A new zoning code will govern the shape, size and placement of new structures in downtown League City.
The League City council Tuesday approved by 4-3 a form-based code for the downtown district.
Several residents spoke in favor of the design standards during a public hearing before the vote.
“I’m an avid shopper,” resident Sandra Kelly said. “When I travel, I’m going to find the small downtown area to shop. I love that style of shopping.”
And she wants that attraction in League City.
Councilmen Greg Gripon, Keith Gross and Hank Dugie voted against the plan. Gross and Dugie cited concerns for individual property rights, but indicated they would have supported the code if owners had been given the ability to opt out.
“This zoning is an opt-in,” Mayor pro tem Todd Kinsey said.
Owners don’t have to change existing structures. They would only have to follow the code when building additions or building new structures.
Gripon said he feared design standard changes for downtown would alter the look of the place he grew up and that downtown would become generic.
“It will look like Main Street, USA,” Gripon said.
Gripon said he wanted new development that adheres to the plan’s vision on Park Street and First Street, he said. But he doesn’t want new buildings to replace oak trees on Main Street, he said.
“The true Old Town Square was down Park Street and First Street,” Gripon said.
Gripon asked residents Tuesday before the meeting whether they thought the proposed images of potential new construction fits the look and feel of League City. Many did not, calling it forced and Disney-like. Some pointed to Texas City’s downtown, calling it sterile.
Others posted comments that what they love about downtown League City are the houses that have turned into businesses under the oaks.
The League City Regional Chamber of Commerce supported the plan, President Steve Paterson said. The plan would create a destination for visitors and residents, he said.
The city has projects for the downtown district that include improving League Park and adding sidewalks, lighting and better drainage and streets.
Some League City residents are concerned that as property values rise in the downtown district with the improvements, existing businesses could be squeezed out.
Some mom-and-pop shops might give in to offers to sell to retailers that can afford to build new brick structures and could change the way downtown looks now, some argued.
“This type of regulation will strangle the small-property owners who will eventually have to sell to developers willing and able to jump through these hoops the city is wanting to put out there,” resident Karl Wankowicz said.
Central downtown is surrounded by large retail chain stores and lengthy strip malls. In contrast, the designated downtown area has a canopy of large, old oak trees and small local businesses close to other buildings. The proposed plan would build on that setting to encourage pedestrian traffic, city staff said.
The city notified property owners of the 110 tracts in the downtown area about the Tuesday’s hearing. The ordinance is meant to create a more walkable zone that centers on Park Avenue and Main Street and continues west to state Highway 3 and east to Iowa Avenue.
The city council in September 2016 hired Dallas-based Gateway Planning Group for $49,000 to develop a form-based code for a downtown redevelopment plan.
The proposed form-based code will direct where structures can be built, how they must be designed and fit in with the surrounding area, city staff said.
Gateway Planning has been working on a look for downtown League City since 2012, listening to business owners, residents and city officials.
The form-based plan has a lot of input from city officials in the planning department and members of the city’s Historic Commission, officials said. The commission chairwoman, Steph McDougal, made several suggestions and edits to Gateway’s draft and was vocal during commission meetings about making the plan fit League City’s needs.
Councilman Nick Long also grew up in League City, but unlike Gripon, he supported the new code for downtown.
“We could make something special,” Long said. “You just can’t replicate what we have and that’s those oak trees.”