attached.
In addition, the Ordinance as written criminalizes all vacant buildings but provides certain defenses like, for example, that it was occupied 45 days preceding the date of the alleged offense. This means you may be charged with an offense of maintaining an "unregistered" building, but the City must prove it was not occupied for the 45-day period preceding the alleged date of the offense. Renovation under a city issued permit is another defense, but the building must have been occupied within the 90 day period preceding the alleged offense.
Had this ordinance been adopted a year ago, this defense would not have been available to the new Sinclair Restaurant being renovated these many months with a potential opening date of November. The renovation would have taken too long to satisfy the 90-day occupation requirement of the Ordinance. Too bad. Others who might undertake similar renovations should be forewarned that if it takes more than ninety days, then their unoccupied and unregistered building may subject them to $2000 a day fines. Welcome to Winnsboro, Entrepreneurs!
The Registration application requires 11 types of information, including information easily available to the City, but nonetheless required, like proof of payment of ad valorem taxes. In addition, the applicant must supply any additional information the City Administrator may decide he needs to help him to decide to issue or deny the application. This is likely a constitutionally inadequate requirement for an ordinance with criminal penalties.
The fee is $500.00, an amount clearly not related to the cost of issuance of the Certificate of Registration. Thus, the Ordinance is obviously intended to be punitive and financially coercive.
Once you have obtained the Certificate, it must be displayed in a manner approved by the City Administrator. If requested by the City Administrator or a peace officer, you must remove it from the place it was ordered to be displayed by the City Administrator and present it for display to the City Administrator or a peace officer. No form of the Certificate to be issued is called for in the Ordinance.
In addition to all these requirements, an applicant must also provide proof of commercial general liability insurance insuring the City against any liability for claims for damages to persons or property "as a result of or arising out of the registrant's "operation maintenance [sic] or use" of the vacant building.
The aggregate limit of such a policy must be $2,000,000. It is likely that no such claim was ever made against this City in its history and that no such claim was made against any Texas city in the last century that was successful. Further, my insurance agent tells me he doubt such a policy would be issued by his underwriters. Too, one wonders why the city taxpayers' tax money is going to pay the Texas Municipal League for the City's own liability insurance.
This requirement is cynical harassment of the hapless owner who made the innocent mistake of ownership of a downtown building that he, like so many others cannot sell or lease. This is another example of the ordinance being used to exert economic pressure on the owner of the building to lease or sell it. Yet with all the pressure exerted no mention is made of assistance by the City to remedy the vacant condition it so deplores.
There is a further unhealthiness about this Ordinance. The City Administrator wields almost unbridled power and can make far too many discretionary decisions for a law with criminal sanctions applied. Here are some examples;
1) The City Administrator may determine what information must be provided by a Registration applicant in addition to the 10 categories of information set out in the Ordinance. No limits are set on what additional information may be requested or how long the process could be stalled. Section 3.12.007 (1) k
2) The City Administrator decides whether or not the Certificate will issue based on his sole interpretation of the information provided with the application and his determination of whether or not the applicant was truthful on the application. 3.12.009 (1) a-c
3) If the City Administrator does issue a permit, he alone determines the location and manner of display of the permit by the Registrant. There are no guidelines in the Ordinance for this. 3.12.009 (4)
4) Even though the City Administrator issues the Certificate of Registration and determines where and how it is displayed, he may demand its presentation to him at any time, thus sending the Registrant on a fool's errand.
5) The City Administrator alone determines what is occupancy of a vacant building for purposes of the Ordinance. (Section 3.12.011 (1) c.)
6) The City Administrator (or his designee) who issues and revokes permits) is charged with inspecting a Registered vacant building at least once a year to determine whether or not in his opinion the Registrant has violated the Vacant Building Ordinance or any other city ordinance, state or federal law applicable to the building . 3.12.013
7) The City Administrator decides the format of the bright yellow VACANT BUILDING sign on a registered building. 3.012.014(4)d
8) The vacant building must be maintained up to a particular standard of care subject to approval by the City Administrator. While there are some guidelines as to the standard of care, they are the very things that are apparently subject to approval. 3.12.017 (1)
9) The City Administrator or his designee is authorized to administer and enforce the provisions of this Ordinance. Thus the Administrator has a hand in every part of the process.
