Longview Mayor Andy Mack and representatives backing the redevelopment of a vacant restaurant site say they’ve met in the past several days and that those talks “moved the ball forward” on the stalled project.
Meanwhile, the City Council on Thursday is set to discuss a central cog in that tentative plan to convert the former Waffle Shoppe on West Marshall Avenue into a new Starbucks — digital billboards.
Talks between city officials and developers began after Lamar withdrew its request that the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment reconsider Lamar’s zoning variance requests that the board didn’t approve Aug. 20.
Lamar has agreed to take down a three-sided billboard at the Waffle Shoppe site if it can convert three other signs in Longview to digital, and developers have said that Starbucks wants the three-sided billboard taken down before it will move forward with the project. However, the city’s 2003 sign ordinances prevent that.
Mack, City Manager Keith Bonds and Development Services Director Michael Shirley met face-to-face with Lamar General Manager Dan Noyes and real estate broker John King Jr., who represents the property owner. Two other people on the development side, including Grant Gary with The Woodmont Co. of Fort Worth, joined by conference call, the mayor said.
“It was a very nice meeting,” Mack said. “We discussed how we could work with both sides to reach an agreement.
“Sometimes it’s a balancing act,” he said, “but this is the first time that I have formally met with anyone on this issue, and I’m glad that we met because I think we will reach a resolution and be able to move forward.”
King and Gary each concurred with the mayor.
“We felt it was a positive discussion that moved the ball forward on reaching an agreement that works for both parties,” King said.
Grant said, “We look forward to continuing to move forward in a positive direction towards a mutually beneficial resolution for all parties.”
Mack added that the conversations exemplify what the city is supposed to do — try its “very best” to accommodate the business community and Longview residents.
According to a discussion item on the council’s regular meeting agenda Thursday, Mack will ask council members to discuss and provide direction to city staff about digital billboards.
Mack, as well as councilmen David Wright and Steve Pirtle, have said over the past month that they want the full council to revisit the 2003 sign ordinances.
The conversion is key to a multifaceted deal that could result in Starbucks building a $2 million retail store at the former restaurant site valued at $170,210 by the Gregg County Appraisal District.
When asked what he hopes will come from discussions about the ordinance at the council meeting, Mack said, “Hopefully, a change in the digital sign ordinance that we can satisfy the needs of the business community as well as the citizens of Longview.”