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City Council candidates respond to Courier query

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

Last week we published 10 “top of the heap” questions to City Council candidates and this week we publish their answers. We received approximately 30 inquires requesting info on the candidates responses. Thank you, readers, for letting us at the Courier know of your interest.
1. What is it about Bandera that you like? Why do you think tourist like to come to Bandera?
Gregory Gibson: I feel that tourists come to Bandera for recreation and relaxation and not so much for the “Cowboy” feel. That’s a problem we need to address with more city cooperation and funding with our groups that preserve that part of our history. I don’t see many tourists that come to enjoy regular activities; however tourism greatly increases with larger activities advertised beyond our city limits, as they seem to have more attraction. I have asked area businesses if any of these activities seem to make a difference with sales and I was shocked to learn that in most cases it doesn’t. In many situations it prevents customers from patronizing their businesses due to inaccessibility, causing financial losses. Maybe we need to sit down and consider replacing some lower producing events with new events to revive interest in our city.
Cindy Coffey: John Wayne, James Coburn, Clint Eastwood were my heroes along with great iconic westerns like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Rio Grande,” and “Two Mules for Sister Sarah.” This is the Cowboy Capital of the World and that’s a pretty big pair of boots to fill. I love the hometown spirit, the river which supports the annual sport of tubin’ and of course our bars and BBQ joints, but that doesn’t support a long-term visit as most are passing through to one of our neighboring cities. Our best market is the Europeans as we still have a mystery appeal due to our bestowed designation. They all think we dress western and ride horses everywhere. Ironically some folks still do. We need to capitalize on those assumptions and build from there. I am blessed to possess experience marketing municipalities and regions to overseas markets.
Lynn Palmer: My response to all your questions would be if elected I will always make decisions that I know will be in the best interest of the citizens and the community as a whole. Bandera has been my home since 1977, I love the small town living, I would like to keep the town unique by making the right choices for growth. Thank you.
Christine Morse: I enjoy our small town way of life, and the friendly people, the values and morals that I have come to associate with Bandera. I believe people come here to see the “cowboy way of life,” but leave with much more. They enjoy our locals, the foreigners they meet, the horses, the honky-tonks, our river, our beautiful countryside, but mostly I think they feel like they are taking a piece of Texas home with them when they go — and that they are always welcomed back.
2. Are you concerned about urban sprawl and its effect on Bandera? Share your ideas and thoughts about the small town qualities of Bandera worth protecting, if any, and how to protect those qualities.
Gregory Gibson: Yes, I am and the answer isn’t for us to “annex.” We need to have protections in place to allow our residents to improve existing properties, and work with them. Review, remove and or replace ordinances that are not working. Insure consistent and fair application and recognize that we are a small town. Having building codes that mimic Houston, Dallas and San Antonio versus the county’s single septic inspection is telling. It is also an incentive for development beyond our city limits and that is a real problem.
Cindy Coffey: Yes, I am very concerned. Interstate Highway 35 San Antonio to Austin built out, Hwy 281 corridor to Bulverde and beyond developed, and IH 10 to Boerne built out, with San Antonio annexing the commercial corridor. Ask yourself what’s left? I remember growing up in Leon Valley and thinking how far it was to drive to Flores Country Store to dance, or visit my friends from John Marshall who lived out there. Now it’s all connected: Leon Valley, San Antonio and Helotes. It is creeping towards us as new subdivisions pepper the sides of Hwy 16 all the way to the Bandera County Border. The good news is we still have time—about 4-7 years— before it’s knocking on our door. There is plenty of time to develop a strategy and control how our community is developed in a thoughtful way maintaining the integrity and legacy of Bandera.
Christine Morse: The way our codes are written and enforced will be the biggest contributor in controlling the effect of urban sprawl. I have all the confidence in our community in protecting our way of life while still allowing for inevitable growth.
3. What small towns in the state or country do you consider to be “good models” for managing a small town like Bandera? There are many examples of small towns that have been swallowed up by metropolitan areas, but what are the examples of towns, if any, you look at and think, “We could do that,” or “We should do that”?
Gregory Gibson: Any town that strives to protect its heritage and culture such as (pre-fire) Sonoma, California, are excellent models, as there are no franchises — except real estate offices — on or around the square. For a few blocks around the downtown square, they have rigid standards on development that prevent interloper concepts that don’t mesh with the general theme of the community. Thousands visit every week, as it is a huge tourist destination. Also, there are wonderful, unique inns and restaurants.
