Years of planning paid off Tuesday night when the Waco City Council approved a plan to create an overlay district along La Salle Avenue on first reading.
The overlay district, dubbed the La Salle Avenue Corridor District, would add architectural requirements for new construction, including pedestrian walkways accompanying development, intended to create a unified feel in the area. The proposal that made it to the city council drops prohibitions on specific types of new business that had been included in previous drafts. The district spans the avenue of the same name, as well as a portion of Oakwood Avenue near Baylor University.
Larry Dagley, co-owner of Circle Hardware Supply at 2504 La Salle, said the measure would assist property and business owners.
“Waco is a changing place. We’ve heard that tonight,” Dagley said. “I think La Salle is very important, it has been through the years. I think it’s going to facilitate investment in our community.”
Much of the history of La Salle Avenue sits in plain sight.
Existing properties and in the district would be grandfathered in, and historical landmarks are exempt. But new developments would be required to meet the new standards. Security measures like burglar bars and steel curtains visible from La Salle Avenue would be prohibited, along with visible dumpsters and utility, mechanical or heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Overnight parking must also be out of public view.
New developments and “substantial renovations” would require construction of a 10-foot pedestrian walkway, with sidewalks no narrower than 6 feet.
A stretch of La Salle Avenue, roughly from Third Street to 23rd Street, would be removed from the Colleges and University Neighborhoods District Overlay and incorporated into the La Salle Avenue Corridor District. The intent of the older overlay is to limit changes to the character of the neighborhood related to development targeting Baylor students.
Overlay districts add zoning standards on top of citywide requirements.
Waco’s Plan Commission voted to approve the La Salle measures at a meeting last month. The Central Texas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors backed the item in a letter, and 240 business and property owners undersigned a letter in support of forming the La Salle overlay.
Waco entrepreneur David Mercer said he and other stakeholders have been working toward this for years.
“This is a process that started about five years ago, lost momentum, and then came back several years ago,” Mercer said during Tuesday’s city council meeting. “I humbly ask for your support in the creation of this corridor.”
Chris McGowan, another organizer, said he helped Mercer and others create multiple drafts of the overlay district over time in an attempt to get the majority of La Salle’s businesses on board.
“Over the last couple of months, we were able to get together and put together what I think is a great first step,” McGowan said.
Automotive businesses had particular concerns about the restricted uses in the first draft of the overlay proposal, he said.
“What we did was take that overlay and reorient it to be about building form rather than usage,” McGowan said. “It pulls everyone together for conversations about what La Salle wants to be when it grows up.”
Mercer said the push for a unified district along La Salle started with the late Joe Rodriguez, former chair of the Central Texas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, about five years ago.
“There really just wasn’t enough support,” Mercer said. “The idea kind of fizzled out.”
Interested business owners worked with the city’s Planning and Zoning Services and City Center Waco nonprofit and began holding meetings about the possibility of an overlay district in late January. Mercer said people’s initial reactions were negative, and the opposition he, McGowan and Dagley encountered caught him off guard.
“We wanted to get their input and be as inclusive as humanely possible,” Mercer said.
The original plan included a large number of prohibited uses.
“That struck a nerve with local businesses and property owners,” Mercer said.
Mercer said now once the district becomes official, the city could create a Tax Increment Financing zone or Public Improvement District to encourage new developments in the area.