STEPHEN HEMELT — Playing poker without sharing benefit to Nederland

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 20, 2019

It’s about convincing the community that your business is a benefit.

That’s what the business interests behind Texas Poker Club, which is located in Beaumont, have failed to do thus far in their attempts to expand to Nederland.

Scott Watjus stated it quite clearly during this week’s Nederland Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

“You’re bringing something in that is very negative in outlook to our people,” he said. “You can possibly do a better sales job. Also, if you get it away from the neighborhood, then I think you have a chance.”

Watjus is a longtime zoning commissioner and current chairman. The input he shared Tuesday isn’t flippant or off base. Texas Poker Club officials would be smart to heed his outlook and follow his suggestion.

During recent public forums in front of the Nederland City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission, every speaker who identified themselves as residents of Nederland spoke against the project.

The feeling that has been left for the city’s elected leaders is the only people speaking in favor of the private poker club’s prospects are those directly tied to the business’ bottom line.

That’s not a good thing for Texas Poker Club interests, which need the city council to grant a specific use permit. Nederland ordinances do not have a designated zoning use for a private poker club, thus setting up the need for special approval.

It’s not as if all elected leaders and city officials are against the project.

One of the planning and zoning commissioners identified himself as a card player who had played at various poker rooms in the region. He said the main problem with Texas Poker Club’s plan to move to 3503 Nederland Avenue, near 35th Street, was the proximity to neighborhood homes.

Club officials clearly did not anticipate a negative reaction from local residents and certainly did not do enough proactive campaigning in the project’s early stages to secure needed public support.

Club owner Lane Helveston told me and mentioned in public at a city council meeting that anyone who is worried about a raucous environment can observe his business in action in Beaumont.

In fact, he even provided a letter from his Beaumont landlord indicating there have not been any problems in more than a year of operation.

However, the problem with such a strategy is it puts the onus on Nederland residents to go out of their way to learn about a project when it doesn’t stand to benefit them personally.

Helveston did say, if approved, his business would be a regular taxpayer.

“We paid over $10,000 in sales tax last year,” Helveston told the planning and zoning commission. “(We sell) water, Diet Cokes, pretzels, snacks; I mean we sell probably 400 cans of soda a week. We pay sales tax on every membership fee.”

He would be better served to stress the potential positive economic impact to Nederland and secure a location away from neighborhood bedrooms if he hopes to earn the special exemption his business requires.

Many still believe there is a path for this business to operate locally; however, that must come with greater business and community partnership.

Building Official George Wheeler basically explained a blueprint to potential success during Tuesday’s zoning meeting.

“You know anywhere that is (zoned) C2, which is Nederland Avenue, you are probably not going to get approved,” Wheeler said. “If you went out on Highway Retail, which is 69, 365 and some of 347, then your specific use, the way it sounds, may be more approvable. It is not as restrictive as neighborhood retail. That is where I would focus on finding a place on 69, 365, some of 347. C3 is what it is called, highway retail. Look there.”

Stephen Hemelt is publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com