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Live Blog: Thursday’s city council meetings (April 24)

gavel[1]This is a live blog from the College Station City Council’s workshop and regular meetings on Thursday, April 24. It’s not the official minutes.

Both meetings are being broadcast live on Suddenlink Channel 19 and can also be watched online. An archive of previous council meetings is available on the website.

6:03 p.m.

The workshop has started.

Tonight’s meeting offers us our first opportunity to allow a city council member to fully participate in an open meeting via video. New state law requires governmental bodies to provide for two-way communication that allows all participants to hear and see one another, including the public.

Barring technical glitches, Place-6 Councilman James Benham will be participating in tonight’s meetings from New York City. Mr. Benham “poses” below with Mayor Nancy Berry and Councilwoman Julie Schultz:

cs-benham

 

6:18 p.m.

Consent Agenda Discussion

The council will vote on items listed on the consent agenda during tonight’s regular meeting. Only one item was pulled for workshop discussion:

  • Updated Drought Contingency Plan: The council will consider adopting an updated Water Conservation Plan and approving changes to the city’s Drought Contingency and Water Emergency Plan. Included are updated drought stage triggers that more accurately reflect stress caused by high demand or a water supply emergency.
  • Broadband Agreement with BVCOG: This item is for the purchase of broadband networking services through the Brazos County Council of Governments. Adoption of the agreement does not commit the city to any funding commitment, but the city expects to purchase 50 megabytes of bandwidth access per month at a cost of $1,100 per month.
  •  Electronic Storage Upgrade: The project is essentially complete, but this item would declare the city’s intention to reimburse certain expenditures with proceeds from debt.
  • Aggies Go to War Exhibit: The council will consider approving $225,000 in hotel tax funding for the Aggies Go to War exhibit. The funding agreement would be with the Research Valley Partnership.

6:48 p.m.

Play for All Inclusive Playground

The council unanimously endorsed a proposed inclusive playground at Beachy Central Park for children with special needs. The park project is a joint effort of the city, the Rotary Club of College Station and the College Station Noon Lions Club.Texas A&M landscape architecture students helped develop the concept plan last fall.

Click here to read Parks and Recreation Director David Schmitz’s blog on the playground.

Here is the PowerPoint presentation received by the council:

 

7:05 p.m.

Radio Repeaters for CSFD

The council unanimously voted to approve the purchase of radio repeaters for front line fire response vehicles. The current system has problems transmitting from inside many local buildings, creating a safety issue for firefighters. The repeaters enhance safety and improve the reliability of critical communications. A test repeater already has been installed and the Fire Department has funding in the current budget for two more. It will request 11 additional repeaters in FY15 at a cost of $29,700.

Here is the PowerPoint presentation received by the council:

 

7:27 p.m.

FY15 Budget Update

The council was updated on the city’s FY15 budget process and reviewed key budget policies. City staff will prepare the proposed budget in June and July, and will present it to the council in August. Following a series of budget workshops and public hearings, the council will adopt the budget on Sept. 25.

Here is the PowerPoint presentation received by the council:

 

7;38 p.m.

After the council discussed its calendar, future agenda items and committee reports, the workshop meeting was adjourned. The regular meeting will start momentarily.

 7:46 p.m.

The regular meeting has started.

 7:49 p.m.

Municipal Clerks Week

Mayor Berry proclaimed May 4-10 as Municipal Clerks Week, which is designed to increase public awareness of municipal clerks and the vital services they provide. Pictured below from the College Station City Secretary’s Office are (l-r) Deputy Local Registrar Faye Scott, Records Management Coordinator Ian Whittendon, Berry, City Secretary Sherry Mashburn, Deputy City Secretary Tanya McNutt and Secretary Samantha Klein.

cs-clerks

7:50 p.m.

Hear Visitors

No one signed up to speak during Hear Visitors, when citizens may address the council on any item that doesn’t appear on the posted agenda.

 7:51 p.m.

Consent Agenda

The council unanimously approved these consent items:

  • An inter-local agreement with the Brazos Valley Council of Governments for broadband networking services.
  • A bid renewal not to exceed $60,303.66 with ProSTAR Industries for the purchase of janitorial supplies.
  • A contract not to exceed $140,000 with Kegley for the annual crack sealing of city streets.
  • A contract not to exceed $148,750 with Brazos Paving for the annual concrete joint sealing of city streets.
  • A $116,440 bid award to Bayer Construction for improvements to the school zones at A&M Consolidated High School.
  • The city’s updated Water Conservation Plan, as required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • The city’s Drought Contingency and Water Emergency Plan.
  • A resolution declaring intention to reimburse certain expenditures with proceeds from debt for the electronic storage upgrade project.
  • Annual water meter purchases estimated at $224,499.54 from Aqua Metric Sales Company through the Houston-Galveston Area Council contract.
  • A funding agreement with the Research Valley Partnership to provide $225,000 in Hotel Tax Funds for the Aggies Go to War exhibit, and approval of the RVP budget for the project.
  • A resolution authorizing the mayor to approve the plan of finance, the issuance of New Hope Cultural Education Facilities Finance Corporation Student Housing Revenue Bonds, and the project to be acquired with the proceeds of such bonds.
  • The Brazos Valley Wide Area Communications System operating budget for FY15 and the city’s quarterly payments of about $53,602 for an annual total of $214,406, and the BVWACS capital equipment replacement reserve fund budget for FY15 and the city’s payment of $63,329.
  • A bid award for $256,955.82 to Vox Construction for the 2014 Community Development Block Grant Neighborhood Sidewalk Project.