10) And the most dangerous discretionary power of all: the" City Administrator or his designee shall have the authority to render interpretations of this title and to adopt policies and procedures in order to clarify the application of its provisions." 3.12.003 (2) (underlining added). Here the Ordinance turns the keys to the City Council over to the City Administrator. He solely decides what the Ordinance means, can adopt policies to effectuate his interpretation, and then he enforces his interpretation.
Instead of fining and prosecuting, and insuring the Owner into bankruptcy because he can't find a tenant or a buyer, why doesn't the City undertake dramatic steps to find buyers and tenants. The Vacant Building Ordinance is like a King flogging a subject because the King is ugly. The problem of vacant buildings downtown cannot be solved by punishing those who want to have their buildings leased but cannot find tenants or punishing those who want to sell but cannot find buyers. Only a vigorous economic development program aimed at the downtown area can turn the vacant building problem around. This Ordinance is cruel and unwieldy. It will prove a practical monster and a tsunami of litigation.
It is absolutely appalling and irresponsible that the City proposes to enact these Ordinances affecting and burdening persons who, prior to Ordinances' enactment, would have done nothing wrong except to own buildings downtown. The vacant buildings have not attracted criminal activity or transient infestations. They have not become so dilapidated as to become a blight on the City.
The City cannot freeze the proposed district in amber. It will lose any potential chance at becoming vital again if saddled with endless layers of regulations and financial burdens. I have spoken to many people within the proposed district and out of it, but I have not found a single person in favor of these Ordinances once the details are explained. It is so true that the devil is in the details.
And could there be a worse time to begin new schemes imposing economic burdens on building owners? Forty million people are out of work nationally. The gross domestic product for the last quarter dropped over 32% the largest drop since such records began in the history of the country. The country is in the grip of a worldwide pandemic, with Texas in the Top 3 states in the mounting daily total of new and existing cases, with each days' death toll exceeding the last day's record.
This is no time to saddle people with more to worry about. In this vein, I would like very much to be at your meetings to tell you all this in person, but my doctors, tell me that if I go and contract Covid-19, I would have virtually no chance of survival; therefore, I'm usually home if you wish to speak with me. My telephone number is (903) 342-6723.
I implore the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission to listen to the owners in the proposed historic district and repudiate these ill thought out Ordinances by voting against them.
John W. Alexander
Original: City Secretary
Sent via email to all City Council and P&Z Members
cc: City Administrator via email
[Reprinted by Permission]
FROM CAMRON WILCOX
AN OP ED (OPINION EDITORIAL)
Camron Wilcox posted an Op Ed shared on his Winnsboro Mayor’s page on Monday, 8-17-2020 on (1) citizen engagement of voices speaking up and (2) watch dogging a government entity processes for “legalized theft” cloaked as progress.
Wilcox wrote, “The lessons from my youth ring as true today as they were more than two thousand years ago. I look to those lessons so that I can gain some understanding to the ever changing world around me.”
He continued, “Everytime I am asked, "Why don't we have a law for x, y, or z?", I ask myself would such a law pass the scrutiny of time. If the law, in any way, can be unevenly applied, the law could be considered government overreach and would not pass the test of time.”
Wilcox stated, “Government overreach is the direct enemy of economic freedom and personal liberties.”
He added, “As such, government overreach, kills, steals, and destroys.
“It kills individual thought and freedom of expression.”
“If and when punitive measures are applied it steals from otherwise law-abiding citizens, business owners, and property owners through taxation in the form of fines and penalties. “
“This taxation will undoubtedly lead to lawsuits that will be paid for by additional taxation on citizens who may have absolutely nothing to do with the business or property owner. “
He said, “Even in the best case scenario, inflation is a certainty. Investors pay more and pass that cost on to business owners/tenants.”
“Business owner/tenants pass that cost on to citizens/patrons. The unseen cost of doing business fully realized through inflation. When inflation reaches the tipping point where local citizens can no longer afford the goods and services provided by business owners, the citizens will go elsewhere and the businesses will fail.”
“The cycle continues, until the investor can no longer afford the demands of an uncaring government.”
“Once fines have been levied against a property beyond the value assessed by the tax assessor, the government will do everything within its power to ‘recover its losses’ by placing a lien or outright condemning the property.”
He concluded, “There you have it, legalized theft.”
