P and Z Commission Recommends Zoning Change for Patel Property

Fence Between Sonic Drive-In and Pit Stop

Fence Between Sonic Drive-In and Pit Stop

On a four to one vote, members of the Lamar Planning and Zoning Commission approved a zoning change for property owned by Lamar businessman, Peter Patel from O-E Open Estates, to R-1 Residential and C-2 Commercial. Their recommendation will be forwarded to the Lamar City Council for action. Patel owns the Days Inn Motel on North Main Street in Lamar.

The proposal was met with some opposition, sometimes heated, from landowners whose property borders Patel’s land which is planned to become a medium priced housing development and several retail and franchised businesses including a nationally recognized chain motel and restaurant.

Attorney Mark Davis represented Patel before the commission during their regular meeting at city council chambers on Tuesday, September 9. Davis laid out the development plans for the 30 acres, divided into two, mostly equally sized sections. The acreage is west of North Main Street, roughly from behind the former K-Mart Store along the Lamar Canal and running north to Holly Street. The property is listed as Lots 2 and 9 of Forest Park Place Subdivision to the City of Lamar. The commercial lot has Holly Street, between McDonalds and The Hickory House as its northern border. The residential lot is directly south of the commercial property and is bordered to the south by the Lamar Canal. Davis didn’t disclose any commercial enterprises by a brand or franchise name, but said they would be situated along Holly Street with front-of-business parking.

Southern Edge of Property by Lamar Canal

Southern Edge of Property by Lamar Canal

About ten, one acre businesses would be located in the commercial lot with one 2.5 acre site directly behind Sonic Drive-In and a one acre storm water pond will be located to the west of the Pit Stop. A 60 foot access road would divide the residential and commercial lot and plans call for approximately 40 houses to be built with lots measuring 75 by 108 feet. The residential area would be west of Burger King and the former K-Mart building. Utility lines would be placed underground for most of the residential project. Davis added there would be approximately 200 jobs created by the construction project. He said it would help develop the economic climate in the northern section of Lamar with additional retail outlets and offer new housing opportunities to Lamar.

Several property owners whose land bordered Patel’s spoke in opposition to the zoning change request, beginning with Paul Lopez who owns a vehicle salvage operation west of Patel’s property. “People I talk with this project, trying to make it happen, tell me it’s going to increase the value of my property. I don’t understand how you’re going to increase property value to a junkyard by putting up houses next to it!

Lopez told the commission he was concerned about how the property had been used as a landfill for numerous years. “This has never been a clean area. From the canal, all the way to the river, this has always been a junkyard.” He added, “This is a sand pit and the ground has sunk already.” Lopez continued, “I don’t see the benefit of having housing development done where I’ve got tanks of fuel, oil, transmission fluid. This is all going to be out in the open. I will never change the way I operate, this is a grandfathered-in salvage yard.”

Lopez was critical of what he claimed was the manner in which Patel treated the businesses around his property, “All the businesses around us have had heartaches around this whole deal…when you cut off areas like he’s done, he’s not a good businessman.”

Don Compton, owner of the Pit Stop had issues with zoning and property boundaries.  He said he was made aware of some property line issues when former owner, Pat Palmer, said a freezer was on land owned by someone else.  The property line dating back to the 1970s was updated using GPS technology by City Engineer, Wiley Work recently. Compton was upset with the fence that was constructed by Patel.  “Why would I buy the land with the sign, the porta-potty dump, the electricity all that stuff on someone else’s property?  It was approved by the city.  It had to be approved, I’m almost sure.  And it’s been there for over 40 years that I went back.”  Compton said he had no problem with commercial development, but he was opposed to having a residential development west of his property.  “It’s how he went about doing it, that’s my problem.”

City Engineer Wiley Work said he conducted a new survey to match the one done in the 1970s by Bill Threllkill which was an almost exact match along three corners of the property lines for the Pit Stop and another survey matched the boundaries conducted by an engineering firm hired by Sonic Drive-In.  “There’s four things on the survey that matched all that original deed exactly, and that’s exactly the property that Peter Patel purchased.”

Don Higbee, Secretary for the Lamar Canal and Irrigation Company addressed the commission on the project.  “We are not against the development, although we know that it’s basically a swamp.  We just have a right of way through there and it’s in all of our interests to make sure that the Lamar Canal Company maintain.  We don’t want it breaking in the city, seeping in the city.  We want to do our very best to keep it in a condition so it’s safe.  We want to make sure that the developer knows we have the right of way bordering the canal.  We need to maintain it.  It’s in all of our best interests to do that, and we want to make sure that everyone understands that.”

Committee members had some concerns regarding aspects of the development, especially the size of the one acre overflow pond.  They wanted to be sure that it could hold any runoff after a heavy rain without spillover flowing into neighboring properties. Patel and Davis said that their development plans at this point were flexible, and they would work to maintain the regulations and codes required for the development.

Davis agreed that the property has a history, “But we can’t let that hinder development, almost any section of land has a history of some kind, but we have an opportunity to make this development into something worthwhile.”

Board member Gary Oxley concurred, saying, “Our focus is to determine what is the best practice and use of the land and the city will be the body that rules on platting and other considerations.”  Oxley, along with Tim Courkamp, Oscar Riley and Wayne Reinert voted for the zoning change and Brian Herrera voted in opposition.

By Russ Baldwin

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