7:52 p.m.

The regular meeting was adjourned. The council meets again May 8.

 

Podcast: Templin discusses challenges of regulating rental properties in college towns

College Station City Manager Kelly Templin has lived in, and worked for, three different university cities and has been working on solutions to neighborhood/student issues for 20 years. In a podcast discussion with Communications Director Jay Socol, Templin offered his perspective on the commonalities of these serious issues and where successes and failures are usually found:

Nichols: Managing the Impact of Neighborhood Rental Properties

For-rent-sign[1]The City of College Station is experiencing almost unprecedented growth stemming largely from the expansion of enrollment and research and development budgets at our institutions of higher education. These changes bring many opportunities for business development, employment, new retail experiences, and expanded regional and national recognition. 

They also bring many challenges. We live with, and try to adapt to, the pressures of increasing traffic congestion and the transition of many commercial and residential neighborhoods. 

The rapid expansion of rental properties into neighborhoods zoned for “single families” and long thought to be designed mainly for traditional owner-occupancy is the focus of intense current discussion by many residents and rental property owners. In College Station, the definition of permitted occupancy in what are designated as “Suburban Residential” and related similar zones is “no more than four unrelated individuals.”  

Economic forces are driving the market demand for properties in these zoning districts, particularly in close proximity to the campus, to the point where the value for rental exceeds the value that is consistent with what many traditional owner-occupants are willing or able to pay. Investment opportunities exist and attract offers on residential properties to be converted to rental use.

Three Levels of Rental Regulation

The city manages the impact of rental properties in suburban residential zones at several levels. As I have listened to citizens and property owners/managers, and reviewed the issues with city staff, I have found it useful to categorize the levels of regulation involved in our management of the issue into three categories: registration, use, and behaviors. 

Rental Registration: Owners of single-family and duplex rental properties are required by ordinance to annually register the property with the City of College Station. Rental properties which exist in “multi-family residential zones” are not required to be registered as those zones are specifically designed to provide the infrastructure to support the dense rental use. 

The purpose of the registration ordinance, adopted in 2008, is to document the existence of rental properties, to establish a local contact for emergency purposes, and to use both the local contact and the owner contact information for on-going communication. Most important, by having data on the number and location of properties serving as rentals, the city is in a better position to plan and deliver services to all residents. The current rental registration ordinance is being reviewed to help staff to more efficiently assure that rental units (“single-family” and duplex only) are registered and to make enforcement of this requirement more efficient. 

The rental registration requirement is part of the city’s business regulations. The focus of the revision is to redesign this ordinance to allow for an administrative process to be used in case of failure to register so that citations can be written and enforced more efficiently. In addition, the registration process should assure that property owners, managers and renters understand the zoning regulations and the expectations of all property owners in residential areas.

Use regulated by zoning: Once a rental property is registered, we need to consider the requirement of the residential zoning district in which it is located. Cities use zoning to distinguish and separate different uses of property to reduce conflicts among neighboring property owners. College Station has 31 different zoning districts ranging from rural to urban with many distinctions in between for commercial, office, mixed-use, residential, etc. In General Suburban, Restricted Suburban and similar zones, the use is limited to residential with no more than four unrelated occupants permitted in one residential unit. 

Property owners are entirely within their rights to rent property in these zoning districts as long as they do not exceed this numerical limit. It should be noted that homeowners associations (HOAs) may have more restrictive limits, and in some areas deed restrictions may also address rental issues. HOA rules and deed restrictions are private property matters and are enforced by private action. The city has no role in the enforcement of these private covenants.

But the city does have the responsibility of enforcement of its zoning regulations. As noted , the first step in the process is registration, but enforcing the use aspect of the zoning ordinance is equally important. Unlike rental registration, which is a business ordinance, zoning regulation is incorporated in the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and is enforced with criminal penalties. 

