What a day of news! We may not recover from Tuesday, which included a four-hour Kerrville City Council meeting. If cedar fever and omicron don't get us first, long public meetings will do the trick. OK, all kidding aside. The City Council discussed a lot of important stuff. There was no discussion about the weather, but we can expect more mild and dry weather. Once again, there's no rain in the foreseeable future. By Thursday, temperatures will jump back to the low 70s — that will probably ramp up the cedar pollen.
ON TODAY'S THE LEAD LIVE
Precinct 2 Commissioner candidate Rich Paces will be our guest on The Lead Live this morning. This is our second interview with candidates for the seat that has been vacated by Tom Moser (although temporarily held by Beck Gipson). A retired petroleum engineer, Paces said his experience would help tighten the county's fiscal practices. On Monday, he urged the Kerr County Commissioner's Court to return $10 million in federal COVID-19 funding. The show starts at 9 a.m.
OUR FAVORITE PHOTOS FROM TUESDAY
It wasn't necessarily a tip of the hat, but Bill Sole, right, president of the Hill Country Chapter of the Sons of American Revolution, thanks Schreiner University Professor Ben Montoya for his lecture Tuesday about the life of George Washington. It's just one of four lectures Montoya will be giving on the United States first president.
3 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM OUR INTERVIEW WITH STAN KUBENKA
On Tuesday, we sat down for a conversation with Precinct 2 Commissioner candidate Stan Kubenka, who told us that he's wanted to serve the public since he was 10 years old. A self-proclaimed political junkie, Kubenka served on the Upper Guadalupe River Authority board of directors for 11 years, including a term as president. Like his four opponents, Kubenka is a conservative Republican. So, here are three takeaways from our conversation with Kubenka:
1. He believes his service will help him be a strong commissioner.
"And with all this service, I've acquired a lot of knowledge and skills that I think would work very well at the court," Kubenka said. "And I've also known most of the people at the courthouse. So, I have a relationship with everyone at the courthouse. Most of the courthouse people but even people like at the city. I have a lot of relationships with those folks over there (Headwaters Authority) and still with UGRA. Right. And other organizations. And what that does is create the ability to have communication."
2. A resident of Center Point, Kubenka said he favored a proactive approach to development in Precinct 2. The area has an estimated 600-800 housing lots coming for plating in the coming months. Kubenka argues residents should get ahead of projects to communicate to developers about how their work may fit in the community.
"My thoughts to (Center Point), and I do not know how doable this is, but I advised them to reach out to developers prior to them developing because really, these are big dollar things," said Kubenka, adding that residents would have a strong position in preserving aspects of their community.
"Good developer would listen to what makes this unique," Kubenka said.
3. Finally, we discussed his political hero.
"Obviously, Ronald Reagan and that's something else too that defines us is how old we are when we become aware of something," Kubenka said." So, I was a very young man under Ronald Reagan. I actually was a liberal Democrat when I was young. Jimmy Carter changed that. With Carter it was all doom and gloom when he had his speech and Ronald Reagan came in with the positive ideas. It's not really Democrat or Republican. It is what is your message. And Reagan was a positive message. Not doom and gloom. Not crisis all the time."
There's a lot more to our interview with Kubenka, and we encourage you to watch the entire segment here: https://fb.watch/au7rvXu9A5/
Or listen to the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/louis-amestoy/episodes/The-Kerr-County-Lead–Jan–11–2022-e1crel5
OK, ABOUT THAT CITY COUNCIL MEETING
First off, we believe this is one of the longest Kerrville City Council meetings we've covered in some time — all told more than four hours. Here's a quick-hit breakdown:
- The Council approved six short-term housing rentals, including reversing a decision by the planning and zoning commission to deny one of the conditional-use permits.
- The Council approved annexing 6 acres of land that would clear the way for 36 apartments along Holdsworth Drive, just west of Paschal Drive.
