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Starbucks eyes Longview corner; billboard issue still up in air

Developers who want to bring prominent coffeehouse chain Starbucks to one of Longview’s busiest intersections say they’re talking through issues with the city to keep their plan in motion.

Starbucks’ interest in property at 707 W. Marshall Ave. — a site that has been vacant since Waffle Shoppe Restaurant closed in September 2016 — was confirmed by an email from Fort Worth consulting firm The Woodmont Co. to the city of Longview’s Development Services division.

According to the email from Woodmont Development Associate Sherri Jones, developers want to demolish the vacant building for “a development project” that “will be a new Starbucks.”

Jones asked for service letters confirming that the city would be able to service water and sewer to the location and for the city to approve the use of an existing grease trap at the site.

Longview real estate broker John King Jr. and Grant Gary, president of brokerage services for The Woodmont Co., have spent the past 18 months piecing together a tentative deal in which Starbucks would invest about $2 million into the former Waffle Shoppe Restaurant site on West Marshall Avenue at Spur 63.

The site has been vacant since the restaurant closed in September 2016, but the potential tenant has paused on making an investment until a three-sided billboard at the site is removed, King and Gary have said.

Lamar Advertising owns the billboard and agreed to removing the sign if developers convert three other existing billboards in Longview into digital signs. City staff said that plan would violate the city’s sign ordinance on at least two fronts — a local law that would require six billboard signs be removed if three billboards are built or converted and a local law against digital signs for off-premise advertising.

“We are currently meeting with our consultants and other parties to figure out what we do next,” King said.

Development Services Director Michael Shirley has met with consultants for the project in the past week about finding ways to make the redevelopment happen while also meeting the spirit of the sign ordinance, he said.

One possibility is a Chapter 380 agreement, Shirley said. The state’s Local Government Code allows cities to offer incentives to promote economic development for commercial and retail projects through Chapter 380 agreements, and he said that such an agreement could help developers and the potential retailer buy out Lamar Advertising’s lease on the tri-billboard.

Longview City Council members entered a Chapter 380 agreement with Saigebrook Development last August when it loaned the Austin developer $600,000 to complete ongoing reconstruction of Alton Plaza at the Petroleum Building downtown.

“The property is obviously devalued because of the billboard, so the property owner needs to assume some of that loss in value, and the developer will” also have to share that financial burden, Shirley said. “The city shouldn’t have to carry the full burden.”

Developers also were told that Mayor Andy Mack and District 6 Councilman Steve Pirtle did not support any attempt to change the sign ordinance, Shirley said.

Shirley encouraged all sides of the potential agreement to “give a little bit and be a partnership” on a project that he said could be a catalyst for development on West Marshall Avenue.

“We want do do everything in our power where they can move forward with it,” Shirley said.

Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo rides again

From mutton bustin’ and calf scrambles to bull riding and clowns, the Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo rode into town on Wednesday and continues each evening through Saturday.

Gates open at 6 p.m. daily, with rodeo action starting at 8:15 p.m. at the Gladewater Rodeo Arena off U.S. 80 in Gladewater.

The crowd-pleasing mutton bustin’ is held each night at 7:45. Children between the ages of 5 and 7 who weigh 50 pounds or less can compete in sheep riding. Entries ended Monday.

Tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for children ages 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at Cavender’s Boot City in Longview or online at

The Handicapable Rodeo, for children with disabilities, is 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Parents register for East Texas Montessori Prep Academy at kindergarten roundup

The halls of East Texas Montessori Prep Academy were filled with adults instead of children as the school hosted its prekindergarten and kindergarten roundup.

Some parents, such as Matt and Desaree McDaniel, are nervous for their kids to start school for the first time.

“Oh yeah, I’m freaking out,” Matt McDaniel said. “They’re my baby girls; I’m totally freaking out.”

The couple chose to register their 4- and 5-year-old daughters Sophia and Skylee at the Montessori school for the individualized curriculum, Desaree said.

Veronica Parr, mother of 5-year-old Malachi, said the plan for her son was always the Montessori school.

