After a grueling, emotional public hearing, several parts of a residential area at the corner of Ritchie Road and Chapel Road have been rezoned to allow commercial development.
The Waco City Council rejected rezoning for one tract of land but voted to rezone four others, opening the largely residential area up to commercial entities. Planning Services Director Clint Peters said the city’s Plan Commission recommended against the rezoning, but staff recommended the council move forward anyway, meaning the measure required a supermajority to pass.
“If you look up and down the Ritchie Road corridor, from (Highway) 84 to Hewitt, (there is) limited opportunity for a retail unit that could serve that residential area,” Peters said during the meeting. “We felt like this was a good mix of limited commercial and commercial to serve that area.”
The meeting ran past 9 p.m., later than usual, as 60 residents filed to speak during the handful of public hearings on the docket. Developer Brad Harrell, who requested the rezoning, told the council he bought the land in 2008 and attempted to rezone five years ago, but was met with opposition from residents.
“I met with several neighbors who are in opposition, and I changed my original application to try to work with them,” Harrell said.
About 15 people stood in favor of the rezoning. Ryan Lindsey of Lindsey Contractors, who is involved with development in the area, said the rezoning is part of long-term plans for the neighborhood.
“This area is primed for this,” Lindsey said. “This is following the comprehensive plan that we adopted, got behind and all helped put together.”
While many residents supported the measure, citing the convenience of potentially having retail space and restaurants closer to home, many others spoke in opposition to the measure, raising concerns about venues serving alcohol, additional traffic and pedestrian safety.
Corey Carbonara, a resident of the subdivision, spoke against the rezoning, citing the growing number of families in the area, a community petition that secured 40 signatures opposing the plan, and the previous opposition to the measure.
“Traffic will increase if there’s commercial,” Carbonara said. “There’s no question about that, despite what’s been said.”
Peter Lopez, another resident, said he and his wife moved to the subdivision in January, relocating to Waco from California after an extensive search. He said they settled on the neighborhood specifically because it was entirely residential.
“I understand about growth,” Lopez said. “I left a place with a lot of growth, and I’m trying to get away from overcrowding, traffic and being overtaxed for that growth.”
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The council opted to not rezone a 6.5 acre tract of land between two smaller ones on the east side of Ritchie Road that would each border several home lots.
The two smaller tracts and one other bordering home lots were each rezoned to O-3. Peters said O-3 zoning excludes businesses like gas stations, bars and liquor stores and also limits retail hours to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
“O-3 is a low density, mixed use commercial district,” Peters said. “It allows office uses, like banks and law offices and limited retail, like restaurants. One of (the residents’) big concerns were convenience stores that would potentially stay open 24-7.”
A fourth tract, separated from home lots by Ritchie Road, was rezoned to C-2, which does allow for convenience stores.
“It’s completely bound by roads, so they did approve that,” Peters said. “C-2 does not allow bars, but you can allow alcohol sales.”
The four rezoned lots, which are not contiguous, total about 16.1 acres.
There is still more residential development on the way for the area. Ritchie Road was overhauled through the area and is now being reconstructed and widened just south of the rezoned land.
“It was a partnership between the county, Waco and Hewitt to extend the widened portion of it all the way out to Hewitt,” Peters said.
Peters said Chapel Road and Panther Way are also slated for similar road work in the future.
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