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Citizens and the Tower: high-rise development in historic South Overton gets go-ahead from city council

Lubbockites gather outside Citizen’s Tower, waiting on a private meeting with city officials to express their opposition to a student housing project in the historic South Overton neighborhood.
Brad Burt
Lubbockites gather outside Citizen’s Tower, waiting on a private meeting with city officials to express their opposition to a student housing project in the historic South Overton neighborhood.

Lubbockites gathered downtown outside Citizen’s Tower last Friday, waiting on a private meeting with city officials to express their opposition to a student housing project in the historic South Overton neighborhood.

The citizens were also preparing for Tuesday’s city council meeting. Off the schedule, members of Lubbock’s LGBTQ+ community planned a rainbow sit-in protest to call for the city to recognize Pride Month. However, the agenda item that garnered attention was a second vote on the zoning change that would allow developers to begin construction.

“If you want to wear your bright colors, wear your bright colors, but there’s a lot going on on Tuesday,” South Overton organizer Tonja Hagy-Valdine told residents outside Citizen’s Tower.

Hagy-Valdine said at Friday’s assembly that the group also hoped to meet with developer David Pierce of Parallel, who is in charge of design for the new project, but the meetings fell through.

Despite continued outcries and meetings with residents since the May 28 public hearing, two weeks later, Lubbock’s city council gave final approval to the zoning change on Tuesday with another vote of 6-1. Outgoing District 2 representative Shelia Patterson-Harris, again, being the only member opposed.

This new project follows a similar proposal in the same location near 14th Street and Avenue X across from the Texas Tech University campus that the council rejected less than a year ago. The 94-foot-tall structure with a rooftop amenity deck was voted down after South Overton residents stepped out in opposition to the development.

The plot of land, owned by Lubbock businessman Thomas Kenneth Abraham, sits on the edge of what was designated in the National Register for Historic Places as the South Overton Residential Historic District, the oldest residential district in Lubbock. The northern half of the Overton neighborhood, divided at Broadway Avenue, was built into student housing as part of a 20-year plan by Lubbock developers Marc and Delbert McDougal in one of the largest privately funded urban renewal efforts in the country.

Last year’s South Overton proposal included more than 700 beds and almost 600 parking spaces, extending much higher than the three and four-story apartments already in the neighborhood or the student housing in North Overton. This required the zoning on the land to be changed to “high-density vertical mixed-use.”

In this year’s proposal, developers with Austin-based Parallel reduced the size to more than 670 beds and a 570-space parking garage, hoping to address the concerns about overflow parking and increased traffic from neighbors like St. John’s Methodist Church next door.

After Tuesday’s final vote, City councilwoman Christy Martinez-Garcia said there’s been tension between residents, developers, and city leaders since these projects first became public.

“Nine months ago, I met with all the different folks, I facilitated a meeting between them. There was a lot of mistrust between them,” Martinez-Garcia said.

The site is in Lubbock’s City Council District 1, where Martinez-Garcia has served as a representative since 2022. She voted against the 2023 project but voted in favor of the new proposal.

“Here we are, fast forward, the project changed. And the city is changing,” Martinez-Garcia said. “There's so many changes, unfortunately. And that included my thoughts on the project itself.”

The initial vote following the May 28 hearing for this year’s project required a supermajority—or six out of seven—of city council representatives to vote in favor of the project for it to pass, which it did.

Martinez-Garcia, who left the public hearing with mixed emotions, said she struggled with the decision, but felt like she made the right call with this project. She added that she received “bigoted comments” and racial slurs in the outcry from the public.

“It was a very difficult decision for me. But at the same time, I did my due diligence, I met with everybody,” Martinez-Garcia said. “And I felt like I had to do what I thought was right, for the city and for my district.”

Tonja Hagy-Valdine has organized residents of South Overton and Lubbockites who opposed both the 2023 and 2024 proposals. Hagy-Valdine said she doesn’t know of all of Martinez-Garcia’s meetings so she can’t respond to all claims of bullying.

“As a citizenry we are, we are compelled to fight for what we believe is right. I think in situations like this, it does get nasty,” Hagy-Valdine said. “And I have to wonder if the entire neighborhood is now being penalized for a few voices that might have taken it too far.”

Hagy-Valdine noted she was “extremely disappointed and disheartened” by the vote from the council and Martinez-Garcia, who Hagy-Valdine said helped inform District 1 residents about the projects and opposed the 2023 proposal when it first became public last year.

“I am very sad that she is on the opposite side of the constituents at this point because she is the one who rallied us to begin with,” Hagy-Valdine said. “And we didn't change.”

Residents of South Overton, like Hagy-Valdine, have expressed concern about what large-scale student housing could mean for the neighborhood in terms of public safety, increased traffic, and strains on parking and plumbing services.

“It didn't end up the way that we had hoped and that the way that we had organized and fought for and really still feel that was the right way to go,” Hagy-Valdine said. “I know that Councilwoman Martinez Garcia has said repeatedly that she did her due diligence. I guess that's up for interpretation.”

While Hagy-Valdine said residents are feeling let down by the council’s decision in this matter, she said they plan to continue fighting for their neighborhood.

“Our plans are to stay vigilant and to stay positive and to stay organized and in contact with one another and just keep moving forward as a community and do the best that we can do to advocate for us, since the city government didn't,” Hagy-Valdine said.

Councilwoman Martinez-Garcia said now that her role in the controversial project has finished, she hopes residents and the developers can come to an agreement.

“I hope that the developer and the neighborhood will put some more effort into connecting with each other because now I'm out of it. It's between them,” Martinez-Garcia said. “I will help facilitate if necessary, but I really believe that they have to put some effort and try to rebuild their trust and create a dynamic neighborhood and make it even better than it was. There's some opportunities there but they're gonna have to both work at it.”

Following the approval from the city council, developers hope to see construction begin as soon as next spring.

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.