Friendswood City Council on July 14 approved the first reading of an ordinance that supporters say makes downtown more business-friendly.
With Councilman Steve Rockey and Mayor Kevin Holland opposed, the council supported allowing existing “nonconforming structures” – older buildings not up to city standards – to build expansions that did comply, without having to bring the entire building up to requirements.
Revisions of the city’s Downtown District ordinance began months ago, when a frustrated business owner told the council he would relocate his business instead of adhering to expensive city mandates. But the resulting proposal did not meet with approval from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. P&Z voted 1-5 against recommending approval.
“Their concern is that property owner on Main Street with a large building that is noncompliant but grandfathered could do a very small addition in the back, but wouldn’t have to upgrade the rest of the property,” Councilman Rockey said. “So they were concerned we were going to continue to have degrading major buildings. And they didn’t like the language and they think we’re buying ourselves a big problem.”
Councilman Billy Enochs pointed out that everyone seemed to have a different interpretation of the ordinance, and the revised version takes out all ambiguity.
Regardless of its clarity, Rockey disagreed with the content. “We have issues with buildings on Main Street that continue to look ugly, to be abandoned, to be partially used, and all we are doing is allowing that practice to continue with no end in sight,” he said.
Councilman John Scott said the issue with downtown buildings is that they are vacant.
“They’re probably vacant because the seller of the property thinks that everything that he has on it is an amenity, so it’s priced as if all the upgrades on the premise are an amenity – when the reality of it is that it has to all be torn down,” he said. “So now you have this inflated value market value for the piece of property for a guy who wants to start a business only to find out that when he buys that building he has to tear it all down.
“By changing this, we are going to actually encourage business,” he said. “Nobody is going to open a business and leave it looking like a dump. If they do, they won’t be in business for long.”
Meanwhile, Planning and Zoning and the City Council both unanimously supported the easing of other requirements in the Downtown District, specifically that businesses on secondary streets in the district no longer be required to purchase amenities such as benches, pavers, sidewalks and lamp stands.
The downtown district was created in 2008, and was intended to develop into a mixed use retail center with open space and amenities.