“This is what happens when the absolute worst aspects of government economics, crony capitalism and socialist government control, come together.” He stated.
“Finally,” he said, “government overreach destroys the moral fabric of our society, by eating away at the trust we place and our fellow citizens, neighbors, and our friends who make up the volunteer members of our representative government body, boards, and committees.”
In closing, Wilcox recognizes the many citizens who speak up at public meetings and during the process before votes are cast, “I personally applaud the intent of many of our volunteer members who contribute to and suggest changes in legislation. Their heart and zeal for advancing society should not be in question.”
Adding, “However, law does not care about the intent of the authors. As administrations change, law only concerns itself with what can it do, not what should it do. Isn't it time to listen and communicate more? Together, we are so much better than the sum of our parts.”
One citizen wrote in rely to Wilcox’s post, “Lesson from my youth:
"Watch what they do, not what they say."
So much simpler...”
Mayor Wilcox replied, “Absolutely watch! However, we have been endowed with five senses and a brain that reasons. Only watching exposes the limited tool bag of reactionaries and activists.”
Wilcox continued, “Open, clear, and effective communication, which requires actively listening to people who you may not agree with, is essential.”
He added, “ Another lesson from our youth. We have been endowed with two ears and one mouth. We should do twice as much listening as we do speaking. This is true no matter whether your roll is citizen, volunteer, legislative, executive, or bureaucrat.”
City of Winnsboro Defunds Wood County Fire Marshall Services
An Opinion Editorial, C.G. Willis, September 22, 2020
The city of Winnsboro was perhaps too hasty without facts in defunding the Wood County Fire Marshall yearly services contract of roughly $5600 in the 2020-2021 budget MEETING Monday September 21.
Councilman Cris Columbus asked Wood County Fire Marshall Tully Davidson, in an email, a good question but perhaps the wrong question. It can be confusing. The email Columbus read asked about available time for “building inspections and health inspections.”
I don’t believe that is Tully’s job. He does fire inspections, fire investigations and serves as the emergency management safety officer for the County.
I made the informational announcement of the city of Winnsboro defunding the County Fire Marshall at the Commissioner’s Court 9/22/2030 regular meeting, and the quoted the email Columbus read at the council meeting last night. I also offered some ideas for immediate solutions. They were surprised.
I also provided the same solutions info to the Commissioners and to Mayor Wilcox.
TCR is working on obtaining a copy of the Wood County Fire Marshall’s duties, that includes fire extinguisher inspection and fires. Not building inspections; A CITY’s code inspector does building inspections. That’s different than a fire inspection. “Restaurants do get reviewed annually out of Tyler,” one restaurant owner stated.
Davidson covers 696 square miles of Wood County, and keeps a busy schedule. He was quick to respond to services need for each of the large fires in Winnsboro in the last two years.
Questions Not Asked.
THE CITY made a decision on defunding the County Fire Marshall services without looking at the contract of services agreement in the council meeting. Staff did not present a copy. Did the city review any services document before defunding? Did any council member talk with Commissioner Acker on this topic prior to voting?
Before terminating existing services, were any bid quotes on alternative fire inspection services obtained? Will this impact the city’s ISO rating? That rating effects everyone’s insurance rates.
Too much at the city appears to be presented as verbal and sometimes or apparently not checked out, researched, vetted or documented. The Wood County Fire Marshall was apparently not notified of this possibility to the council meeting, to provide accurate info on his services. Neither was our city’s incoming Fire Chief, as he stated in a social media post he never received a call from staff or council on this topic before last night’s meeting.
The Precinct Commissioner indicated they were not called or contacted or asked about this topic prior to the city council meeting, either, and the repercussions moving forward.
EXPLORING ANSWERS FOR GOOD RESULTS
The possible SOLUTION is this: Gather verified intel and work together. Look at the county contract. Talk with Tully (County Fire Marshall) and Commissioner Acker and the city’s Fire Chief at a council meeting.
The solution is simple. Amend the city budget to re-instate the county funding. Or the expenses may be astronomical on a per case basis for FIRE inspections.
I’m sure a solution will be swiftly addressed. As Winnsboro council member Joan Morris stated last night in the council meeting, there’s STILL plenty of time to hold another meeting, 7 days are still available.
