Saturday, February 24, 2018

Weaver building slated for downtown Longview housing

By Jimmy Daniell Isaac
Feb. 9, 2018 at 12:18 a.m.

Historical Preservation Commission members view the Weaver Building in downtown Longview in March. The Longview City Council   granted support Thursday for a  plan that would  convert the  building into the mixed-use Heritage Tower with 60 units focused on senior residents.

A plan that would turn the more than 80-year-old Weaver Building in downtown Longview into affordable apartments for senior citizens is among several proposed housing projects that received support Thursday from the Longview City Council.

And concerns about financial responsibilities led council members to table a decision whether to enter a memorandum of understanding with the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center board.

Also Thursday, the council accepted as much as $250,000 in donations from a recent gala to be used to combat homelessness in Longview.

Much of the evening belonged, though, to one of the council's own, as Kasha Williams was honored before and during her final night as District 3 representative.

"It has been a sincere privilege and honor to have served," Williams said before pausing.

"OK, I said I was not going to be emotional," she continued, "but it has been an honor to serve the citizens."

Municipal staff and dozens of supporters held a pre-council meeting reception at City Hall for Williams, who is stepping down to run in the Democratic primary for Gregg County Pct. 4 commissioner.

Businessman and former Longview Economic Development Corp. vice chairman Wray Wade won a special election to fulfill the remaining two-plus years of Williams' unexpired District 3 term.

District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy described Williams as a friend, mentor and sister.

"You're just moving to a different venue," Snoddy said, "because I know you're going to keep doing what you're doing."

In other business, the council accepted donations to combat homelessness after funds were raised Jan. 6 at a gala hosted by Mayor Andy Mack.

Police Chief Mike Bishop said the city hasn't decided how to use the donations. City spokesman Shawn Hara has said the funds could be used for any number of ideas brought forth by a 2017 mayoral task force charged with addressing homelessness issues.

Council members granted support letters to four developers interested in building affordable housing in Longview. They include a plan to convert the Weaver Building at Green and Methvin streets into the mixed-use Heritage Tower with 60 units focused on senior residents.

More details weren't available Thursday night.

If successful, the project will be the second historical building in downtown set to be transformed into housing.

About $1.1 million in tax credits a year for 10 years have been awarded to Austin-based Saigebrook Development, which plans to convert the Petroleum Building downtown into 49 apartment units.

Other housing plans getting council support were a 45-unit plan called Hickory Trails on East Loop 281 also dedicated to seniors, plus an 81-unit Fairmont Estates plan and an 84-unit Longview Pines plan for family-type apartments, said Development Services Director Michael Shirley.

Council members including Williams cautioned the public that the plans would add affordable but not Section 8 housing.

"People don't understand that they're completely different," Williams said about the housing distinction. "I do think we will qualify for all four projects."

And the possibility of the city being on the hook for thousands of dollars with the arboretum project gave some council members cold feet about entering into an agreement with the nonprofit board that manages it.

For several months, an outside consulting firm has crafted the memorandum meant to delineate operating, maintenance and financial responsibilities between the city and the board.

District 5 Councilman David Wright said he was all for moving forward when he first heard about the arboretum because he believed it would be funded completely with private money. Consultants suggest now that the city might have to provide about $180,000 to the project, which Wright said could pay three police officers' salaries or other municipal needs.

"I don't see right now how we could do this without increasing everyone's taxes a little bit," Wright said.

At least two other council members indicated they support approving the memorandum, with District 4's Kristen Ishihara reminding the council that the community has voiced its support for the arboretum through the 2015 Comprehensive Plan and by other means.

Said Snoddy, "Sometimes, you just have to roll the dice."

Mack motioned for the item to be tabled until the Feb. 22 meeting, saying that acting City Manager Keith Bonds "has said we don't have the money in our budget."

Ishihara seconded the motion, and the council voted unanimously to table the item.

Members also were unanimous in designating the historical museum as a local historical landmark.

The designation adds regulatory steps that anyone wanting to demolish the structure would have to overcome, but it also allows city staff to waive permit fees for restoration or rehabilitation such as a plan to repair the museum's north wall and facade.



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