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Getting up to speed in Castle Hills

New City Council members address lawsuit, fees, zoning changes

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CASTLE HILLS — New aldermen Kurt May and Joe Izbrand joined their colleagues in tackling issues such as zoning revisions and a lawsuit over a church property as the year ended.

May and Izbrand won their respective special elections in November to fill unexpired terms for council places 1 and 3.

Both took their seats on the dais at the Nov. 19 council meeting. May invited residents to discuss city issues in an informal setting outside of City Hall.

May said this will help better engage the entire community: “I am here for the citizens and I challenge all my colleagues here tonight to do the same.”

One of the bigger issues the new leaders faced was the adoption of a revised city fee schedule, but the council did not raise rates.

The Legislature in 2019 passed a law prohibiting cities from considering the value of a residential construction project or improvement when determining permit fees.

As a result, the city’s fee schedule now provides for a square-foot-per permit calculation to determine residential building fees and continues to provide a value-based fee for commercial projects.

No fees are going up, however. City staff will return to the council with ideas on how to deal with the new state law’s effect on residential mechanical, plumbing and engineering charges.

“There’s no change or increase in the fees, we’re just making sure we’re in line with … other cities and their fees, with state law and the impact of state legislation,” City Manager Ryan Rapelye told the council Dec. 10.

The council members then tabled, until January, action on proposed zoning-code revisions.

The city’s Zoning Commission has offered a range of recommended amendments, most of which are based on suggestions made by a review committee three to four years ago.

The then-city manager initially charged the review committee with looking at all zoning ordinances for modifications, including solar-energy facilities, mixed use, planning-unit developments and home occupations.

The last two zoning commissions have since updated recommended revisions concerning home occupation, and studied how best to regulate short-term rentals, an issue that many communities are taking on nowadays.

Residents such as former council members Maretta Scott and Clyde “Skip” McCormick said it would be wise for the council to take more time to examine what they called unresolved issues before adopting zoning code revisions.

“My motion is to get all the recommendations put forward by the citizens tonight in writing,” Alderwoman Lesley Wenger added.

In another matter, City Attorney Marc Schnall briefed members Dec. 10 on a lawsuit that Wayside Chapel Evangelical Free Church filed Nov. 26 against the city and Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Rodriguez.

Council members in October voted to uphold the commission’s denial of Wayside’s request to modify a special-use permit that would have let the church use a vacant home it owns on Ivywood Circle.

Church leaders had vowed that if council denied the SUP, they would pursue litigation.

In the suit, the church claims being able to formally use the structure at 113 Ivywood Circle would allow it to better accommodate its religious function, particularly for Sunday school programs.

Wayside already owns 10 other nearby houses utilized for various church-support activities.

Wayside in the lawsuit contends it was denied a revised SUP despite the city attorney’s recommendation for approval under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

“What would be appropriate is for the city manager and whoever he believes can provide relevant information to confer with the attorney once the attorney accepts the representation and provide a plan,” Schnall said.

Neither the mayor nor council members commented on the litigation.

In other action, council colleagues tapped Izbrand to serve as mayor pro tem for a one-year term.

Also, Alderman Douglas Gregory was appointed to the ad hoc project committee, which will help discuss specific matters pertaining to drainage, streets and economic development.

During his first meeting, Izbrand used his opening remarks to laud the Castle Hills Woman’s Club, whose members every year take part in Wreaths Across America, where volunteers lay wreaths at veterans’ graves.

The observance was Dec. 14 nationwide. Izbrand urged local residents to volunteer their time toward the cause.

“It’s certainly an excellent time of year for all of us to honor a personal family member or friend or veterans in general,” Izbrand added.

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