TIME TO ADJUST THE BUDGET AND MAKE IT RIGHT
If notice is posted tomorrow there could be a meeting in three days (72 hours) to get this budget RIGHT, amended, how about even BALANCING IT, where planned expenses equals planned revenue. This fiscal year 2020'21 budget sorely lacks full transparency and financial disclosure of a city municipality’s debts obligations and structure, revolving loans, investments, projects, departmental detail as performed in the past. Additionally, the citizens deserve to know full disclosure of payroll and burden (benefits) for EVERY position.
The citizens deserve to know details, and some of this is covered by state law on budgets.
My personal opinions.
Data is verified.
IF THERE ARE ERRORS, MISTAKES, TYPOS IN THE MATERIALS ON THIS WEBSITE, PLEASE NOTIFY US VIA EMAIL AT WOODCOUNTYTEXAS @ GMAIL . COM AND WE WILL GLADLY MAKE THE CORRECTIONS.
Winnsboro Planning & Zoning Tables request for Rezoning 17 Acres Inside City in Residential Area for Recreation Vehicle (RVs) Park
Per a letter sent to property owners from the City of Winnsboro Administrator Craig Lindholm, dated November 10, 2020, two public hearings were slated to be held to consider the zoning change. The first PUBLIC HEARING was slated 12/1/2020 at the Planning & Zoning meeting 2020. The P&Z commissioner’s ADVISORY recommendation (advising for or against), to table the request for additional information on impact.
The city currently has no RV ordinance for density, length of occupation, improvements or development soil studies. However, the current city of Winnsboro ordinances have no apparent zoning standards for recreational vehicle parks after examining the online code of ordinances.
The letter was required to be sent to property owners within 200 linear feet of the boundary of the subject properties. A copy of the letter is attached, along with the Wood County Appraisal District map of the subject properties.
Because it involves a proposed public zoning change, public hearings at the P&Z should be in final form before presenting to city council for a hearing and consideration. Any one, including property owners, particularly residential owners in or outside the 200 feet parameter may have opportunity speak up and comment at public hearings and meetings regarding this proposed zoning change.
Property owners in the mostly residential (housing) zoned area outside of 200 linear feet are not required to be notified by the city under current state law, however, ALL property owners, all city citizens and any citizen may speak at a public hearing or when the item is on any public agenda.
Industry standards for the ratio of RV pads per acre, at maximum capacity, is generally ten (10) per acre, computing to a maximum of 170 RV pads at the described location. Some cities have higher allotted RVs density per acre.
Citizens make write letters or emails to the city council at the following email addresses. The email addresses for the city’s Planning and Zoning Commissioners are not available online as of this date. The zoning commission is comprised of Gary Gravely, David Estes, John Ryan Fennel, Cyndie Everett, C.J. Thatcher (alternate). The new city council members were sworn in Tuesday, November 17, moving David Corning off the P&Z board and onto the elected position on council.The city of Winnsboro currently has two (2) RV parks, one city owned and the other, Creekside RV Park with 32 slots, and Wood County has approximately 34 RV parks according to some searches, including the Winnsboro RV park at Lake Winnsboro owned by the county, Hawkins RV park owned by the County, and Quitman.
On the P&Z 12/1/2020 agenda was also a discussion of the proposed Sign Ordinance, including changing it from just downtown to the entire city, with major restrictions and revisions throughout the city. The Planning & Zoning Commission directed the City Administrator that they wished to not re-invent the wheel and make a whole new sign ordinance, but "tweek" what is already existing.
CITY PROPOSES NEW LAWS: DOCUMENTS
SET #4: OCTOBER 5, 2020
SET #2: AUGUST 20, 2020
MAP and materials from the 8/20/2020 P&Z meeting, click here. Materials obtained by an informant, through a city source, and not vetted through open records. The document does not appear to have been provided to the public on that date, nor discoverable online at the Winnsboro city website at that date or through 9.14.2020. It apparently includes the buildings the city (City Administrator and P&Z) are possibly targeting in a marked map. Click here for MAP ONLY.
SET #3: CITY'S Current Drafts
The city's "current" publicly posted drafts dated 8/8/2020 per city hall website, retrieved 9/7/2020, titled,
SET #1: AUGUST 4, 2020
Finally, a document comparing all three drafts
How this Works
Citizens have asked, how does a city make an ordinance (law) from P&Z advisories?
