KGNS On Your Side: Residents living on Del Mar Blvd. say no to commercial development

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 12:06 PM CDT
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LAREDO, TX. (KGNS) - The growth of any city brings about opportunities for entrepreneurs to start up new businesses. In Laredo, that’s certainly the case with planning and zoning, seeing plenty of rezoning requests for areas across Laredo. But some residents living in an older part of town are standing up and saying ‘no’ to rezoning. They are fighting to keep commercial development out of Del Mar Blvd., between Fenwick Dr. and Candlewood Dr.—the last residential stretch of land on this busy thoroughfare.

“In other words, they’re going to do whatever the hell they want and we’re all here like sitting ducks,” said a concerned citizen who attended a townhall meeting hosted by City of Laredo officials. Another citizen at the meeting described what Del Mar Blvd. looked like in years past.

“You guys in the suits here, you’ve never lived on Del Mar, right?” he said. “I’ve lived there on and off since 1972, and it was a very different Del Mar than what it is now. We could play in the streets, we could see deer, a lot of us have this image and we want to keep this image—we don’t want it to change.”

This sentiment was shared by almost everyone at the town hall meeting held back in April. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss an Overlay Project for this stretch of Del Mar Blvd. An Overlay is a set of guidelines or rules that would need to be followed by a property owner if the city were to grant them a rezoning request to start up a business.

While two properties on this stretch of road were already rezoned by former council members several years ago, it’s future requests that would fall under the new proposed Overlay rules. To come up with those, the city hired urban planners, Able City, and tasked them to first educate residents on how an Overlay will help.

“If somebody wants to rezone their property or transition their property from a single family to a less impactful zoning district like an office, as an example, that property would have to remain intact and could not be demolished,” said Carlos Gallinar. “Signage might also be required to remain at street level or to the scale of the neighborhood.”

Overlay rules can even include not being able to add parking for clients or require the homeowner to include additional landscaping.

“This could lessen the impact and add protections by making sure any commercial development remains looking like a house,” he continued.

City officials also in attendance reminded residents that state law allows residents to ask for a zoning change.

“Nothing can stop a property owner from coming to the city to ask for that type of permission,” said District 7 Councilmember, Vanessa Perez. “But that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.”

If it is granted, however, having rules in place could help preserve the original mid-modern century look of the area.

“So, this Overlay restricts people from coming to Council and saying, “hey, give me this zone change because I’m going to build this monstrosity here next to your home,” said District 5 Councilmember, Ruben Gutierrez.

Which is what these residents are fighting for.

“Because if you start doing that one year, then the next year another one, then another one, before you know, the Council will have rezoned the whole Del Mar Boulevard,” said a concerned resident of the area. “I think most of the people here do not want to see that happen.”

Officials also remind homeowners that an Overlay will not change what’s in place now.

“So, if you want to stay in your house in a single family residential, you can,” said Carlos Gallinar. “The city is not telling you that you have to rezone it, and the city is not telling you that you have to move, if you want to stay in your house for the rest of your life, you can do that.”

Ultimately, the decision to create a set of Overlay rules is being left in the hands of those directly impacted.

“So, if you don’t want the Overlay, it’s very simple, tell us no, tell us no,” said Councilmember Gutierrez.

So, why all the protections now? According to city officials, they recently received a request for a zone change from a person living on this stretch of land who sees the money-making potential of this highly visible thoroughfare. He asked the City Council to allow him to convert his home into an accounting business. That request was denied under the current City Council, but that could change in the future under another group of council members.

As for the timeline of the Overlay project, according to Able City, a second town hall meeting will be held in July to continue taking input from homeowners on potential rules. After that, the Overlay will be presented to the City Council for a vote in favor or against. The price tag to create the Overlay guidelines cost the city #$70,500.

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