Many of the older registered rental units were built as traditional family-occupied homes that were later converted to rental purposes with little change in floor plan, or external design such as driveways and yards. With the greatly increased demand, we see residential properties being purchased where the old single-family home is torn down and new structures built specifically for the rental market, including such features as a bathroom for every separately locked bedroom, and more parking and common spaces designed with student use in mind. Many of these properties are rented on a “bedroom basis” to each of the occupants.

College Station is being challenged in various neighborhoods with claims that rental properties, particularly these new structures, are being rented to more than four occupants, thus breaching the zoning regulation. 

It is important to recognize that the limit of number of unrelated individuals living in a rental unit is an effort by the city to reduce the conflict among uses within a zone. That is the main purpose of zoning. These traditional residential neighborhoods were not designed with the infrastructure necessary to support this new use. 

The College Station City Charter states that it exists “… to accomplish any lawful purpose for the advancement of the interest, welfare, health, morals, comfort, safety and convenience of the city and its inhabitants…”  In addition, the first vision statement in the council’s current Strategic Plan states the goal of “Ensuring safe, tranquil, clean and healthy neighborhoods with enduring character.” Zoning and its enforcement is one key element in assuring that the city is delivering on this charter mandate and vision. 

Behaviors Expected of All Residents: The third level of regulation addresses the behavior (for the lack of a better term) of residents, both owner-occupants and renters, which reflect the common standards consistent with modern urban and suburban living. College Station has numerous codes that address such items as parking on the grass, failure to maintain property, tall grass, failure to properly manage trash receptacles, loud parties, on-street parking, etc. This level of regulation is where “the rubber meets the road” and such rules are scattered throughout our code of ordinances.

It is expected that all citizens would treat their neighbors with respect and provide for the common good of the neighborhood. But in our society, it is logical that values and concerns differ among individuals, including those which define common community standards. 

The city, charged with considering the health, safety and welfare of the entire community, adopts regulations that are designed to represent the common interests of citizens as can best be done by an elected body of citizen representatives. These regulations include, but go beyond, the obvious police and fire regulations to encompass the topics noted at the beginning of this section. Regulations in all areas are regularly reviewed and updated to maintain relevance to current and expected citizen concerns, technology and enforcement capabilities. But regulation of behaviors can be managed more efficiently if the zoning regulations that determine commonality of “use” are clearly delineated and maintained.

Efficient and Effective Enforcement

As stated at the outset, the review of our rental registration ordinance represents the fundamental issue. The effort is all about compliance and encouragement that all rental properties in residential zones be documented. It is hoped that planned changes will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this documentation process. 

With success in this area, the foundation can be laid to better document cases where the rental use is inconsistent with the law. Further examination of our zoning ordinance will likely be needed to provide the tools that code enforcement officers can use to efficiently determine if a violation has occurred and provide evidence sufficient for prosecution. In recent years, the code enforcement budget has been significantly reduced, and this will have to be addressed by the council if we expect to make significant progress.

Education of property owners, managers and renters is a high priority as part of the solution. The need for enforcement of use (more than four unrelated) and behaviors can be reduced if we can reach all parties to the rental contract regarding community expectations and the law. The city is examining more avenues to reach decision makers at each of these levels and the community at large. This component of the solution to such a multi-faceted problem may not be as expensive as code enforcement, but certainly is a complex process and deserving of the best efforts we can make.  

I welcome your comments and feedback as we continue our discussion of this important issue. Citizen engagement and input is the bedrock of local government. 

John Nichols
John Nichols
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Five things to watch at Thursday’s city council meetings

gavel[1]The College Station City Council gathers Thursday at city hall for its workshop (6 p.m.) and regular (7 p.m.) meetings. Here are five items to watch:  

  1. “Play for All” Inclusive Playground: The council will hear a workshop presentation on the inclusive playground for children with special needs that’s been proposed for Beachy Central Park. Texas A&M landscape architecture students helped develop the concept plan last fall. For more details, click here.
  2. Radio Repeaters for CSFD: The council will discuss the installation of radio repeaters in certain fire response vehicles. The equipment enhances firefighter safety and improves the reliability of critical communications.
  3. School Zone Improvements: The council will consider awarding a $116,440 bid to Bayer Construction for improvements to school zones at A&M Consolidated High School. The project includes overhead flashing beacons and signs equipped with LEDs. Funds authorized in the 2008 bond election will be used for the improvements.
  4. Updated Drought Contingency Plan: The council will consider approving changes to the city’s Drought Contingency and Water Emergency Plan. Included are updated drought stage triggers that more accurately reflect stress caused by high demand or a water supply emergency.
  5. Aggies Go to War Funding: The council will consider approving $225,000 in hotel tax funding for the Aggies Go to War exhibit. The funding agreement would be with the Research Valley Partnership.

The meetings can be watched live on Suddenlink Ch. 19, or online. Previous council meetings are archived on the website. A detailed live blog from the meetings will be posted on this site and also can be accessed through the city’s Facebookpage.

