In early April, the Kyle City Council voted 2-4 against rezoning a property to CBD-2 across the street from Los Vaqueros Café near the intersection of Center Street and Rebel Drive in downtown Kyle.
The house had been a residence forever, but after the owner passed away, a businessperson purchased the property and was seeking to increase the allowable commercial uses from the more limited CBD-1 to the more flexible CBD-2. Both zonings were recommended in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, and no matter what the zoning, any changes to the property would be required to follow the Downtown Overlay District requirements that, among other things, forces changes to the property to mesh with the fabric and character of the surrounding area.
A few neighbors and downtown residents strongly protested, citing fears such as noise, increased traffic, lack of parking and a belief that council has for some time disregarded the voices of those who have lived in Kyle the longest.
It’s an understandable frustration. Folks simply don’t want more bars. They don’t like the traffic and increased density.
“Leave our area the way it is,” said one of the neighbors who lives on Center Street while speaking before council. “I feel like I’m being kicked … Let me have my property. It’s my property. You have so much land [to develop in Kyle]. Why are you trying to push it down Center Street?”
The zoning denial initiated a cascade of actions by councilmembers because it represented the first significant departure from the city’s Downtown Revitalization Plan in years. In truth, council’s vision for downtown has always created friction with the folks who live there. The problem has never been that every single person downtown is against revitalization, but rather that council has made decisions without allowing the downtown resident’s voices to be incorporated into the plan. That’s a problem.
After the item failed, virtually all future agenda items related to downtown were postponed. In the meantime, council resolved to meet with downtown residents and business owners to learn what, if anything, could be done to build consensus. Since April, there have been more townhall meetings by councilmembers than perhaps any other three-month stretch in our history. The meetings have made me proud to work with my colleagues on the dais because this council has evolved into a highly communicative body – something we have not always been. To bookend the town halls, last Saturday morning the council – as a group – invited the community to come and speak about their vision for downtown. Around 60 people attended and spoke for over three hours in front of the entire council.
The feedback, of course, was divided. On the one hand, folks said businesses, growth and the commercialization of downtown were the problem. On the other hand, folks said these things were the solution. Some said we shouldn’t allow new businesses until we improve the parking and sidewalk grid. Others said we shouldn’t improve that infrastructure unless we were willing to simultaneously recruit businesses to pay for it. Everyone had a reason why they felt our downtown seems to languish behind other cities in the region.
Here’s what I know.
The trajectory of downtown Kyle development is rued by all. In the battle between downtown revitalization and residential preservation, everyone is losing. The businesses struggle, and the residents feel hemmed in by growth that brings traffic and noise. It’s a problem that can only be solved if the community engages with an open mind and if the city council steps forward and leads. For the first time, I believe that’s happening.
Folks who live downtown are beginning to realize that change is inevitable. And the larger Kyle community (and council) is expressing a willingness to hear those who are reticent to change.
After last week’s town hall meeting, councilmembers sponsored numerous items related to downtown. The items included restoring the Krug Activity Center, installing wayfinding signage around the square to point folks to businesses, renaming downtown from the “Old Town District” to the “Original Town District,” increasing cleanliness standards, recruiting private investment on a city-owned property on the square, and ceremonially voting to re-affirm our commitment to the Downtown Revitalization Plan.
Because one thing is for sure. The problem has never been with that document. The problem has always been that we have not committed to following the plan outlined in the document while also working with the residents to make sure they are heard and protected.