Texas has long been deferential to the business sector. So what, you might ask, could possibly go wrong when a group of savvy business proprietors along Waco’s historic La Salle Avenue resolve to capitalize on the presence of former HGTV mega-stars Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Table eatery on the adjoining traffic circle; approach city leaders with a plan to permit only certain sorts of businesses on La Salle going forward (and with certain architectural standards); and City Hall actually takes them seriously? We saw the answer on Tuesday: Other proprietors along La Salle voiced fears of how such an overlay district might impact their future.
In fact, during the City of Waco Plan Commission meeting, Dennis Smith, owner of Bebrick Collision Car Center, 1515 La Salle, asked if the proposed overlay plan would block the possibility of his buying the feed store next door in coming years and turning it into an automotive refinishing center nicely complementing his business. Upon learning this would indeed violate the overlay district some of his neighboring business owners have crafted, he blamed city planners and the Waco City Council for taking away his rights and those of his employees. Then he left the hall before further conversation revealed that, well, yes, Smith could try to gain a variance from the city.
Under the circumstances — including yet others who claimed ignorance about the plan — we see no harm in the Plan Commission’s decision to delay till March a vote on a proposed overlay district prohibiting certain sorts of business from the La Salle Avenue corridor in the future and setting certain architectural standards for new construction. Delaying this vote will allow businesses concerned about this forward-looking district time to articulate their cases, even though some of us grow weary of individuals regularly claiming ignorance about topics well publicized in the press and social media. Democracy thrives when people stay informed. It’s the responsibility of each to be informed, not blame others.
“I know Dennis,” said David Mercer, who owns Unlimited Self Storage on La Salle and participated in overlay district planning. “I haven’t known him for 50 years [the business having been around since 1962, as the sign out front notes] because I haven’t been alive 50 years. He’s a good man. But he was sent notice of these meetings [early on by business proprietors to organize the overlay district]. He had an opportunity to show up. But with that [said], the intent is not, of any of the owners putting in input, to hurt Dennis or any other business existing on La Salle. It was more to help regulate and promote growth on La Salle so that ultimately the property that Mr. Smith currently owns long term will become more valuable to him.”
Waco Plan Commission Chairman Reggie Richardson is right. This decision doesn’t need to be committed today or tomorrow and it’s always best for all voices to be taken into account before formal votes are sought. However, kudos to the business proprietors who propose this plan and have worked on it; they seek to brighten the prospects of all down the road, literally, without hurting any of their neighbors who might not otherwise qualify under it.