Ryan's restaurant shuts its doors

Ryan's Thursday, February 4, 2016. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

The Longview City Council came to agreement Thursday on a plan for spending bond money at the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center.

The city also paved the way for alcohol sales at a former steakhouse that might become a convenience store.

Council members at their regular meeting Thursday night followed a city staff recommendation to use the $1.5 million in bond money on four specific measures.

The city will spend $391,593 to install plants on a smaller scale as was originally intended in a 2015 design of the arboretum.

Also, it will pay $606,000 for an adjacent building and 2.8 acres owned by the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center foundation. That amount covers the remaining mortgage balance plus closing costs, Parks and Recreation Director Scott Caron said.

Another $346,407 will be used to improve the 2.8-acre grounds, and the city will renovate the building for $156,000, council members agreed.

Separately, City Manager Keith Bonds will negotiate a lease with the foundation that allows it to use the building as an entryway and visitors’ center, at which it will charge entry fees to raise money for maintenance and future enhancements to the park.

The foundation already had voiced support for the recommendation, and the council unanimously approved it, but District 5 Councilman David Wright and Mayor Andy Mack were rankled about the multiple conversations for more than a year between the foundation and the city about funding and ownership of park facilities.

Those conversations included a past agreement that the foundation would pay off the building’s mortgage and then donate it to the city, Mack said.

“My whole thing is, if someone has agreed to give us something, why are we offering to pay for it?” Mack asked.

Wright supported the arboretum effort when it was marketed as a private endeavor, he said but he questioned whether Thursday’s decision will mark a trend of other endeavors that begin as a private idea but later become a public money-grab.

“It seems like it just continued to snowball,” Wright said of the arboretum discussions. “I realize this is going to be a wonderful park for the city, but I feel like the way it’s being done is not the way it was originally intended.”

When voters approved a $24.7 million proposition for improvements to Longview parks in November, they included $1.5 million specifically to be spent at the arboretum.

The city is now getting the first series of funds from that bond, but it faced at least five options for spending money at the arboretum.

A city of Longview webpage created in September indicated that the $1.5 million would be used to “Purchase Cotton St. building and install landscape,” Mack said.

The city owns 26 acres near Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center that is intended to become the arboretum, including the 7 acres currently under construction by Malakoff contractor IronHorse Unlimited Inc. as part of Phase 1 work.

The plants to be installed will be smaller in scale and size than what was called for in designs of the arboretum performed by an outside design firm in 2015, Caron said.

The foundation has raised at least $2.2 million toward development of the arboretum, as local governments and state agencies have supplied $420,000 to the park.

Mack and District 4 Councilwoman Kristen Ishihara each took shares in not “communicating well” to voters about the arboretum before Nov. 6 but said that the council’s decision Thursday was correct in that it followed what was communicated to voters.

“I support the recommendation,” Ishihara said, “and I think that is in line with what I included in the bond package.”

During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, foundation board Vice President Anne Hugman expressed appreciation for the bond and that a resolution was reached.

“I’m thankful every day that we have a majority of citizens who care for our city and want to move the city forward,” Hugman said.

Former Ryan’s

City Council members granted a variance that will allow the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption at the former Ryan’s Steakhouse at 301 E. Loop 281.

Developer Jared Westmoreland of Dallas wants to turn the site into a convenience store with fuel service, but the building is within 300 feet of Longview High School and Longview Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Section 10-4 of city ordinances prohibits the sale of alcohol beverages within 300 feet of a church or school, so developers needed the variance to get a state permit to sell alcohol, Development Services Director Michael Shirley said.

If Westmoreland receives all the necessary permits, he plans to open the store before the end of 2019, he said. His development team also has the 1,200-square-foot Murphy USA station outside Walmart on Estes Parkway, but the new station would be 2,800 square feet with 16 fueling stations.

Street repairs, grants

Council members awarded a $1.141 million contract to Lone Star Equipment Co. of Henderson to perform about 462,000 square yards of asphalt seal coating. The enhancements will be performed on portions of more than 200 city streets that were chosen using the Pavement Management Program, which selects streets needing annual maintenance based on actual field investigation, testing data and City Council-approved policy, Public Works Director Rolin McPhee said.

Lone Star submitted the lowest of two bids, besting Longview Bridge and Road Ltd. by nearly $500,000, according to the city.

In other business, council members consented to Partners in Prevention Manager Holly Fuller applying for grants of up to $250,000 annually for a five-year period from the Community Coalition Program of the Texas Health and Human Services division.

If approved, the grant would establish and strengthen collaboration and support local coalitions to prevent and reduce substance abuse among young people, college students and adults, she said. The grant requires a 5 percent match in in-kind contributions.

Another grant application involving substance abuse among young people also was approved by the council.

Police Chief Mike Bishop will apply for a $12,000 grant from the Texas School Safety Center School at Texas State University. The grant would allow Longview police to conduct controlled buys and stings involving the tobacco and e-cigarette retailers to reduce their sale to underage people, Bishop said.

Also, council members eliminated the City Marshal’s Office at the request of Administration Director Mary Ann Miller.

The council created the office in 2014 to perform bailiff functions for Municipal Court, including executing warrants. The city marshal’s job was vacant, and an evaluation by staff determined that those duties could be better handled by the Longview Police Department, Miller said.

Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longview and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.