Much to the furor of local environmentalists, the city zoning commission will consider a proposal on February 18 to permit an auto franchise dealer such as Ernesto Ancira Jr. to build, with City Council overview, an auto dealership, complete with body and repair shops.
The word on the street is that Ancira Enterprises, a holding company for numerous auto and recreational vehicle dealerships across Texas, is clearing property near the intersection of U.S. 281 and Evans Road to build a new Chrysler/Jeep dealership. In the business world, Ernesto Ancira is considered one of the wealthiest Hispanics in Texas.
"There's no justification to put a paint and body shop over the recharge zone," said Michelle Petty, spokeswoman for the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club. "They use toxic chemicals and they will be washed out of the shops and right into our water supply."
Richard Alles echoed Petty's concern, and elaborated in an article he submitted to the Sierra Club's monthly newsletter: "If adopted, this amendment will permit new car dealerships to operate paint and body shops, auto/light truck repair shops and lube/tune-up shops in the Edwards Recharge Zone District." These land uses, wrote Alles, threaten the aquifer in several ways:
• They store and use oils, solvents and toxic chemicals.
• They generate shop wastes that are often washed out onto surrounding land.
• They store wrecked vehicles that leak polluting fluids.
Alles explained that the UDC amendment would "create a special exception to current rules for the benefit of powerful new car dealers."
"Amendments such as this are routinely recommended by a developer-controlled committee chaired by Gene Dawson Jr. of PGA Village fame," Alles wrote. "Frequently, these amendments are tailored specifically to favor clients of certain committee members."
Alles served on a Unified Development Code Technical Advisory Committee (now disbanded to satisfy a sunset law clause), which was chaired by Dawson. Alles, who is also a member of the Citizens' Tree Coalition, said developers held the reins during the process of overhauling the UDC.
"Dawson often abused his power as committee chair to quickly push pro-developer amendments through the committee while nullifying opposition dissent," Alles wrote.
Alles said Dawson now serves on the Land Development Services Committee, a subcommittee of the zoning commission. The Land Development Services Committee has proposed the change to allow the franchise-level auto dealerships to be built over the recharge zone.
Ancira has yet to submit any zoning change requests or any building plans to the city.
District 1 Zoning Commission member Gilbert James Kissling confirmed that the UDC code change proposal was considered at a January meeting, but the matter was postponed in the face of opposition to the change.
Kissling emphasized that he always considers each zoning change request before the commission on its individual merits, but that he would not be in favor of the idea of a full-service auto dealership in the recharge zone. "I always listen to all of the cases and all testimony before I make up my mind on a case. "At this point I'm not in favor of allowing dealerships to put these in."
In this case, the environmental groups who plan to attend the meeting to fight the change in the development code might have an ally in a high place.
Kissling said Mayor Ed Garza has spoken out against changing the UDC to allow auto dealerships to build facilities over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
The meeting will be held Tuesday, February 18 at 1 p.m. in City Council Chambers, Main and Commerce streets. •