In Texas, I like what Marfa is doing by focusing on becoming a cultural arts destination, with art galleries and providing writing seminars. Our city has a new gallery, a famous handbag designer and a world famous jewelry manufacturer. It is a great beginning. Additionally, as an avid recreation fanatic, anytime we can promote our natural resources — it’s a big win.
Cindy Coffey: Goliad is similar in demographics and size. I like what they have accomplished from an operational standpoint. They have preserved the historical downtown very well. They manage their San Antonio River tourism and have a recreational district. This is important, as they don’t put the income generated from the admission, park rental and other fees into the general fund for the city. It is kept separately so that the city has the money to maintain, upgrade and improve the facilities. This keeps the parks clean and safe for visitors and a returning destination venue.
I would say Fredericksburg is my “go to” to demonstrate and compare what the vision was supposed to be for Bandera. NO FRANCHISES within the downtown main business district. Looking at Bandera this would include 11th and 12th streets as well as Main for 5 blocks beginning at the bridge. You can’t change existing franchises, but you can encourage them to upgrade the facades providing low interest or no interest loans. I wonder which council members were responsible for ignoring the general plan and allowing some of the newer businesses that are franchises. Franchises are great for residents and visitors, but not in a historical district. Fredericksburg kept out the franchises and focused on independent shops and boutique-like lodging. They have a variety of restaurants featuring cultural influences of their community throughout a designated historical district. That is what is necessary for a successful tourism dependent city. All is possible with experience and perseverance.
Christine Morse: LOL - Bandera does not like to be compared to any other town! We stand on our own style of old school values of the past and morals. “Keep it Western” is a way of life! We already do so much as a small town in the way of events and entertainment. Our focus needs to be on the infrastructure improvements we need to do to keep Bandera up to date, yet maintaining control.
4. Describe the public parking situation in Bandera as you see it. In what ways does the city council need to plan for future parking needs? Consider some realistic scenarios, too — a 3-day chili cook off, for example, or a skateboard competition at the new skate park.
Gregory Gibson: The only time that I see parking as an issue is when events are crammed into the crowded area of downtown. I would like to see events using the non-resident side of the park or the area where the former mobile home park used to be. This would provide plenty of space for the events and for parking.
Cindy Coffey: If there were a better working relationship as well as mutual respect with the county there would be no reason to consider any type of parking shortage. The problem isn’t parking, as there are sufficient areas around the courthouse and on the side streets. These areas are not supported with safe pedestrian crossings for the visitors. There is also a need for signage on the corners directing people to side street businesses, parking and additional facilities or restaurants. This can be a self-funded project with local business subscriptions for 2-year periods. It does work, as I know from previous cities.
The city owns the property at the end of the park; there is no reason not to allow parking. Parking in the river park should be limited to 2 vehicles per pavilion rental and a handicap area with a placard required. Chili Cook-offs would be great down there as well, since having them close to town just clogs up the daily parking for those who are not attending an event. Lastly, as I stated before, Mansfield Park has so much potential. The city is losing out on a tremendous shared opportunity on working with the county and sharing events. We do not need a separate recreational facility that current city people are trying to accomplish. I have always maintained, who is paying for the insurance indemnifying the city for the skateboard park? Who would pay for the huge policy protecting any type of facility in the flood zone? FEMA just released new maps last year and that area is in the middle of it. Can we really afford this?
Christine Morse: We need the public and private groups to work together to create parking plans that best utilize space.
5. What about traffic? Describe how the traffic situation in Bandera has changed, or will change in the future, and what your thoughts are about managing traffic in the future.
Gregory Gibson: We need to limit the activities that shut down Main Street. These can be moved to the perimeter of the river, down Pecan Street, around and up Cedar Street, around the lower numbered streets. This would provide longer parade routes, more parking and better assembly of participants. I feel that we have plenty of parking for everyday visitors. We do need signs, however, showing people where additional parking is available.
Cindy Coffey: As with any community there are peaks and valleys in traffic. I know there is a big push to build the road by the Tobin Ranch to bypass the City of Bandera. While some would welcome this, it would be disastrous to the merchants and businesses downtown. How many times have we heard “I was passing by and saw your shop” or “I forgot to get gas, didn’t think I would make it?” Small towns offer conveniences and conveniences generate sales tax. Some of the individuals who don’t reside in Bandera are pushing for this bypass thinking it would improve business or create opportunities on the new road. I challenge them to perform their due diligence and see how many small American towns die for lack of business. It is a fact, that wherever you work is where you will most likely buy your fuel, groceries and shop. This is proven research. Simply look at the overpass over Leon Valley and the dying businesses. As a small town, if you don’t provide convenience services and the working population spends outside the community a financial downturn is inevitable. You can fix it by promoting smart growth within the city. Jobs that pay more than a housekeeper and attract businesses that become destinations or develop a strategy that sets you apart from other towns that kept their hometown appeal. If you know how and have the experience, your future development will solve your tax, traffic and job issues.
