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Residents and business leaders say UDC draft needs 'fine-tuning'

Weston Davis
Texas Tech Public Media
Some East Lubbock residents are advocating for the new unified development code to address longstanding issues with industrial zoning.

After about two hours of voices opposing the current draft of Lubbock’s Unified Development Code, the silence following Mayor Tray Payne’s call for UDC supporters confirmed there is still work to be done with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

While many citizens who attended last week’s special joint meeting praised the work of the commission and city staff working on the UDC over the last four years, the consensus of citizen comments agreed there are some tweaks to be made.

The goal of the UDC has been to take a look at building and zoning development regulations currently in place and consolidate them, dealing with redundancies or inconsistencies along the way.

Citizens who spoke primarily addressed the city’s billboard rules and the zoning of industrial property adjacent to largely minority communities.

At the opening of comments from the public, Payne attempted to quell concerns about whether this code would disrupt current rules on billboard placement in the city.

“I know we’ve had a lot of questions about signs, outdoor signs and billboards. I think a lot of the information out there is probably incorrect,” Payne said. “There’s a lot of misinformation, I think, that’s being spread about this. As we sit here today with the current UDC that’s been proposed, the same exact ordinance for outdoor signs and billboards is in place.”

That didn’t stop citizens from voicing their concerns. Jim Bertram, a former director for city planning in Lubbock, has long been concerned with how this UDC could affect Lubbock’s billboard rules. Lubbock began strictly regulating where billboards could be placed in 1975 as an effort to protect the city’s unique natural feature: an open view of the sky and sunsets. Bertram offered his assessment of the confusion on billboard regulations in the current UDC draft.

“The mayor indicated there was some misinformation and I think that’s because the final draft of the Unified Development Code regarding billboards is in error,” he said.

Bertram pointed to an issue in the current draft where the use of billboards continues as is with specifically defined cases in some industrial zones, according to one part of the UDC; and a separate graph matrix where billboards could be open to “limited use” cases in public and nonresidential zones like commercial.

Terry Holeman with Hugo Reed and Associates’ Civil Engineering and the city’s development council presented a 29-page section within the UDC draft, including issues around billboard rules.

Holeman said the document is their “last list” of issues needing to be addressed, adding that a number of developers’ problems in the current UDC have already been addressed in recent weeks.

“I’m not necessarily going to say that I’m in opposition to the UDC,” Holeman said. “But we do have concerns about the version that is before you.”

Business leaders and developers were followed by residents from North and East Lubbock calling for the UDC to include amortization. With this process, buildings in certain zones could be declared “nonconforming uses” if they fail to meet the new zone, instead of being grandfathered in. There would be a number of months before those buildings are moved or shut down.

Buildings like light and heavy industrial facilities bordering largely minority residential neighborhoods, a systemic problem first established in writing after Lubbock’s 1923 Ordinance. This action deliberately forced Black and Hispanic Lubbock citizens away from white residents and into North and East Lubbock neighborhoods next to industrial sites, in a segregation practice known as redlining.

Dora Cortez, a sixth-generation Lubbock citizen and resident of the Guadalupe neighborhood in North Lubbock, said she has been following the UDC’s development since it began in 2019.

Cortez compared the attention surrounding recent zoning controversies like the Godbold Center, and the industrial development in North and East Lubbock that has impacted the health and welfare of residents for decades, with noticeably less awareness.

“We have had to live with noise, odor, smoke, noxious material, toxic fumes, pollutants in our lives, and because industrial manufacturing facilities are in our backyard, our quality of life is not the same as in other parts of the city,” Cortez said.

Adam Hernandez, a local community activist and communications chair for Lubbock Compact, said city workers and the planning and zoning commission have worked hard developing the current UDC draft. Hernandez said it’s worth taking extra steps to get it right, including the opportunity to address amortization and industrial zoning.

"We need to make the statement as a city, at every opportunity we have, to say we're moving toward a future where industrial sites are not right up against residential, whether they've been there for 80 years or not,” he said.

Hernandez referred to Plan Lubbock 2040, Lubbock’s comprehensive plan which stirred calls for an amortization ordinance from North and East Lubbock residents. The plan gave the city more room to grow, but critics say it still did not include enough action to counter the consequences of historic and systemic racism in Lubbock.

“If we leave amortization out of our toolbox, that sets us up for failure,” Hernandez said. “It also says to the citizens of Guadalupe, Jackson-Mahon, Dunbar-Manhattan heights, Chatman Hill, it says to them, ‘you guys still don’t matter to the city of Lubbock,’ even after all this time.”

Resident Alma Johnson said for those who don’t live in North or East Lubbock, it can be easy to miss, but there’s an opportunity now for steps in the right direction.

“This has been a long time coming,” Johnson said. “And I would like to see change, any kind of change, that is positive for North and East Lubbock.”

After public comments, Mayor Payne spoke to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and they determined addressing errors in the current UDC draft will take some time.

The commission is expected to meet on April 3 to discuss their next steps.

Brad Burt is a reporter for KTTZ, born and raised in Lubbock. He has made a point to focus on in-depth local coverage, including civic and accountability reporting. Brad's professional interest in local journalism started on set as a member of the technical production team at KCBD Newschannel 11 before becoming a digital and investigative producer.
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