By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
STEPHENVILLE (April 9, 2016) — Stephenville is open for business, but there are a still a few bumps in the road.
A request for a special use permit to establish a restaurant ran into questions about parking, suggestions for another location and even a little ridicule during Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting of the Stephenville City Council.
Just a month after granting a sales tax incentive for a Hoffbrau brand steakhouse, the council tabled the special use request which is seeking to establish a restaurant in the old bus station in the downtown area.
The special use stems from the desire to be able to serve alcohol at the location.
Director of Planning and Building Services Noah Cullis told the council that parking could not be used as a condition of considering the permit as there is no such requirement in the area. The request received a 9-1 vote of approval by the planning and zoning commission before being brought to the council.
However, despite Cullis saying “parking couldn’t be used as a condition,” the council’s comments focused on just that with Mayor Kenny Weldon suggesting Cullis turn his attention away from annexation and study the parking situation in the area.
As part of a question-and-answer session with the hopeful restaurant owners Councilman Jerry Warren questioned the location, suggested searching out a location and then said the building has always seemed “snake bit,” to which the council responded with laughter.
Several people in the room didn’t find the comment amusing, especially the old bus station’s owner, Dell Burdick, who made the request. Burdick has already taken a “snake bit” building (Fuzzy’s Tacos) and turned it into a success story.
It was five years ago the council tabled a request by Fuzzy’s over the issue of “a study of off-the-street parking,” which was to be priority number one for the city. More than 1,300 working days have passed since that time and it will be at least another 30 days before the city is prepared to conduct business.
Meanwhile, Fuzzy’s has proven itself to be a successful sales tax producing business, and that came about in part because of the work and urging of Burdick, who has been successful at several “can’t do it projects” around town.
“I am frustrated and even a little embarrassed to have the council treat this matter as a source of amusement,” Burdick said. “I wrote a six-figure check for renovations and now I have produced people who want to establish a new business in town. I simply don’t think this was handled in a professional manner. It’s certainly not the council’s place to suggest them renting another building, which would obviously be a loss for me.”
Burdick was expressing those feelings while standing in the middle of College Street where there was not a single car parked at 6:30 pm Thursday.
“There’s not a single car on this street right now. There is room for 8-9 vehicles on one side of the building and room for more right here,” Burdick said.
Next to the bus station there is also a county-owned lot and the parking lot at the senior citizens center, which is generally not utilized after hours.
Stephenville City Administrator Pat Bridges was reported to be looking at the situation this week and it appears the city may be leaning toward creating slanted parking spaces at least on one side of College Street. Burdick also met privately with Mayor Kenny Weldon to express his frustration.
“I just would like some clear-cut guidelines about whether the city is open for business or not,” Burdick said. “One minute we are hiring a head-hunting firm and declaring we are open for business, and in the next segment of the agenda we are blocking business with a problem that was supposed to have been addressed five years ago. I do have to say I am very pleased with Mr. Bridges and Mr Cullis’ response after the meeting. They have been wonderful in trying to help.”
Stephenville resident Ellen Skipper spoke out against the request and cited a worry of trash, late night noise in a residential area and parking. Skipper said she was authorized to speak for Kerry Roach (owner of Jake & Dorthy’s Café) who has had to purchase lots to provide parking for her customers. Roach apparently had to fend off motorists from using her lots for several weeks when Fuzzy’s was settling into the neighborhood.
The property directly across the street is owned by a partner in the restaurant and the buildings there are also being refurbished as rental property.
Mayor Weldon did suggest Cullis move his work projects around to begin looking at the parking situation immediately rather than putting it on a schedule.
In other business, the council voted to use the services of the Mike Barnes Group to act as a headhunter and conduct Stephenville Economic Development Authority office business on an interim basis.
Barnes was introduced by SEDA board president Matt Harpole who said the group is a great fit based on experience and the number of immediate contacts. Stephenville’s recent hire for the position went south in less than a week after questions arose about representations made to the city council.
Former SEDA executive director Alora Wacholz was picked from among 55 candidates for the job, but SEDA has not found a fitting replacement. The group’s interim services are expected to be for 180 days at a cost of $15,000 plus at-cost expenses (capped at $2,500) for headhunting and to provide office services at a rate of $3,500 per month for 20 hours per week.
Police Chief Jason King and Justice of the Peace Shawnee Bass presented a contract from GHS, LTD for filing services for the municipal court. The move will allow for interfacing the Stephenville Police Department C.R.I.M.E.S. software to share citations back and forth with the court.
The council approved the contract with payments to GHS, LTD coming from the court’s technology fund.
The council received an informative presentation and report from Stephenville Historical Museum president Kat Barton, who informed the council that progress is being made in restoration and repair efforts after an electrical fire and storm damage.
The museum’s 2016 calendar has a bevy of upcoming events to include this weekend’s Native and Heirloom Plant Fair scheduled for Saturday, Camp Pioneer in June and more.
The council also entered into a permanent agreement with Tarleton State University for a storm water easement on Vanderbilt Street.