Christine Morse: The dream of dreams would be to get the big rigs off of Main Street and stop the wear and tear that they cause. I would love to be a part of the solution. I think accomplishing this will take a lot of thought, community input and perseverance.
6. The city council is considering turning a street into a one-way street to accommodate parking requirements for a proposed hotel. In what way would that change affect traffic flow?
Gregory Gibson: Yes, significantly, as side streets are good for locals to avoid Main Street traffic. I do not support closing a public street in order for a project to meet its requirement for the required parking spaces. They could lease the parking behind the Dollar General. It’s their problem to deal with, not the taxpayers.
Cindy Coffey: This would be a disaster on so many levels. First, the taxpayers not the city or council owns the street. Creating a one-way street so a business that we do not need can achieve its parking requirements is ridiculous and a GIFT OF PUBLIC FUNDS! It will also create a traffic quagmire, as our residents are used to the convenience of cutting down side streets and crossing main easily. Making a side street into a one-way is bad in the tourism world. People not familiar with the change visiting the town can cause an accident going the wrong way (especially if they are a bit inebriated from local bars) — setting the city up for future lawsuits. This is where lack of experience and training is really dangerous. In government there is a word and it is called “precedent” it means if it was done once it can be done again and again. To refuse another business the same opportunity would demonstrate favoritism. Favoritism is a very bad problem in the government world and has been used effectively to sue cities all over the country.
Christine Morse: My concern is for the section of 11th Street in front of the middle school and what that will do to traffic there, and the additional wear and tear on 11th Street.
7. The business incentives discussed and being offered for the developer of the proposed Best Western Hotel have generated controversy among Bandera County residents. Have you read the feasibility study? If so, what do you think about it?
Gregory Gibson: There is no feasibility study. This was asked at the last workshop and several council members along with Art Crawford from the EDC, acknowledged that they never seen one. Something like that is absolutely necessary to move forward and yet they have nothing. Ask yourself, “Why not?” Who are they supposed to represent? In my opinion, it certainly doesn’t seem like it is in the best interest of Bandera’s residents and
Cindy Coffey: Nobody can find the feasibility study if it was truly done. If it was done who did the city contract with to perform it? Wouldn’t they have a copy of it? Logical questions, but unanswered questions. It is not legitimate policy to push a project through without multiple binders of reports, financials, a feasibility study and an Environmental Impact Report. NONE of these exist. This project would fail a feasibility study.
Most of the businesses in our small city started with their own money, mortgaged homes, and obtained SBA loans because they knew it was their dream to own a business. They never expected to get so many promised subsidies, tax abatements, training money (for housekeepers) and other freebies to open a business that we don’t need. At the last city workshop a few of the hotel owners attended. It has been touted for months that we need this hotel as the others were at full capacity and that they were consulted for this “project” and supportive but apparently not. When they got up to ask the workshop members about the “claims of full capacity,” the existing hotel owners updated and advised the workshop that they averaged less than an annual occupancy of 25%. They were told that this wasn’t the time to discuss it. Well then, they wondered when the right time is. The city is required to perform the Environmental Impact Report by a third party. When it does it will be determined that the hotel cannot provide the parking required, the city lacks a ladder truck for the proposed third floor in the event of a fire, the city has no capacity in the waste treatment plant to accommodate over 40 hotel rooms and we certainly don’t have the water. Currently the city is raising rates on water making taxpayers pay for miscalculations and improvements. When does this hotel pay its fair share for drainage issues and water impact fees? This council isn’t even considering it and why should they? Instead they will simply raise your taxes as stated at the forum by the current incumbent Rebeca Gibson and appointed member Lynn Palmer.
Christine Morse: No, I have not read it. It was just announced at Wednesday workshop that it was now available. I have not received a copy yet. However, a lot of the information from the study was discussed at the workshop as well as at the Commissioners Court recently.
8. The area of the county outside of the City of Bandera has about 20 times the population of Bandera. What are your thoughts about annexation?
