Starbucks eyes Longview corner; billboard issue still up in air

A three-sided Lamar Advertising sign towers behind the former Waffle Shoppe Restaurant at Marshall Avenue and Spur 63 in Longview.

The Longview City Council offered changes Thursday night to the city’s sign ordinance that might help a potential redevelopment deal finally get done.

The changes would allow the triple-sided sign at the vacant Waffle Shoppe restaurant at the corner of West Marshall Avenue and Spur 63 to be removed in exchange for one digital-facing retrofit sign at another location.

The proposed changes were presented by Mayor Andy Mack during the council’s regular meeting. No action was taken, but council members agreed to send the amendments to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

If the commission approves the amendments at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, the council then will consider them for final approval at its next meeting Sept. 26.

The amendments surfaced from recent conversations between Mack and other city leaders with representatives from Lamar — the owner of the signs in question — and consultants and developers who have tried since February 2018 to broker a deal that would attract Starbucks to build a store on the former Waffle Shoppe site.

A real estate committee for the potential tenant has rejected using the site with the three-sided sign above the building as it stands.

The site has been vacant since 2016 and is what District 6 Councilman Steve Pirtle said is among about 75 to 80 properties for lease, in ill repair or for sale on U.S. 80 within the city limits.

“This goes a long way into helping us get started because anytime we have something like this, people are going to want to jump on and build around it,” Pirtle said, adding that nearly all of the business owners surrounding the property have told him “that they welcome this, so I think this is a good push to help them in their part of town.”

The Waffle Shoppe site is in Pirtle’s district.

Under the amendments that the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider, additional digital facings could be erected on a ration in which one sign could be retrofitted to digital for every three facings that are removed.

A facing is defined as one sign advertisement facing in a single direction.

Faces that are removed must add up to at least 1,600 square feet, and digital facings can’t be larger than 400 square feet.

Digital facings would be limited to being retrofitted on the corridors of U.S. 80 and Loop 281, Mack said. He added that the discussion is for digital billboards only and does not apply to static billboards that have been previously removed.

After Mack’s presentation, Longview real estate broker John King Jr., who represents the property owner, told the mayor, “I think you’ve done a great job of characterizing everything we’ve done in the past few weeks.”

Every council member who spoke during the discussion Tuesday expressed support for the amendments and applauded Mack’s leadership on the matter.

“I’m just really glad that this could be resolved like this,” District 5 Councilman David Wright said, “and it’s really amazing to see what government can do if it really wants to.”

“Generally, I’m completely in favor,” District 1 Councilman Ed Moore said. “I think it’s important that whatever static billboard come down come down before we issue a permit for a new digital going up, and that we need to place some sort of limit on brightness.”

District 4 Councilwoman Kristen Ishihara concurred with Moore about keeping close eye on limiting brightness of digital signs in Longview.

“It is my general feeling that our community wants less overall billboards but that most people would consider digital an upgrade,” Ishihara said. “It’s going to be a nicer billboard, that it will change more frequently, that it will look nicer than the static billboards that we currently have, so I would say 100% of the people I talked to saw that as an improvement.”

District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy added, “Thank you Mayor Mack for sitting at the table and working out all of the logistics. I’m excited because this is going to be such a complement to that corner and also to the Comprehensive Plan and the Green and the Arboretum, so job well done. Thank you.”