Residents Oppose Rezoning, Fearing Traffic And Noise
Residents of West University Place who live near the proposed location of a Potbelly Sandwich Works appeared in a public hearing Monday to explain their fears that the new restaurant could bring more traffic, parking woes, noise and trash into their lives.
At a public hearing before the West U. City Council and the city’s Zoning and Planning Commission, eight people spoke out against an application to rezone a tract of land at Kirby Drive and Tangley Street, the current location of Shipley Donuts.
The property owner, Bob Orkin of Kirby Retail Fund Ltd., is asking the city to change his land from a residential townhouse district into a commercial zone, which will allow him to tear down the existing structure and build a new one.
“The bottom line is this: We don’t want it rezoned,” said Cherie Lindley, a resident of Tangley Street.
Residents said that Shipley Donuts already attracts a lot of cut-through traffic, causes parking issues, and blows trash into neighbors yards. They feared the problems would get worse with Potbelly Sandwich Works because the restaurant would be open for longer hours.
“We expected town homes to be built there,” said Janet Casstevens. “We really didn’t think if Shipley’s went away we’d be facing something like this.”
The tract in question at 5800 Kirby Dr. is designated as a townhouse district, although it has been used for commercial purposes as long as anyone can remember. The Shipley Donuts is allowed to operate there as a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
Orkin would be allowed to switch tenants as long as he didn’t make changes to the building footprint, although current city laws would allow him to completely remodel the interior. But Potbelly Sandwich Works has said it will only consider the location with a new building.
“The law as it is now, as a practical matter, it never is going to be town homes,” said Councilman George Boehme. “There’s nothing this commission can do about that … The law says they have prior nonconforming status.”
Boehme said he thinks the real issue is whether the city will have an old commercial building that does not conform with current building codes, or whether it will get new business that does conform will the city’s rules.
“We need to do something about the non-conforming rules we have in our code,” Boehme said.
In addition to complying with West U. commercial building rules, the developers say they would design the new restaurant to fit in with the neighborhood. The building would be about 2,000 square feet, with fences on some sides that could help mitigate noise. It would have about 20 parking spots, and the company has negotiated agreements with other nearby businesses to allow its employees to park there. Potbelly has 10 other Houston-area locations.
“I really think the issue is if we want townhouses we’re just deluding ourselves,” said Reid Wilson, Orkin’s attorney. “We believe what we’re proposing is logical, it’s practical, it is the city’s best interest.”
Orkin said he planned to invest $400,000 to improve the building, which would increase the city’s tax base. Representatives from Potbelly Sandwich Works said they think the location could bring in $1.2 million in sales per year, which would also allow the city to collect more revenue in sales taxes.
Mayor Bob Kelly said that some issues that residents raised during the hearing — Problems with cut-through traffic, parking and noise — Could be addressed by the city council at any time, provided council members knew about the issues.
“That’s something you need to let us know about,” he said. “That’s something we can deal with.”