Downtown eyes a zone of its own
Petula Clark’s 1964 hit probably doesn’t conjure up downtown Rockdale in many minds but there actually is one and it’s about to become “legal.”
Rockdale’s Planning & Zoning Board on Thursday voted to enact downtown’s firstever unique zoning classification Thursday before about 20 interested business and land owners.
On a 7-0 unanimous vote, the P&Z board okayed a zoning plan to change downtown zoning from C-1 commercial to a new C-A class. That recommendation now goes to the city council for a vote.
What will change?
Nothing right away. Current buildings are “grandfathered” and new zoning restrictions will only kick in if someone plans on new construction or changes the footprint of an existing building.
But for the first time the term “downtown Rockdale” is going to have a legal, zoning definition.
Downtown Rockdale is one block either side of US 79 (Cameron Avenue), extended south to the railroad tracks, from Rice to Scarbrough.
Lon Williams, P&Z board chair, said the city council several years ago asked the board to come up with a zoning plan for downtown.
“It’s a unique area, different from all the other areas in Rockdale, mostly because of the size of the lots,” Williams said. “The lots are fairly small. They range from 25-45 feet in width to 115-145 feet in depth.”
Some businesses occupy more than one lot.
“We’re not restricting anything that’s being done today,” Williams said. “We’re not restricting new development. It’s just that new development will need to comply with the zoning.”
Williams said the new zoning calls for specified numbers of parking spaces.
“We’re thinking the city may want to institute a parking fund, to be contributed to by future developers,” he said.
“In the future, there could be a city-owned parking lot,” he said.
A side issue, not related to zoning, surfaced when several business owners asked about sidewalks on US 79, FM 487 (North Ackerman) and FM 908 (South Main).
Williams said those sidewalks are actually state road right-of-way and fall under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
That means, planter boxes, trees, even the Chamber of Commerce metal benches located on sidewalks are on state property.
Williams noted that sidewalk sales—downtown participates in quarterly Market Day promotions—are also being held on state property.
“There has been a case where a couple of trees died and TxDOT instructed the property owner to replace the concrete over the bare patches,” Williams said.
Board member Judy Slusher said the new zoning will actually cut city red tape and make the zoning process downtown “more friendly.”
“Recently when First Baptist Church built its new fellowship building they had to obtain (zoning) variances. Under this (zoning change) they wouldn’t have had to do that.”