“I would think long and hard before using public money to improve private property,” City Attorney Frank Warner cautioned the council after listening to the proposal.
City Street Superintendent Albert Bridge said he estimated that the project would cost the city about $52,000, based on an engineer’s plan for land located north of the church.
Methodist Pastor Larry McRorey spoke briefly to the council, relating how the property in question is used by church members and, sometimes, city vehicles. Also, members of the Beeville Volunteer Fire Department often use the space to park vehicles.
McRorey said the church realizes that parking can be scarce in parts of downtown Beeville, and he said improving the property by building a real parking lot there could benefit several businesses on the north side of the downtown area.
The pastor said improving the lot also would help provide parking for church members and visitors and local residents who use the church’s community garden just east of the building.
He said the property has even been used as a landing area for helicopters in the past.
Bridge had a detailed report on how the $52,000 would be spent, to include the cost of renting a sheepsfoot roller, a water truck, an asphalt lay down machine and an oil spreader.
In his report, Bridge also listed the cost of materials, including concrete that would be needed to build driveways, sidewalks and a handicapped ramp.
He said the city would have to hire a contractor to build proper curbs around the lot because the city does not have the equipment to form those.
The street superintendent said the improved lot would provide 92 parking spaces and the project would take about a month to complete, weather permitting.
That was when Warner issued his warning to the council, saying that spending public funds on church-owned property could set a dangerous precedent for the city.
“What if City Hall is moved?” Warner asked. “Then the city would have built a church parking lot.”
Church member Troy Draper told the council that the church’s attorneys would work with Warner to make sure a legal agreement would be in effect.
He mentioned that Tax Increment Finance district funds have been used in the past to make improvements to private property. He said part of the parking lot property is located within the TIF zone.
“The intent is for parking in the entire downtown area,” Draper said.
Church member David Morgan told the council that similar parking lot projects had been done in San Antonio, and he suggested that attorneys could find out how those agreements were made.
Warner recommended that the council avoid taking action on approving the project until the city has explored other options.
Councilman George P. “Trace” Morrill, an attorney, agreed with Warner and suggested that lawyers for the church meet with Warner before a formal agreement is made.
“I think there are other options out there that are available,” Warner said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.