by Walker County News Today staff
After several recent meetings highlighted by citizen’s protesting against the City for attempting to rezone residential neighborhoods to allow for commercial development, the Huntsville City Council has decided to leave one such neighborhood alone, at least for now.
Readers may recall our previous reporting on this rezoning issue. It began more than two years ago when a group of developers bought residential property in the G. A. White subdivision just off of 11th Street, then formally petitioned city council to rezone their part of the subdivision from residential to commercial.
That action brought an immediate and vigorous response from nearby residents, who worried that the residential quality of the neighborhood would be adversely affected, if not destroyed. They filed a counter “Protest Petition,” as allowed by Texas State Law, that could only be overcome by a 75% or greater vote of the Council. When that failed to be achieved, the original rezoning petition failed.
But, not to be deterred, the developers returned with a petition to rezone a smaller portion of the neighborhood. This reduced the number of protest signatures considered legal under state law and the City Staff determined that the protest petition submitted by the residents was not valid. As a result, the Council vote was sufficient to grant the rezoning request.
That process was then followed by another developer’s proposal to rezone a second small portion of G. A. White and, again over the objections of other nearby property owners, that request was also granted.
Seeing what happened to G. A. White, the residents of the Brookview Subdivision on the north side of the City, petitioned the City Council to rezone their neighborhood from commercial to residential. Brookview, just off Highway 75 North, had originally been zoned to allow for both commercial and residential development in keeping with the surrounding area. This rezoning request was not publicly opposed and passed the Council easily.
Now, at the August 21 meeting, the Council heard the first reading of a petition from a developer to rezone a portion of the residential Southwood subdivision on the South side of the City to allow for commercial development.
Once again there was a vigorous protest against the rezoning from nearby property owners and a protest petition was filed. But, as it turned out, the protest petition was not required as the Council, at the second reading at last week’s (September 4) meeting, voted 6-2 to not rezone the neighborhood.
These incidents point out the need for residents in the City to be aware of the zoning status of their neighborhoods. Are they in one of the City’s recognized “Neighborhood Conservation” districts, where only single-family homes are allowed or are they zoned “Management” where just about anything is allowed. The zoning map on the City website can be used to easily determine that.
And many people in the City may not realize that, as things stand now, the City has the authority to arbitrarily change the zoning of their properties or their neighborhoods. Their consent is not required, and their only protections are the procedural ones offered by State Law. It is up to Huntsville City Council to make those determinations. They have the power to decide what the “highest and best use” of a property is regardless of what the property owners or neighborhood residents may want. He or she may be asked to “sacrifice for the greater good,” as was the case with G. A. White.
As one citizen observed in a recent public hearing, “It’s easy to ask people to sacrifice for the greater good when you’re not the one being asked to sacrifice.”