Good question. State Local Government Code 211 specifies any proposed ordinance from a P&Z Commission must be submitted to a city council in its "final form." If the city council changes one punctuation mark, one word or letter, the P&Z must approve that change BEFOREcouncil can consider it to be presented in a "final form." This means a joint meeting with the council and P&Z, if changes would be made prior to passage.
CITY OF WINNSBORO APPROVES ÜNBALANCED BUDGET
Sept. 21, 2020
The Winnsboro city council passed a 17-page budget, removing the Fire Marshall / Health inspector new position and defunding the annual payment for Wood County Fire Marshall.
Councilmember Columbus read aloud an email interaction between himself and the Wood County Fire Marshall, to which The response is that he is not able to respond to requests for building safety checks (fire code inspections) because of his heavy workload. The WCFM covers the entire county. The video showing the email outloud is at 1 hour 30 minutes mark. (Columbus begins speaking at the 1hr. 27 minute mark), at this Facebook previously posted live video by TCR, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=996424200874048
Council members Cris Columbus and Joan Morris were praised for responding to citizens emails. Morris held up a stack of 50 emails (pages) to which she responded to, thanking the constituents for their input and heartfelt pleas, particularly for declining the new position of Fire Marshall / Health Inspector. (Her comments begin at the one hour 16 minute mark).
Council member Morris also advocated with Columbus that “now is not the time for the Fire Marshall.” After their pleas and hearing public input, Michael Jaynes also stated that now is probably not the time. It’s been a tough year for everyone.
Morris was the lone dissent on approving the actual budget for the stated reason the budget did not disclose full details, that is it itemizations by department, referring to the scant 17 pages.
TCR noted the budget pages decreased over the last few years.
FY 2020-21: 17 pages
Fy 2019-20: 47 pages
Fy 2018-19: 99 pages
Fy 2017-18: 145 pages
Fy 2016-17: 158 pages
Fy 2015-16: 153 pages
Fy 2014-15: 174 pages
In an email Monday morning , I noted The Winnsboro budget (that passed) was also missing critical components as required by state law. Each council member was sent an email reflecting those items yesterday morning.
The approved budget provides a 2% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), and a 5% base pay adjustment for the Police Department to bring their compensation more in line with their peers in other communities.
C.G. Willis, Editor
Trails Country Reporter
Winnsboro P&Z Meeting Slated for Tuesday October 6, 2020 Results
© 2020 C.G. Willis dba Trails Country Reporter & Productions
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The Winnsboro P&Z unanimously voted on 8/4/2020 on a self-imposed moratorium for NOT placing two public controversial proposed laws back on their agenda for 90 days, and one item (the vacant building ordinance) for delayed for 30 days. This came on the heels of a publicly packed chamber flowing into the lobby and many callers online providing comments on the topics.
The zoning commissioner’s vote to delay placing the topic back on their agenda theoretically placed the next possible slated date no sooner than November 2, 2020 for these two proposed laws (historic overlay district and ordinance) to be on their agenda.
A moratorium is a delay or suspension of an activity or a law. The word “moratorium” was not used, but the words “delay for 90 days” was used, hence, one in the same thing.
However, the Winnsboro P&Z has now set a second meeting (during the moratorium period) for discussion of the items.
The commission met on August 20 for a discussion workshop, and verbally decided on adding a 90 day to the vacant building ordinance, to match the 90 day on the historical overlay topic. The commissioners verbally agreed to make that decision, despite the fact that 8/20/2020 did not have any action item listed on the agenda, nor was any vote taken to add the extension of the moratorium to that particular proposed law being placed on the agenda. No date was specified at that time, just that all three should be 90 days, according to the tape.
After that meeting, city hall posted versions of the proposed laws with the incorrect date in the title as “August 8 Public Hearing Suggested Changes.” There is no record of a public hearing on August 8.
Now, for a second time DURING the moratorium to which they decided to not bring up the topic, another meeting is being held tomorrow, TUESDAY, October 6, 2020 at city hall council chamber.
The proposed current October 6, 2020 draft is located here.
The meeting notice is posted here: https://cityofwinnsboro.org/uploads/1/1/2/6/112615665/10-06-20_-_p_z_agenda.pdf
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PROPOSED ZONING LAWUPDATES
The proposed changes included topics for the Downtown Overlay District (DOD), Residential Overlay District (ROD), Designated Historic District (DHD), Historic Landmark (HL), Gateway Overlay District (G), Demolition and Standards for Private Property.