- The Council approved annexing 160 acres of land owned by Peterson Health, clearing the way to construct an auxiliary parking lot. Peterson is building a state-of-the-art surgery center in the northwest corner of its existing parking lot. Peterson will extend Lehmann Drive to do the project, creating a T-intersection at Rim Rock Drive, leading into the new parking lot with spaces for 160 vehicles.
- Unanimously approved a $1.6 million Economic Improvement Corp. grant to help Peterson cover some of the costs of infrastructure related to the parking lot and surgery center.
- Unanimously approved a shift away from developers dedicating parkland to one where developers pay fees that will help improve existing parks.
And that was the somewhat easy stuff.
AN ANNEXATION SPLITS THE COUNCIL
A split City Council voted 3-2 to approve the annexation and rezoning of a 16-acre parcel just outside of the city's northwest limits.
The proposal called for the city to annex the acreage along and west of Coronado Drive. The original plan was to make the parcels part of the residential estates of The Heights development, but it escaped annexation. Now, a developer wants to build 44 single-family homes on the land, but it has faced significant opposition from neighbors.
The Kerrville planning and zoning commission voted 4-3 in October to annex the land but rejected the single-family home zoning request. Instead, planning and zoning sent the City Council a plan calling for residential estate zoning.
To assuage the neighbors' fears, specifically those living on Mountain Laurel View, the developer offered a drainage plan that diverted water properly into city-approved flood control channels.
Jennyth Peterson argues her point about a proposed development in northwest Kerrville.
Jennyth Peterson, who organized opposition to the proposal, said the plan didn't solve the broader danger of flooding to those living downstream from the flood-control areas. Peterson effectively showed photos of significant runoff from the undeveloped land into backyards and the flood-control basins.
In the end, Councilwoman Judy Eychner said she supported the plan because the city needs the housing and trusted the city staff's recommendation to approve the single-family zoning.
"I know I've lost sleep on this," Eychner said. "I know I'm not the only one."
However, the vote was not unanimous — Councilmembers Roman Garcia and Brenda Hughes voted against the zoning change. Mayor Bill Blackburn, Eychner and Councilwoman Kim Clarkson voted for it.
THE DECISION DIDN'T SIT WELL WITH P&Z CHAIRMAN
Planning and Zoning Commission's Chairman Mike Sigerman was immediately critical of the decision to overturn the commission's recommendation to zone the Coronado Drive property as residential estates. Sigerman argues that existing city taxpayers should be considered first before taking action, and there was a public safety component to the commission's decision in October.
"Unfortunately, tonight at the Kerrville City Council meeting three members of the council chose to show more regard for someone that might buy a home here in the future and a questionable developer instead of existing taxpaying Kerrville residents, who are dealing with a severe water drainage issue that should be the city's responsibility in the name of so-called progress," Sigerman wrote on The Lead's Facebook page. "They disregarded planning and zoning recommendation to protect our residents in deference to out of town developers. I don't think we are in such a housing shortage that we do not protect our residents. At least we have two council members who were prudent and just on this issue."
THE PUBLIC SAFETY BUILDING
Public safety building committee chairman John Harrison cracks a smile after handing a report about city needs for the proposed facility — $45 million, 69,000 square feet.
Kerrville's proposed public safety building will cost the taxpayers about $14 per month, but that won't include nearly 30% of the city's homeowners.
In the first formal presentation to the City Council, the committee assigned the task of assessing the needs of the public safety building confirmed the city would need to spend $45 million to construct a 69,000-square-foot facility that would house the police department, fire administration and the municipal court.
The presentation, made during Tuesday's City Council workshop, was not a surprise. What was new was the city staff's assessment that property taxes — for most homeowners — would rise by about $164 per year — or $14 per month.
There were plenty of questions about the project's cost, but committee chairman John Harrison said it was the City Council's decision to determine if the expense would be appropriate. The committee, commissioned in October, made a unanimous 10-0 recommendation for the cost and size of the building.