Related links:

Colin Killian
 
 
Colin Killian | Communications & Marketing Specialist

“Great Escape” becoming reality for kids with special needs

Soapbubbles-SteveEFEarly last year, the Rotary Club of College Station approached the city with an inspired project idea – an inclusive playground for children with special needs.

Since several rotary club members work in Texas A&M’s College of Architecture, they also thought the project would be ideal for their landscape architecture students. The College Station Noon Lions Club soon joined in the effort, too.

Population growth reflects need

The city’s population recently surpassed 100,000, and the special needs community continues to grow as well. The College Station Independent School District alone has 1,435 students with various disabilities, but no “play for all” parks or playgrounds exist within the seven-county region encompassed by the Brazos Valley Council of Governments.

In consultation with College Station Parks and Recreation, the landscape architecture students completed conceptual designs last fall that are the foundation for an advanced development plan. The students studied existing inclusive playgrounds in Texas, other states, England and Australia. They identified a two-acre site at Central Park as the best location due to ease of access, existing amenities, available space, available parkland dedication funds and visibility.

Called The Great Escape at Central Park, the project would provide a safe atmosphere and is designed to have a long life with low maintenance. The playground would serve various ability levels while incorporating educational aspects and challenges to spark the kids’ imaginations and enhance their quality of life. Amenities include chair swings and specially designed slides for kids with limited mobility, sensory items for those with Autism, splashpad, nature trail, multi-sport court, gardens, and interactive elements to encourage social play.

It would also strengthen our community by encouraging interaction and involvement. Here’s a look at the concept plan:

 

Project will be challenging

With a price tag of about $2 million, completing the facility will be challenging, but the Rotary and Lions clubs already are organizing task forces to plan fundraising efforts – which could include pursuing grants and non-profit funding – and involve the community in the facility’s construction. If those efforts are successful, the park could be built in phases over several years with construction beginning as soon as next summer.

On Thursday, the College Station City Council will hear a presentation on this worthy project. The city would allocate some funds from the Parkland Dedication Fund, and would also oversee construction and handle long-term operations and maintenance. Those costs would be supplemented by ongoing donations to a dedicated fund.

For more information on how to become involved, please call the Parks and Recreation Department at 979.764.3486.

Bubbles photo by Steve Ford Elliott.

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9-1-1 operators: Life, death, cheese and jalapeños

jalapenoThe men and women who serve as dispatchers in the College Station Police Department’s Emergency Communications Center may work long hours in a dark room surrounded by computer screens, but make no mistake — we lead interesting lives.

As the highly trained professionals who answer 9-1-1 emergency calls around the clock, we are the first first responders for people in emergency situations. Last year, we received more than 30,000 calls from the 9-1-1 system and more than 200,000 non-emergency calls.

Emergency dispatchers are the first to respond to a number of life-threatening incidents and serve as audio witnesses to almost everything you can imagine — and some things you can’t. We can talk you through emergencies and provide treatment instructions before help arrives.

In addition, operators field questions about all types of complaints while coordinating priorities to serve the public in the best and fastest way possible. Working tirelessly behind the scenes, these individuals can make the difference between life and death.

We’ve heard children being born and grown people dying.

We also get calls about when midnight yell practice starts and angry reports from people at drive-thru restaurants who didn’t get the jalapeños they ordered on their burger.

A few years ago, a caller reported that Chick-fil-A has been robbed because the lights were off and the cash drawers were open. I always assumed everyone knew Chick-fil-A was closed on Sundays.

Sometimes, misunderstandings occur. A lady once called from a fast food restaurant to report that her “cheese” had been stolen. We were a bit puzzled, but when she finally mentioned she couldn’t drive home, we realized it was her keys that had been taken.

I spent 23 years in public safety on the south side and suburbs of Chicago, so I know what professionals look like, and College Station’s dispatchers fit the bill. The elevated level of service they provide to our citizens is a distinct source of pride.

In other centers that I managed, no one but telecommunicators and administrative personnel were allowed in the dispatch center — including police officers. While that provided a measure of security, it also caused a disconnect between operators and emergency responders.

In College Station, our personnel deal directly with officers and firefighters, which means a greater sense of accountability should a call go bad. Since we get to know our officers and their idiosyncrasies, seasoned operators know by an officer’s tone of voice if they are sensing or even involved in a dangerous situation.   

ab6a1615-4124-4b51-95c0-0abb1d135010As a division of a city department, we’re also connected to hundreds of other good folks who work for the City of College Station and make up our extended family. The Emergency Communications Center has been nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies since 2003.

In recognition of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, we honor our Telecommunicators with a special thank you for their ongoing hard work and untiring dedication in their efforts to keep our city, citizens and responders safe. 

 Robert Radtke
 
 
Robert Radtke | CSPD Communications Manager
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