A city board is being asked to reconsider its decision not to allow zoning variances that would lead to a new Starbucks at a busy Longview intersection.
Meanwhile, developers for the project and city officials are at odds over how the plan has failed to gain traction.
Developers and the billboard company, Lamar, want the Zoning Board of Adjustment to vote again on variances they say would practically seal a deal to build the Starbucks at the former Waffle Shoppe site at the intersection of West Marshall Avenue and Spur 63. The board voted Aug. 20 not to approve the variances that would allow Lamar to convert three existing billboard signs from static to digital.
A special meeting is set at 1 p.m. Friday inside council chambers at City Hall.
Longview Mayor Andy Mack says he hasn’t been involved in the now-two-year courtship by developers to redevelop the lot, but he said city leadership has tried to help make the deal happen. He said offers to help prepare the site ready for Starbucks have been rejected by developers.
“We’ve already made a lot of concessions,” Mack said. “When no one else is helping or wanting to play ball or help in any direction, it’s like holding us at gunpoint, and the city can’t be held at gunpoint.”
However, Lamar Companies, which owns the billboard that towers above the former Waffle Shoppe restaurant, and developers Grant Gary and John King Jr. all say that the city’s offers were never presented either informally or in writing, and that it was the city that rejected their request to help remove asbestos from the former restaurant building, re-grade the lot and other site matters.
“Our original requests were rejected by the city and by the Longview Economic Development Corp. board,” Gary said.
Starbucks wants the three-sided billboard removed from the restaurant site at 707 W. Marshall Avenue before it builds a $2 million retail store on the property, valued by Gregg County tax appraisers at $170,210.
At least eight years remain on Lamar’s property lease for the billboard, and the company hasn’t revealed a price for buying out the lease. Lamar has agreed to take down the billboard if it can convert billboard signs at three other Longview locations from static to digital.
Lamar needed a variance to the city’s 2003 sign ordinance, which limit new digital, or changeable copy, signs.
On Aug. 20, that request failed to get a supermajority of four votes on the Zoning Board of Adjustment needed to approve a variance for a digital sign on West Marshall Avenue. The board then voted to “permanently table” variance requests at two other signs on Loop 281.
Representatives from Lamar and developers who represent the property owner and Starbucks met with Development Services staff Monday, said Development Services Director Michael Shirley.
During the meeting, questions arose about whether the zoning board’s decision to permanently table Lamar’s variance requests met the board’s bylaws.
Lamar “had questioned the parliamentary procedure of tabling an item,” Shirley said. “The board can vote to schedule a new meeting to reconsider them within 10 days.”
If the board decides Friday not to reconsider the applications, the variance requests are dead, Shirley said. That would leave Lamar with two options — appeal to a state court or submit a new variance application.
“They can make other requests, but they have to be materially different,” Shirley said. “It can’t be the same request.”
The board isn’t voting Friday on whether to grant the variances. It will consider Lamar’s request for a rehearing. If the board decides to reconsider its Aug. 20 decision, the board will reschedule hearings on the variances at a later date.
Mack said he believes the zoning board made the right decision last week because the variances would effectively be spot zoning, which is illegal.
“I think they did what they were supposed to do at their last meeting,” Mack said, adding that he is “1,000% in favor of the idea of redeveloping the Waffle Shoppe site” because it meets his campaign goals of cleaning up Marshall Avenue and bringing new development to Longview.
Lamar and developers have said that they’ve been working for about two years to come to their tentative agreement, but Mack said that the group should have approved him sooner to work out a deal.
“We solve problems,” Mack said, “and if this process truly started two years ago, they should have come to us two years ago.”
Mack also said that city leaders have offered to developers a 10-year property tax abatement and help in paying off the lease to take down the three-sided billboard on the restaurant site, but Lamar has been unwilling to reveal the payoff amount of the lease, he said.
City Manager Keith Bonds confirmed that the meeting included discussions of the city using its demolition contract to tear down the old Waffle Shoppe, as well as a possible deal, called a Chapter 380 agreement, to reimburse sales and property taxes to the development.
“We didn’t get far,” Bonds said.
King said he’s had two conversations with Mack about his support of the project and how best to proceed. King also was involved in a meeting at City Hall with Grant, Lamar General Manager Dan Noyes, Bonds, City Attorney Jim Finley, Shirley and Councilman Steve Pirtle on Sept. 18. Mack wasn’t present, but his intentions were made known.
“I’m glad that he is actually stating his position on this because I know that’s been absent from the conversation in public,” King said. “I would say that that’s great that he’s 1,000% for it, but we have not had a sitdown with him and/or had any discussions that shore that support up or gives direction to us in regards to what we can do or what are his recommendations to solve these problems.”
“And if I could just take this one step further,” Gary added, “we’ve got an email — I’ll withhold the email for the time being — but it very specifically states and names various individuals within the city, and says that the city has rejected to move forward” with a project in which sales and property taxes would be reimbursed.
Mack said he’s never spoken to Gary or to Noyes.
Immediately after the zoning board votes Aug. 20, Mack asked Bonds to place on the City Council’s Sept. 12 meeting agenda his request to revisit the city’s 2003 sign ordinance, he said Tuesday.