PN Council’s suit against Zoning Board needs quick, fair resolution

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Port Neches City Council recently voted to take legal action against its own Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals. Then the Board subsequently voted to hire an attorney to represent it in court against its own City Council. It is not a pretty way to do business, but this is the procedure set up in the Texas local government code as a way to remove politics from important decisions the Board makes on applications for variances to the city’s zoning ordinance. The board has the authority to sidestep the terms of a zoning ordinance if the variance does not go against the public interest. The City Council can’t overturn a Zoning Board decision. It can only ask a judge to do that, and that’s what the Port Neches City Council is doing.

The issue began when the Zoning Board approved a request from Jeff Ahktar of Amron Housing Corp. in his plans to invest $8 million in 140 apartments in two- and three-story buildings in a complex at 3031 Eighth St. The zoning ordinance only allows two-story buildings and the planned apartment complex would have greater density and larger buildings than the ordinance allows. The Zoning Board approved the request, finding the variances did not go against the public interest.

That’s when politics entered the picture. Social media postings talked about government subsidized housing and how that would ruin the neighborhood. It wasn’t long until the City Council called a special meeting to discuss taking legal action against the Zoning Board’s approval. That’s when they approved taking the board to court despite the apartment owners denying that government subsidized units would be part of the complex, which the owners described as luxury apartments.

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It’s unfortunate that the apartment issue has caused the City Council to sue the Board to which it appointed the members. Both sides are paying lawyers and court fees with Port Neches taxpayer dollars. We hope this issue will be quickly resolved by an impartial court that will hear the facts and render a fair decision. Then the City Council and the Zoning Board of Adjustments can once again become partners instead of adversaries.