“It’s really going to be beneficial to him,” Parr said. “Part of the Montessori program is — if you do know those things, we’ll skip ahead to the next things and not just be redundant with it.”

Parr said moving at his own pace will be beneficial for her son.

“He gets bored easily; so, if you’re trying to tell him something he already knows, he’s going to lose interest,” she said. “That’s really exciting for me to know that he’s going to be able to progress, not just stay at something that he already knows.”

Jacqueline Burnett, director of Montessori at the school, said while the kindergarten roundup is a day set aside for registration, parents can register students all summer and school year.

In April, the Longview ISD board of trustees approved moving all prekindergarten and kindergarten students to the Montessori school. The decision ended the only traditional kindergarten offered in the district — at Johnston-McQueen Elementary School.

The building is designed for 1,400 people, Burnett said. With the new arrangement, she said she expects about 1,200 students for the 2019-20 school year.

Montessori-style learning is different from traditional education and takes a more hands-on approach, Burnett said.

“It really takes each child where they are and moves them throughout our curriculum; it’s more individualized,” she said. “If your child is stronger in math, they can go all the way to division. If they’re stronger in reading, then they’re writing and reading above grade level.”

Students are in mixed-age classrooms, she said. Pre-K and kindergarten students are placed together, and classes stay with the same teacher for two years.

“This is the best place to be,” Burnett said. “This is our early childhood. We do the foundation.”

Longview ISD classes begin Aug. 19.

Carthage man pleads guilty in 2018 shooting death of Longview woman, standoff

CARTHAGE — A Carthage man accused of, among other things, killing a Longview woman before engaging in an armed standoff, surprised court officials Thursday by pleading guilty to his charges.

Jeffrey Mickens, 49, told 123rd District Court Judge LeAnn Rafferty that he did not want a trial.

“I’m pleading guilty from the gate, so we’re going to save the state a lot of time and a lot of money,” Mickens said. “When this first starts, I’m saying I’m pleading guilty to every charge that you gave.”

A sentencing hearing has been set for June 17 and is expected to take several days.

Mickens is accused of killing Elania Johnson, 44, of Longview on Private Road 622 off Panola County Road 222 in Holland’s Quarters, northwest of Carthage, in February 2018.

He also is accused of shooting another Longview woman, kidnapping that woman’s 2-year-old daughter, engaging in a 10-hour standoff with the Panola County Sheriff’s Office and shooting at a deputy.

Mickens pleaded guilty Thursday to murder, attempted capital murder of a peace officer, two counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

All but the aggravated assault charge are first-degree felonies, meaning they carry a punishment range of five to 99 years or life in prison. The aggravated assault charge is a second-degree felony and carries a punishment range of two to 20 years and a fine up to $10,000.

Mickens is not eligible for probation.

Mickens is representing himself in the case. Last week, he told Rafferty that his court-appointed lawyer, Rick Hagan, was not doing anything to help him win his case. He reiterated that point Thursday and also apologized for his disrespectful attitude during a hearing last week.

“I just feel at every torrent, I’m currently getting no relief,” Mickens said.

Hagan, whom Rafferty kept on the case to act as aide to Mickens if needed, told Rafferty the same thing.

“He tells me he believes that he’s being railroaded by the state and by his attorney,” Hagan said.

In court Thursday, Mickens stood and listened to each of his charges being read out before entering a guilty plea, pausing for a brief moment after each time Rafferty asked him if he was pleading guilty because he was guilty.

As Assistant District Attorney Katie Nielsen read out the attempted capital murder of a peace officer charge, Mickens shook his head “no” several times but still pleaded guilty.

Mickens waived a presentence investigation report — background and character references used to help decide a defendant’s sentence — against Rafferty’s advice.

“I believe you have the ability to waive that, and you’re doing so knowing that it could benefit you?” Rafferty asked.

“Yes,” Mickens said.

“I’m sure Mr. Hagan would probably tell you that it would be a good idea (to have the report),” Rafferty said. “But if you do not want that, that’s not a problem.”