By Erik Walsh and
The News Staff
ATHENS–It was a night of joy and disappointment at the Athens City Council chambers Feb. 25 – joy for the splash pad supporters and disappointment for advocates of a proposed veterans rehabilitation center – with a capacity, standing room only crowd in attendance.
The splash pad continued to gain momentum Monday night when the Athens Economic Development Corporation’s Grant of $20,000 to the Athens Chamber of Commerce was unanimously approved by the city council. This brings the total for construction of a splash pad at Kiwanis Park to about $140,000 of its $200,000 fundraising goal.
Audience members in the council chambers clapped and cheered when the proposed grant was approved.
The room was much more stoic when the decision was made to take no action on a request to rezone the old hospital site.
Property developer Babit LLC had requested a rezoning of the property from office use to multifamily residential-5.
Babit principal Kevin Hambrick proposes to transform the old building into a rehab center for veterans.
After more than twenty minutes of hearing concerns from residents and nearby business owners – ranging from safety issues to rezoning complications – and receiving feedback from Hambrick, the council ultimately took no action.
“I love the idea of helping veteran,” Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said. “But its important to get the zoning right before we approve the project.”
The reason for the unanimous council decision–with whispers and public comments from the crowd in agreement–was the long term ramification of a zoning change. If the Veterans Rehabilitation Center fell through, the property would still be rezoned and available for sale. Potentially, Hambrick could sell the property and an apartment complex or low-income housing could be built. That was a prospect the council was not ready to embrace.
Though the council took no action, Councilwoman Elaine Jenkens was in favor of the idea and wants to do something to help veterans.
“If there is a zoning issue we need to address, that’s fine, but we should assist the men and women that have put themselves in harm’s way for us.”
The rehab center could cost up to $8 million to build and house around 300 veterans, who served in the military dating back to the Korean War. While there, veterans would be given shelter and job skills to reenter the workforce.
For the Rehabilitation Center to continue, the Planning and Zoning Commission will need to recommend a specific-use permit, and letters to nearby residences and businesses could then be reissued to inform the community.
In other action, council members:
• ordered a city election for May 11, to be conducted jointly with the Athens Independent School District. An agreement with Henderson County was also approved to provide election services.
• adopted a resolution, as required by Texas Community Development Block Grant Program.
• opted out of the PEG Fee by Holders of State Issued Certificate of Franchise Authority. Otherwise local consumers would have been affected by the addition of a 1 percent franchise fee.
• granted the use of city equipment, labor and estimated water usage valued at about $14,596 for the Splash Pad Project at Kiwanis Park and waived all city fees for its construction.
• awarded the bid for a current model half-ton, 4X4, crew cab, four-door pickup for the fire department, to Grapevine Dodge at $22,319.
• awarded bids for a current model two-wheel drive farm tractor with cab, to Athens Tractor and Equipment at $47,535.41 and a current model 17-foot rear-mount boom cutter, to W.C. Tractor at $22,000, both for the Public Health & Safety Department.