PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

January 11, 2013

Second time could be charm for PA couple who wants to open event center

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Betty Garcia makes a living at the Hair Image Beauty Salon on Ninth Avenue while her husband, Harold Garcia, works as a welder.

Together, they also earn a bit of income from the few rent houses they own in the area. But a little more money in their wallets would not hurt.

That is only half of the reason the Garcias want to open a community event center on Ninth Avenue.

The Garcias want their friends in the neighborhood to be able to hold baby showers and birthday parties without forking over a $200-deposit they might not ever get back.

They want small organizations within the community — such as Avon representatives or folks preparing for the Mexican Heritage Festival — to be able to hold meetings someplace near their homes.

But most of all, they want to build business in the city they have called home for more than a quarter of a century.

“We work hard,” Betty Garcia, a native of Honduras, said, “and we are trying to make more business in Port Arthur and make more income.”

Right now, the Garcias pay about $3,500 in property taxes a year for the land on Ninth Avenue that sits there and does nothing but cost them money, Betty Garcia said. They want to take that space and use it to bolster their community.

The Port Arthur City Council will hold a public hearing Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. to reconsider granting the Garcias’ request to transform a former doctor’s office on Ninth Avenue into an event center. The council agreed to hold another public hearing on this matter at its Jan. 8 meeting and could vote on the matter as soon as Feb. 19.

The Garcias approached the City of Port Arthur this summer about obtaining a specific use permit that would allow them to turn the building and surrounding land they own on Ninth Avenue into a community event center. But the City Council turned down their request July 10 due to parking and traffic concerns, said District 6 Councilman Robert Williamson. The proposed community event center is in Williamson’s district.

While Williamson said he liked the idea for a community event center in the neighborhood, he also said that there were concerns about the increase in traffic that would invariably accompany it. The lack of available parking for the building was another point of interest.

The vacant building the Garcias want to transform into the event center is at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 39th Street, which is a fairly busy intersection, Williamson said.

A convenience store also sits on the corner across the street from the former doctor’s office. Add to that a Ninth Avenue entrance to the event center less than 50 feet from the intersection, and you might have a serious traffic problem, Williamson said.

If the Garcias could commit to moving the Ninth Avenue entrance farther south, Williamson said, he would reconsider approving the Garcias’ request.

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended the council approve the Garcias’ request in May. The commission found no problems with the Garcias’ request, and the existing parking for the structure was almost double what the city ordinance requires, said Paul Brown, senior planner for the city.

The former doctor’s office has 14 parking spaces, but the Garcias have plans to expand to 40 spaces if necessary, Brown said. City ordinance requires at least 10 parking spaces and one handicapped parking space for that type of building.

The Garcias also agreed to move the Ninth Avenue entrance about 75 feet from the 39th Street and Ninth Avenue intersection, which would alleviate the traffic concerns expressed by the council, Brown said.

It is because the Garcias provided new information and made these changes to their plans that they could resubmit their request to the council. Under the zoning ordinance, any request the council denies may not be reconsidered until a year has passed, but the applicant can request the reconsideration be made sooner if circumstances have changed or new information is available.

email: bcrum@panews.com

twitter: @broocrum