Council adopts overlay

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New and expanding businesses along major, state-controlled roadways in Kilgore will be required to incorporate an extra degree of landscaping on property adjacent to the city’s ‘entry corridors’ under a new ordinance adopted by council members Tuesday.

The new regulations also require some added buffer screening for chain link fencing and large trash containers as well as proscribing new or replacement manufactured housing in a 250-foot overlay zone on either side of the roadway.

It’s all part of a drive to improve the ‘Welcome to Kilgore’ aesthetic of the city’s main entrances – Hwy. 259, Hwy. 31, Hwy. 42, Hwy. 135, Stone Road and the 259 Bypass – and it’s been met with resistance from some property owners who repeated their concerns at the council’s regularly-scheduled meeting this week.

After multiple, unsuccessful attempts at similar guidelines, “There must be something we can do to impact these corridors to make them more attractive for visitors coming in from out of town,” Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck said Tuesday.

The community’s proud of its oilfield heritage and grateful for the commercial and industrial properties along the route, he continued, but such developments don’t always create a welcoming visual for passers-by.

“These main corridors that people are driving through make up our identity to people that aren’t stopping,” Selleck said. “They think of Kilgore as a not very clean place, a not very tidy place. Others in town see it; our residents know it.”

Existing developments are grandfathered in unless they undergo extensive redevelopment, he noted, and there’s no impact on residential properties.

For new or expanding commercial and industrial properties, the ordinance requires vertical plantings (set no more than 10 feet apart) in five percent of up to one acre along the roadway. Chain link fences facing the corridor also must have plantings set no more than 10 or 12 feet apart, and Dumpster locations will be screened (by a wooden fence, planting, etc.) on the corridor facing side.

Find the new ordinance at KilgoreNewsHerald.com.

The goal was to avoid the onerous requirements of past proposals, Selleck said, crafting a cost-effective solution to spruce up the overlay zone.

“We come at it from a much more simplistic standpoint. Develop what you want to develop, we’re just going to have some rules that apply.”

Longview resident John A. King owns a mobile home park in Kilgore and a portion of it falls within the overlay’s 250-foot buffer along Hwy. 31. King was first to speak on the proposal Tuesday and also blasted City Hall for allegedly frustrating his attempts to sell the mobile home park.

On the overlay, “I’m not against that, but I think that some of these roadways that are chosen, they’re not heavily-trafficked by people visiting the city,” King said, used more frequently by locals and, in some cases, mainly by oilfield businesses. “These things you’ll never get cleaned up, not within the next 15, 20 years.”

Beyond the overlay debate, King alleged prospective buyers for his mobile home park have been run-off by city staff. He said there was another agenda for his property and claimed there were threats to block his efforts to sell it.

“We’ve spent hundreds of hours with your buyers,” Selleck countered. “I’m going to cut you off before you bad-mouth our staff. You’re factually misrepresenting what occurred.”

Kilgore Police Officers escorted King out of City Hall when he would not yield the podium after time ran out for his public comments.

Asking about the new rules, one questioner learned her property likely wouldn’t be impacted. Another speaker, Joe Wise, owns three businesses on Hwy. 42 and expressed a variety of concerns during the city’s public meetings about the proposed overlay.

On Tuesday, Wise echoed the need to beautify Kilgore but said the corridor overlay asks too much, citing President Donald Trump in his critique of the new regulations.

“This is not a good time to be putting on more burdens for our businesses. These corridor overlays are primarily businesses. That’s where businesses build and develop – we need access to roads,” he said. Trump was elected on conservative principles, Wise added: “Less regulation was the most important promise that a lot of people held on to,” and while he praised Selleck for a trimmed-down proposal, “Still, it’s this mandate that’s looming before us.

“This is not about wanting to beautify our city. I’m on board with that. It’s about losing freedom one inch at a time and that’s very important to me.”

Builder Missy Merritt has also been providing regular feedback of the overlay, and she repeated her concerns Tuesday: that the new rules will be difficult to enforce, complicate lease agreements with building tenants and, consequently, stymie investment.

“I want jobs in Kilgore. I want this town to be a success. I don’t want it to be a sea of chain link, but the reality is there’s theft,” she said. “I just think that where we’re at right now with the way the world is, I don’t think that requiring planting and Dumpster covers is the way to recruit new business to Kilgore.”

John King, Jr. (son of the first speaker) questioned the motives for new guidelines that put another cost on developers.

“What’s the net gain for the city here? Is it going to cut down on crime? Is it going to make people happier?” he asked. “What’s quantifiable here?”

The devil’s in the details, he added, insisting it’s better to incentivize beautification and compliance, not force it.

According to Selleck, “We’ve taken as much criticism from people who are concerned we’re not doing enough as we’ve in taken in all our town hall meetings,” saying it's too much.

But they’re not speaking out, Merritt countered.

Martha Mercer of Minden, Louisiana (sister of John A. King) also criticized the proposal as more and more rules on property owners.

Earlier proposals were onerous, Mayor Ronnie Spradlin said, but the latest is a simpler way to address an aesthetic issue outsiders see immediately.

“We’re trying to take a little baby step in trying to make it more sellable, to bring other industries to town,” he said. “We see this as a little step in the direction of improving our face to the people just driving, coming to town.”

Kilgore has held off implementing such rules for years, council member Merlyn Holmes said.

“It’s now gotten to the point that we’ve got got to do something,” she said. Listening to the critiques, “As many of you as are here, we hear from people that are happy with this.

“I’ve been here my whole life. A lot of people do talk about Kilgore, and we do have to start somewhere. We are putting things in place to help existing businesses, but if you’re not doing anything with your business it’s not going to affect you.”

Mayor Pro Tem Harvey McClendon acknowledged he was not in favor of the idea initially, but such proposals have been watered down over the years.

“I’ve asked for it not to be onerous,” he said. “It’s obviously not as onerous. It’s not too onerous. We need to start somewhere.”

Spradlin, McClendon, Holmes and council member Victor Boyd all voted in favor of the ordinance. Council member Neil Barr was absent.

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