Gregory Gibson: Annexation should not be considered until the city can demonstrate the ability to manage what they now already control. There is no sewer capacity and no water service that is clean and consistent. Not to mention that the city isn’t doing a very good job managing a number of other city problems. The city can stay small; but they must clean up their services and infrastructure before considering any annexation. Then and only then, it would be the will of the residents, if they choose to be annexed or not.
Cindy Coffey: No Annexation. The reason there is such an imbalance is the lack of city structure, inexperienced council members making uninformed policy decisions that lack the governmental training to administer properly along with unqualified staff members. Throw in low employee morale, businesses feeling the economic pinch and taxpayers mortified by the city’s mismanagement to the point of frustration and disgust. Maybe it is easier to build in the county as opposed to the city with its inconsistent application of over-the-top regulations blocking people from completing projects as they sit creating blight vs. obtaining a septic permit in the county (which is most likely the reason). The fact that none of the council is familiar with the passing of SB46 demonstrates the lack of experience or desire to learn. SB46 prevents cities from annexing without the “vote” of the people they are trying to annex. Thank God! Everyone is safe for now perhaps the city can get on the right track and become responsive and desirable so that people would consider becoming a part of something wonderful and managed correctly.
Christine Morse: I am aware of areas that are receiving city utilities but are not part of the city tax base. I see those as potential areas to bring additional revenue to our city.
9. Describe in your own words the severity of the water and wastewater situation in Bandera and how the handling of it affects the value of property in the city and the attraction of potential investors and residents.
Gregory Gibson: The city’s failure to make this the number one priority is quite frightful. Why are so much money, time and energy being expended on a hotel that we don’t need? Instead, why not focus our resources on a sustainable and safe water supply and a waste treatment facility that can be upgraded and expanded? Folks need to wake up and realize this group is either uninformed or operating for personal reasons. Either option is unacceptable.
Cindy Coffey: As a council member in another small town for 10+ years this was a huge issue. It was discovered that the city administrator lied to the council and told them they had a waste treatment plant that could handle upwards of a 28,000 population. Unfortunately, after a development project performed the required Environmental Impact Report it was discovered that it was only built to 15,000. This project meant a lot of future tax money and finally our own high school but we had to act fast. We put out an expansion design asking for Requests for Proposal and received 3 bids. We operated our water fund as a separate entity and had a substantial amount in reserves because we required all new buildings to pay into the water fund for access. Since we had great credit due to an amazing financial director we were able to secure funding from the state and federal governments without taxing our residents with any increase. We offered incentives to the selected company to complete the project under time and under budget. The development project moved forward but in phases to match the timing of the expansion. Having that experience and chairing the Blue Ribbon Water Committee is an opportunity I am willing to share and guide our city through to save money and time. Time is of the essence and an unwanted hotel project is not the priority for our city. Safe water and planned growth for our water treatment facility is.
Christine Morse: This is a major issue facing the city right now. I am confident in city council and the people of this community that are working on this subject.
10. What do you think Bandera should look like in 10 years?
Gregory Gibson: A small community; with improved sidewalks, better streets, good water and wastewater programs, healthy landscaping, and improved park programs. In addition we need to support our local library and fire department. And we must maintain a solid and competent staff with ordinances to protect the residents and businesses from future elected officials with different agendas, thereby strengthening continuity of services and eliminating the threat that qualified staff members will be terminated and replaced by “friends.”
Cindy Coffey: In 10 years with the proper planning and safety mechanisms in place we can achieve the true American dream; small town living with a properly managed safe city and a sustainable tourism supported economy that brings prosperity to our businesses, become a city that doesn’t change direction on the whim of a current council majority but instead a council who will be required to obtain the proper training providing them the tools to enhance and embrace opportunities of preservation and history. Let’s not allow a minority to jeopardize our future by standing up for your community and demand that you are acknowledged and your opinion matters. Friends do not care if your property value plunges and your taxes rise. Isn’t this is one of those “Trump” moments? Let’s vote out the “TAX AND SPEND” group because we are primarily a Republican fiscal conservative community therefore shouldn’t we have a government that reflects our perspectives?
Christine Morse: In 10 years from now there will be growth and there will be changes and I know they will be positive and progressive. I still see that Bandera will be a small town with a big attitude: Always respecting and representing the amazing values of the past, and honoring our heritage, and the legacies unique to here. People will still come to Bandera to see cowboys on horseback on Main Street, to float in our river and ride in our hills. There will just be another hotel for them to stay in, more places to eat, shop, and honky-tonks to dance the nights away.