Hitchcock commissioners approved a controversial zoning plan Monday, while Mayor Dorothy Childress criticized opponents for not having objected sooner.
A standing-room-only crowd attended the evening meeting at city hall Monday, during which commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a request from two businessmen to rezone a large swath of land on FM 2004 near Avenue C to general industrial.
“The intention is to build several 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot buildings that I can lease and sell to different companies,” said Skipper Smith, one of the businessmen.
Smith and business partner Joe Wilburn want to develop the property into an industrial park for small businesses in need of space, Wilburn said.
The rezoning request was made as the city faces declining sales tax revenues and officials tout an industrial corridor along the south side of FM 2004 as a solution to many of the city’s financial problems.
The plan is not without critics, however, and they turned out Monday.
“I don’t think it’s right to bring something like this in here,” Robert Nebout said. “And I’m speaking for a lot of people.”
Opponents to the plan said they didn’t want chemical plants coming into the area and that heavy industrial development would undermine quality of life for people living along FM 2004.
Smith and Wilburn responded by saying there were no firm plans about what businesses would rent or purchase the buildings. They also argued whatever businesses moved there would have to go through permitting to determine whether they would be allowed to operate.
Childress agreed with Smith and Wilburn, adding that opponents needed to be more involved.
“I don’t want anyone to leave here thinking we let this happen overnight,” Childress said. “This is a little late in the process. I think we would benefit from everyone participating in the whole process a little more.”
The rezoning would also allow small businesses to move into the town and add to the tax revenues, said Sabrina Schwertner, executive director of economic development and foreign trade zone for the Hitchcock Industrial Development Corp.
“Down 2004, the smallest parcels of land available are 150 acres,” Schwertner said. “Small businesses can’t come in because they haven’t been able to find the land. This will see more opportunities and potential for small business.”
Commissioner Monica Cantrell, the lone vote opposed to the zoning change, acknowledged that the city needs more development.
“We need the industry,” Cantrell said. “But when I look at this, I try to decide what is good growth and what will be abandoned in 10 years.”
Commissioners added that Monday’s conversation took place against rapidly declining sales tax revenues.
The city in 2015 received about $2.38 million in sales tax revenue from the state comptroller’s office, records show. That number declined to $1.53 million in 2016 and down to $1.19 million this year, records show. That was about a 50 percent decline in two years.
“This will add desperately needed revenue,” Childress said. “We need to grow.”
City officials don’t have many opportunities to grow revenues and they will pursue what they can, Childress said.
Monday’s zoning approval was the first since commissioners in November approved three zoning changes after a tense public hearing during which residents opposed the plan.