Vidor seeking public input as city considers zoning plan

Vidor City Manager Mike Kunst uses the city’s reinvestment zone map to describe

City Manager Mike Kunst and Vidor’s Planning and Zoning Commission are working on a plan to implement zoning in the city and, in preparation, are asking for public input on the matter and for information about businesses operating in residential neighborhoods around the city.

With the Pride and Progress initiative and other programs recently implemented to promote business and residential development in the city, Vidor is changing, said Kunst, and so are its needs.

“Back in the day, we were a sawmill town,” Kunst recalled of the municipality’s origins. “People would come in, they’d harvest the trees, they’d move on. They weren’t worried about community development. Then the community stayed. But they didn’t have any community development.”

That’s where Kunst and Vidor’s newly appointed Planning and Zoning Commission come into the picture. Kunst said they hope to recommend a plan for zoning and have a zoning map to the Vidor City Council by the beginning of 2018 and have the ordinance adopted by council prior to the May elections, toward the end of April 2018.

City zoning divides a city into areas subject to special use restrictions, like commercial versus residential. With few exceptions, business development would be restricted to areas zoned for commercial use, and other areas of the city would be zoned strictly for residences.

According to Kunst, Vidor is one of few cities lacking zoning.

“Houston has no formal zoning,” said Kunst. “Then, the next largest city in the United States that doesn’t have zoning is Pasadena – not just in Texas. All those various-sized cities in between (Houston and Pasadena sizes), they all have zoning.”

While Houston, Pasadena and Vidor all lack formal zoning, the cities have all passed ordinances to guide development, said Kunst.

“They have many restrictions on where one can build, develop, those kind of things,” he explained. “So does the city of Vidor have zoning? No. Do we have restrictions where some things can be placed? We do.”

A notable example is the city restrictions on placement of HUD Code manufactured homes. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development website describes, “The HUD Code, unlike conventional building codes, requires manufactured homes to be constructed on a permanent chassis.” Approximately one year ago, the city passed an ordinance restricting the construction and placement of HUD Code mobile homes to mobile home parks and to certain areas of the city, including Walden Road and Alamo Street, all of which were already heavily populated by mobile homes.

Kunst said, as it currently stands, a business could pop up in a residential neighborhood at any time.

“A seafood restaurant could open up right next door to homes in Vidor,” Kunst stated. “When I was a kid, my friend’s dad had a bait shop he ran out of his garage right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

According to Kunst, if the city implements commercial and residential zoning, businesses operating in residential neighborhoods would be classified “nonconforming use properties.” Those businesses, he said, could be problematic for neighbors living around them.

“It could decrease property values of other property owners in the neighborhood,” Kunst warned.

“All of this is going forward,” he described. “Zoning is not retroactive. It’s forward. It’s to guide future development while we’re protecting people’s property values.”

Kunst said the approval of a new zoning ordinance would not immediately eliminate all nonconforming use properties but would create conditions that would cause them to eventually “phase out.”

“One thing we can try to do is eliminate them,” explained Kunst. “We can adopt an ordinance that there will be fewer… If we want, we can say, regardless of what you’re doing, you have X number of years to come into compliance. The question is, what is that X number of years? And, we have to allow the property owner to get reasonable value out of that. What is considered reasonable value?

“We’ll have to work out the details. We’re almost there.”

Kunst said he and the planning and zoning commission are reviewing the city’s comprehensive plan and have the zoning plan about 80 percent ready, including a draft of a zoning map created by Rick Masters.

“We have an 80 percent comprehensive plan, we have an 80 percent city ordinance and we have an 80 percent zoning map,” Kunst asserted. “So we’re almost there. 

“Over the last year or two when I did the reinvestment zone map, I literally got the map out and started drawing. I thought, we can do this.”

Kunst said there would be public hearings before a zoning ordinance could be adopted. However, he is hoping for input from the public in advance of that.

“We want to hear from the citizens what they want,” he expressed. “We want them to understand what we’re trying to do. We want to know what they want and where they see a business in somebody’s neighborhood. We’re asking everybody in Vidor to let us know where these places are so we can talk about them.

“We want people to give us their two cents. If you see us out and about, the mayor, the city council or the staff, tell us what you think. Or call us. Or come by City Hall. It’s easy to communicate nowadays.”

Vidor City Hall can be reached at (409) 769-5473.