Saying New Braunfels has sorely lacked available affordable housing for years, City Council voted 6-1 to approve the second reading of a controversial ordinance allowing construction of such a complex near Orion Drive and Goodwin Lane.
The issue dominated Monday’s first council meeting of the decade for 1½ hours. Council members and residents exchanged views before approving the rezoning request and special use permit — both including conditions — that clears the way for the 45-acre, 280-lot manufactured home community.
Developers spent months allaying fears of neighborhood residents who in September said the complex would increase crime, drop property values and increase traffic on an already overcrowded and pot-holed Goodwin Lane.
D. Lee Edwards, representing applicant Kenneth Schmidt and YES Communities, said there’s no evidence indicating affordable housing would lead to any of the above in New Braunfels.
“There have been many good questions that have arisen about (whether) we can make this a viable community,” Edwards said. “We have proposed a development that makes a sound transition from industrial into residential in a way that’s clean, thought-out and smartly represented … providing workforce housing that’s desperately needed, while maintaining a high standard of area enhancements.”
District 2 Council Member Justin Meadows and Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Peters spoke of visits to YES Communities’ properties in San Antonio. Neither were impressed while visiting there before Christmas, but changed their minds after another visit in early January.
“After receiving a list of all of their owned properties, we inspected 99 units last Friday,” Meadows said. “We found 94% of them in compliance with the rules.”
Meadows said developers have assured the city of delivering a “flagship” product that would represent the standard for future affordable housing areas in the city.
“It’s not just about housing, but economics,” he said. “Without affordable housing in a vibrant housing community, we all pay higher taxes.”
Peters said he received between 50 and 60 responses from residents in and just outside of the city’s notification area, most expressing similar concerns about the project.
“I took those to heart, but also looked at (other) possible uses for the property currently allowed in the zone,” he said, referring to the designation allowing a 70/30 mix of commercial/industrial to residential development.
Peters also cited the 70% of New Braunfels workers forced to commute from other areas.
“We need to find ways that can permit them to reside here in the city,” he said.
District 6 Council Member Leah Garcia said manufactured housing doesn’t carry the previous stigma associated with the term “trailer park.”
“We have a drastic shortage of affordable properties here in New Braunfels,” she said, adding many that had been available have since been converted into special-use and short-term rentals.
“Most of the apartments near where I work in the (Farm-to-Market Road) 1101 area start at $1,100-$1,200 a month,” Garcia said. “You can’t fit a family comfortably inside a 600-square-foot apartment — it just doesn’t work. We don’t have many affordable older apartment complexes either.”
Two residents initially opposed to the community in September said they’ve since changed their minds. Two others said they remained against it.
In the end, council approved the final ordinance — which contained conditions specifying several building, drainage and street requirements — which only Mayor Barron Casteel opposed.
“Don’t get me wrong — I’m very happy with what the applicant has done to work with residents on finding a solution,” Casteel said on Tuesday. “I told the applicant and others that the industrial zoning was something I was not in favor of changing.”
Casteel said protecting industrial zoning has been one of his main priorities during his council tenure. He lauded recent changes in city zoning protect commercial development, which he said is critical to protecting the tax base.
“We know we’re going to grow in residential properties,” he said. “But commercial properties, especially industrial and manufacturing, provide a tax base without placing a corresponding demand for (city) services.”
Casteel also said the space for industrial development is being eaten away by residential encroachment that does consume more in city services.
“There’s good reason for the council to approve it (because of the need for affordable housing), but it creates a conflict for the future,” he said. “I don’t believe government should be in the business of changing the (housing) market, where the demand is high right now.”