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Setting the future in stone, stucco, or brick

Setting the future in stone, stucco, or brick
La Vernia Mayor Robert Gregory

A proposed new zoning ordinance for the city of La Vernia could have some things literally set in stone, if it passes.

In addition to designating certain parts of the city as residential, commercial, retail, or industrial, the ordinance includes a requirement for homes to sport 85 percent masonry on their façades and businesses, 75 percent. Masonry, in the ordinance, is identified as stone, brick, or stucco. Cementitious board siding, such as HardiePlank, is not included. Another aspect of the ordinance that drew residents to pack the council chamber in City Hall for public hearings Jan. 7 and 9 is a proposed Old Town Overlay District, for 19 streets in the city’s older neighborhoods.

“This ordinance will slow progress down in La Vernia and limit only certain kinds of folks to come to town,” said Keith Johanson, owner of LV Pump & Supply. He addressed the La Vernia Planning & Zoning Commission during the Jan. 7 public hearing on the proposed ordinance. “What I don’t understand is the 85 percent masonry requirement you’re proposing.”

After the meeting, he elaborated on his earlier comments, saying that he’d spoken with one developer who’s building homes on F.M. 1346 in the city, about the cost per square foot of such homes. The homes include high-end finishes, such as granite, marble, and hardwoods, along with many conveniences and technological additions.

“He said they cost $145 per square foot to build,” Johanson said. At that rate, he added, a 1,600-square-foot home in the city limits with 85 percent brick, stone, or stucco façade would cost $232,000.

“That would be the cheapest thing in our fair city,” Johanson said. Citing a median income in the La Vernia Independent School District of $50,000, “There’s no way an ordinary person can afford a home here,” he said.

He was among several who questioned why the city did not include cementitious siding as a masonry option.

Planning & Zoning Commission member Martin Poore addressed this point, saying he and the commission had done extensive research, as he’d had the same question.

He elaborated on this after the meeting, citing sustainability and durability issues with cementitious board siding, when compared to stone or brick.

“What separates it from other products is wear and tear and appearance, and that’s why P&Z decided to leave it out,” Poore said. “There was a fair amount of discussion.”

There are varying grades of such products, he said. As a synthetic product, it doesn’t endure over time as stone, brick, or stucco does. It may be rated for 30 years, but the coating that’s applied may have considerably less durability, maybe 15 years at best, Poore said, so the product deteriorates and dilapidates at a faster rate than the other materials designated in the ordinance.

But façades weren’t the only concern. Many of those packing City Hall for the hearings live in the older part of La Vernia, in a proposed “Old Town Overlay District.” They expressed concern about the zoning ordinance’s impact on their homes.

Janice Fay Brietzke said she was surprised when she received a letter from the city about the proposal. She owns property in the proposed district and asked about the impact of the designation, should she choose to build there.

Mayor Robert Gregory outlined the overlay district and its purpose. If the ordinance specifying the masonry requirements passes, new construction would be subject to this.

“But we don’t want homes in the older part of town to, say, burn down, and then have to replace it with what newer parts of town have to be. é The purpose of this overlay district is to protect these homes,” Gregory said.

Jameene Banks with the city attorney’s office said such an overlay can add regulations onto a district or exempt it from the regulations that apply to other areas.

“This Old Town overlay allows the existing properties in that district to remain as they are, and not subject to the improvements or regulations elsewhere,” she said.

Councilman Randy Leonard offered reassurance.

“The Old Town District is a good thing,” he said. “It exempts you from the masonry requirements. é It’s a good thing, in my opinion.”

The Planning & Zoning Commission voted to recommend the zoning ordinance and the Old Town Overlay District to the La Vernia City Council. Final approval rests with the council. It was tabled during the Jan. 9 council meeting, with a special meeting set for Jan. 30 for another public hearing and possible approval.

Gregory reassured those who attended the public hearings that substantial time and effort have gone into the crafting of the ordinance and its implications. He invited them to participate in the process.

“We have tried to look at all the scenarios,” he said Jan. 9. “What we’re trying to do here is to shape what this town is going to look like for the next 20 to 30 years é These people have a vision of what you want the city to look like. é We ask that you attend and give input.”

In addition to the public hearings, the council addressed other business Jan. 9. Read more about this on page ?A.

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