It also includes the following topics for Historic Area Buildings, including creating a Compliance Historic Preservation Officer who can issue fines and hefty penalties for subjective Certificate of Appropriateness, painting in only certain colors, Delegates Council Authority to the city administrator to not just execute and enforce, but to create regulations and policy.
The proposed laws, in their current form, is riddled with many ambiguities, one citizen stated. Excludes Certain Business Types and Excludes Certain Business Practices.
The CA stated that a property owner, under these first two laws for the Historic Preservation, could have an appeal avenue to the city council for the city administrators or his designee’s actions and fines. Under the Vacant Building law, fines are handled with the city municipal court, requiring the property owner to fight the fees and fines (taxation) at their own expense with the municipal judge. The CA stated that once it was handled at city court, only then could a property owner appeal with the city council.
The Proposed Law for Vacant Building Owners was table to be reconsidered in 90 days, which would be the regular meeting of the Planning – Zoning Commission on November 3. The law would place regulations on property owners with vacant structures in a specified zone, to get permissions for repairs, paint, and work, and penalties if repairs, paint, work were not done to the city opinion of standards.
The law in its present form also would require vacant building registration fees of $500 the first year and increasing $500 each year thereafter.
The law would require the property owner to inspections inside and out, to obtain and pay certificates of appropriateness as issued by the city. The city would also determine what to repair, for the property owner to incur costs to use an architect and develop a plan of action for the building, including marketing and pricing and the building´s security measures and plans. That information would be subject under law to open records, even by competitors and criminals. Fines could be up to $2000 for each incident, per day or portions of a day.
The new laws would not apply to the city itself or their buildings, only to private property in the specified zones.
COMMISSIONERS CONFLICT OF INTERESTS
Many citizens spoke against the proposed three laws, from the meeting chambers to the foyer, out into the parking lot and over the phone. Only one, Ms. Cheryl Estes, spoke in favor. Her husband sits on the P&Z Commission and he also has a business downtown. Ms. Estes popular spa business has received funds from the city and Winnsboro EDC for their building repairs. The business employs many people in the area and folks come from as far away as the Metrolplex for popular services and merchandise.
Gary Gravely, chair of the P&Z Commission, is reported to work in commercial construction. Gravely has a yard sign for remodeling a older house on Walnut Street that is located in the proposed district. The 8/4/ proposed ordinance covered residential structures in writing, yet the City Administrator stated verbally it did not. What will apply is the final form of the written proposed law if approved by council. The various "version" drafts are attached below.
John Ryan Fennel owns an automotive service shop in Winnsboro off FM515 Coke Road and has also received money from Winnsboro in financing his business. That business ran into a little hot water last year when city equipment was used to work the dirt on his property it is understood that expense was reimbursed to the city after the issue came to light on social media. The business also gets a sizeable portion of vehicle repair business from the city of Winnsboro. It is also understood Mr. Fennel has timely completed his CIQ form and filed it with the City.
Part of the proposed ordinance would prohibit tire shops downtown, and Mr. Fennel, in a competing business, was set to vote on the measure August night until it was tabled. However, it was Mr. Fennel who stepped up to the plate with a pause of caution, stating he felt after listening to all the citizens input, the commission should table the measure and fix the wording in many areas in future meetings. The moratorium on the topic is not due to be lifted until November 2, roughly 90 days as decided by the Commissioners.
One citizen stated, “We are striving to move Winnsboro forward while preserving our heritage and history.” The regulation apply to private property and not publicly owned property. The city has exempted itself (it's properties) from the proposed ordinances.
The new laws would also include buildings containing daycares and pet places, in the future. The CA assured existing business are "grandfathered in" and the proposed new laws didn't apply to them." However, several stated what he said does not match what the documents states or reads.
There is currently two pet grooming business, tire shop, and one daycare in the prescribed area, and should ownership or those buildings sell in the future, using them for the same type business would be prohibited under the new law if it passes in its current form. The new laws, if passed, would building owners marketing and selling their properties to a more limited market with the purpose the buildings currently contain.