Harrison, however, made it clear that hard work is still to come with presenting the plan to voters.
"I'm optimistic," Harrison said of the bond's potential passage. "The reality of this is we are going to leave the police station, fire administration and court in their existing places for another 30 months. The pressure is on us — the voters — to provide the facilities that our first responders need."
COVID'S ALARMING HOSPITALIZATIONS
Peterson Health President and CEO Cory Edmondson is on the precipice of an unprecedented public health crisis. Still, he's confident Peterson Regional Medical Center staff will respond to the fight against the COVID-19 omicron variant.
"We're managing through it," said Edmondson, adding it has been an exhausting fight against COVID-19. "It's almost like a tag-team where one is down and then another one is coming back."
To be blunt, omicron is so infectious it has begun to take a more significant toll on health care workers, and Peterson is concerned about retention.
"We've got staff that is pushing through sicknesses and illnesses," Edmondson said.
On Monday, Peterson said seven patients were in the intensive care unit. On Tuesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 51 ICU beds remaining in the San Antonio region, including Kerr County.
How Peterson will report hospitalizations today will be a barometer of how Kerr County is doing against the variant. Kerrville Fire Department Chief Eric Maloney said DSHS expects omicron to peak by Jan. 18 (others aren't as optimistic), but hospitalizations may not peak until early February.
Texas hospitalizations are growing by 5% per day, and the trend could see the hospital soar past 14,000 hospitalizations by Sunday.
SCHREINER MEN REBOUND THEIR WAY TO FIFTH CONSECUTIVE WIN
Schreiner University men's basketball coach Marwan Elrakawaby said heading into Tuesday night's game against Texas Lutheran; his team had to rebound.
The Mountaineers took those orders to heart by outrebounding visiting Texas Lutheran and earning their fifth consecutive Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference victory, 64-60.
A putback by first-year player Kamden Ross off an Alex Dehoyos miss helped snap a 60-60 tie with five seconds remaining in the game. The Mountaineers forced a turnover, leading Texas Lutheran to foul Beau Cervantes, who sealed the win with two free throws.
The Mountaineers outrebounded Texas Lutheran 60-33, and Schreiner dominated the offensive boards — 24-10. The effort helped offset one of the Mountaineers' worst shooting performances of the season, including a season-low 1-of-14 night from 3-point range.
"Another one of those games where we didn't shoot it well but found a way to win because of our effort on the glass," Elrakawaby said. "Getting 24 offensive boards and limiting them to 10 was the key. And I have to give the guys credit for embracing our identity as a rebounding team. We're currently one of the top two rebounding margin teams."
Ross turned in one of his most impressive efforts of his short career with a game-high 19 points and 15 rebounds.
"Kamden Ross is a special player," Elrakawaby said. "The kind of athlete and with the kind instincts that you can't teach around the basket. He has come up big for us now several times in this win streak. It's exciting to watch him play. He's brought energy and bounce we didn't have last year, and it's making a huge impact."
The victory avenged a narrow loss to Texas Lutheran last month. More importantly, Schreiner is 5-2 in the SCAC and one game behind St. Thomas and Trinity for the conference lead. The Mountaineers have beaten St. Thomas and suffered an overtime loss to Trinity last month.
SCHREINER WOMEN HAVE WINNING STREAK SNAPPED
Schreiner University women's basketball team played strong second and third quarters on Tuesday night, but the Mountaineers couldn't overcome a slow start and finish in a 70-64 loss to visiting Texas Lutheran.
The loss snapped Schreiner's two-game losing streak and proved a crucial setback in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Mountaineers lost in one key stat — second-chance baskets. The Bulldogs outscored Schreiner 14-4 on those offensive putbacks.
Schreiner is now 5-8 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. The Mountaineers return to action Saturday against St. Thomas before heading to Colorado Springs for a Monday game against Colorado College — both of those are makeup games from COVID-19 postponements.