TWO P&Z COMMISSIONERS RESIGN
P&Z commissioner Gary Gravely, chairs the P&Z meetings. When the roll call was made at the beginning of the meeting, Fennel, Corning, Gravely and Estes were present. Later in the meeting someone in the back of the room asked about P&Z member Val Vetter, ¨Where is he?¨
¨He tendered his letter of resignation. ¨ said Mr. Graveley, neglecting to mention the information at the roll call.
The day after the August meeting, it was stated that Commissioner Gregg Risner also resigned after attending one meeting, due to conflicts with volleyball activities and COVID19 virus interfering with activities. (Dr. Risner is heavily involved in USA Volleyball at the high school and college levels).
The resignations are not official until presented to city council for vote to accept the resignations into record; it is not known if that has occurred.
The March 3, 2020 P&Z minutes reflect Gravely was voted as Chair, and Fennel was voted as Vice-Chair under City Ordinance 14.02.007. Estes and Fennel came on board when approved at the December 2019 city council meeting.
In Tuesday evening’s public meeting, there was a public hearing on Proposed Zoning Ordinance 1029-2020, the Historic Overlay District. Gravely allowed only comment on that topic in the public hearing. The public hearing was open and closed in due fashion on item one, and ran about two hours with one ten minute recess. No public hearing was held for Historic Preservation Ordinance nor the Vacant Building Ordinance.
Mr. Gravely chastised and lectured the public for getting misinformation on “Facebook Follies” and from social media "keyboard warriors." Several citizens later chimed in on his criticisms, stating they would not have known about the meeting or the proposed laws if it were not for the shared social postings of communication. Another citizen posted that social media, "I think local officials should learn ow to embrace it and work with instead of hiding in disdain and suspicion. It is not going away. However, it doesn't always present a completely factual or accurate reality but neither does silence."
Once citizen noted that the city of Winnsboro did not post the meeting on the city's social media page or links to the proposed laws. The information was properly posted online on the city’s website, although it is very difficult to find with many clicks, called “drilling down” in techno language.
The results of many citizens’ input moved the P&Z Commissioner to listen to their constituents, the property owners and citizens: the P&Z tabled all three proposed ordinances for further evaluation and edits over the next few months.
OP ED: It was a good exercise and healthy debate, even if heated near the end, of citizens community engagement to speak up for a process impacting property owners rights.
COMMENTS FROM CITIZENS
THE FOLLOWING CITIZENS GAVE PERMISSION FOR THEIR WRITTEN STATEMENTS TO BE SHARED. THE VIDEOS are long and take a lot of space to load up and time, the wifi connection at city hall was not working properly during the entire meeting.
RHONDA DANNA-WEIR, local Realtor, LETTER TO THE EDITOR
It was yesterday before I could find the actual proposed ordinances. It may have been your post of the link I found. I could find the meeting information, but not the detail proposals. I had a busy day at work and had no time to study it before the meeting. I had no prepared speech when I showed up, regretfully. I run three businesses. Its hard to keep abreast of what is going on in city government that will impact me.
Citizens were chastised for showing up after they had worked on the ordinances for a year. I for one can't show up at every city meeting of all boards and committees that may impact my investment into Winnsboro, ie.. my building, my business. I'm for making the downtown better and having it bring in commerce, but at who's expense? If the city wants to identify and select those properties that they are actually targeting, then offer them a grant to update and repair, that's fine.
My take from the meeting was that all building owners will be financially at risk for the sake of a few people that want to target certain owners that don't please them. Acceptance of these ordinances as written, is about more money for the city through fines and permits, and more government control of the property of its citizens. This is poor timing also.
If your neighbor's property offends you, offer to buy it at a fair market price and invest your money into making it what you want it to be. Don't use the city government to weld your might and will over others. That's socialism.
I certainly do not know the answers as to how to go about making improvements to the city, but whatever is done needs to be acceptable to the very people who are going to pay the price.
I'm sad to have to speak in opposition. I know many of the people who have worked to make the ordinances happen. I know they mean well. But, I ask them to yield to the wishes of the people that their decisions are impacting. Regroup, try again, make a proposal that is less wieldy. If there is a grant to city, given by a historical society, make the availability of that money known to the owners of the properties affected. Soften the blow.
On the topic of the vacant building ordinance. Scrap it. Owners shouldn't have to pay the city because their building hasn't rented. Every month is a loss. Why add insult to injury.
It was easy to see that decisions were already made before the public was notified. I hadn't intended to speak.
EDITOR´S OP ED AND RESPONSE BY ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF UNDER FREEDOM OF SPEECH
AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
VIC CLARK, a commercial banker, business investor, and owner of several commercial properties in the zone, as well as the local Clark Bed & Breakfast, brought to the meeting a sample of what the sign would like under the current proposed law. The staff decides where it is placed on my building? The prescribed “Vacant Building” would look be large yellow sign at least two feet high and one and a half feet wide, with large black letters. Advertising to criminals it’s vacant, come vandalize.
Mr. Clark stated he felt he has done a lot to contribute to the town’s structures and his properties by renovating and refurbishing and improving many structures, on his timetable. Clark basically stated he felt the proposed laws was an orchestrated attempt to attack his properties, raise tax money for the city, and over regulate developers. He stated that in fact, some the buildings he has purchased, such as the event center, sat vacant in their state of disrepair for years and the city did nothing, long before he bought them. He was looking to preserve history, not at these costs, penalties or regulations.
The current draft of the proposed laws reflect the new laws would not apply to city owned properties such as the Depot and the old bank building at the main intersection of town.
C.G. WILLIS, OP-ED, EDITOR
I heard one reason the CA wants vacant building signs and registration of vacancy buildings is for the safety of firefighters, fire and EMS. That “they can know no one is in a vacant building that way.”
Here´s facts and evidence. In 2018 they were 1,318,500 fires in the United States. With 1,115,000 firefighters and 29,705 fire departments. Of all those million fires, 8 firefighters died in residential structures. One firefighter died in a commercial occupied structure.
I have been a firefighter. So has Tex. So was my dad. In fact, I’ve processed film of a decreased firefighter in an occupied home. (He ran out of oxygen). My adult children graduated firefighting Academy and are paramedics.
The fear mongering of CA that it’s for the safety of the fire department is emotionalism to get control of private property.
Building codes already exist to get people to keep their grass trimmed. Building codes already exist for these structures. Even emergency contact info is or should privately on file with police. I know, because, I’ve walked this walk. Every firefighter knows when they come up to a building to assume there may be a person inside, or a prowler and never to assume it’s vacant.
The fact that it has a vacancy sign on the building will NOT minimize the risk of firefighters. IT WILL ATTRACT CRIME AND VAGRANCY.
Firefighters have to presume when they get called to a structure fire there’s a possibility of a person inside until they do a search and rescue and determine an all clear. Firefighters are more likely to die from stress impacts than LODD. FEMA AND NFPA stats prove this.
Yes, police and fire need to know emergency contacts of building owners. No, a sign is not needed on the building advertising it’s vacant attracting crime.
I love history and heritage, preserved on public property. It is up to a property owner's decision to do with his property as they wish. Less government regulation, and certainly no taxation cloaked as fines, penalties, fees, developing private business plans and releasing confidential security info on a building No.
Existing building codes already cover MSDS for hazardous materials, and police and fire usually have confidential list of how to contact occupants for emergencies.
MARK GRIFFIN, WINNSBORO VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPT. ASSISTANCE CHIEF OP ED
Well.. considering the CA has not spoken to the Fire Chief in the last 2 years, that the Fire Department is no longer invited to give monthly stats at Council meetings, nor the fact that "empty downtown buildings" has never been brought to light to any of the Leadership of the Winnsboro Volunteer Fire Department, in which I am the Asst. Chief with 18 years of service to the citizens of Winnsboro, as well as 33 years as a paid, professional firefighter with a large Metroplex city, this would appear to be a theatrical ploy to pull on the heart strings of Council and committee members.
City of Winnsboro Financial Reports & Budgets
The city of Winnsboro final approved budget and full required disclosures as required by LGT 102 is not online as required by state law as of October 5, 2020.
The link is here, and what is online at the city's website is apparently not complete as prescribed by state law and compared to fully more transparent city budgets in prior years:
Texas Local Government Code state law
regarding municipal budgets is located here:
The major laws governing the Budget are here.
TEXAS LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE
TITLE 4. FINANCES
SUBTITLE A. MUNICIPAL FINANCES
CHAPTER 102. MUNICIPAL BUDGET