The Dumas City Commissioners bypassed a recommendation of the Dumas Zoning and Planning Commission and voted unanimously in their regular meeting Monday to rezone 10 acres of undeveloped land on West 16th Street from single family dwelling to multi-family dwelling. The move paves the way for the construction of a 64 unit apartment complex built by called Westwind of Dumas that will offer apartments at both market rate rents and, for those who qualify, rents at so-called affordable rates.
The vote came after a long and emotional discussion between the commissioners and several residents of the area opposed to the development. Opponents brought up the potential for an increase in crime and the possibility that the apartment complex could become a rundown slum area. Several speakers pointed to the Jasmine Apartments, a dilapidated complex on Maddox and 14th Street as an example of what could end up in their neighborhood. Most of the opposition centered on the question of traffic and safety for children, however. A number of speakers said motorists routinely speed through the area, and they said that the intersection of 16th Street and Dumas Avenue that many apartment residents would likely use was particularly dangerous. They added that children and others often cross Dumas Avenue at areas other than intersections with traffic lights. The only intersection in the area with a traffic light is at 14th Street. They noted that children from the area would would have to cross Dumas Avenue back and forth every day once Sunset Elementary was closed and the new elementary school planned for 14th Street and Maddox Avenue was open to take its place. The addition of 60 families in an apartment complex, they said, would make the problems of the area unacceptably worse. "Don't throw our kids under the bus," said opponent Paul Hill.
The Dumas Zoning and Planning Commission voted unanimously last week after hearing from opponents of the development to recommend that the land continue to be zoned for single family developments, citing the traffic problems, but the commission can only make recommendations. Power to change the zoning designation resides with the commissioners.
The change in zoning was requested by Chaz Garrett, one of the owners of Salem/Clark Development of Greenville, Texas, the company behind the development. Salem/Clark has obtained a nine percent housing tax credit from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to help fund the complex. The tax credit is what allows the company to offer some of the units at rents below the market rate. Both the Dumas City Commission and the Moore County Commission passed resolutions of support for the project back in February when the company was first seeking the credits. As part of the City of Dumas' resolution, the city committed to reducing construction fees by a minimum of $250 or "a contribution of a similar value." State officials require the resolutions as a prerequisite for the credits.
The credits are very competitive, and not all who apply receive one. Several proposals have been floated in Dumas in recent years, including one by Salem/Clark for a similar apartment complex that was supposed to be located on 19th Street, but until now, they have fallen through.
Officials from both the City of Dumas and the Dumas Economic Development Corporation (DEDC) have maintained for several years that affordable housing is desperately needed in Dumas. According to DEDC Executive Director Michael Running, the lack of affordable housing in Dumas for employees has been one of the prime reasons that some outside businesses have been reluctant to locate in Dumas and some businesses already here have held off on expansion. Running has said that despite considerable efforts, the DEDC has not been able to convince developers to build either houses under $200,000 or apartments that go for rents affordable for large numbers of people who work in Dumas and Moore County. Many people working in the county have to live in Amarillo and elsewhere and commute because they cannot find housing locally that they can afford.
On Monday, Garrett spoke to the commissioners and said that his company had many years experience operating apartment complexes similar to that proposed for 16th Street. He said construction would be "class A" and showed pictures of other complexes the company was currently managing around Texas and Louisiana. He said the complex would be gated and surrounded by a fence and have the same type of amenities that an apartment complex that was built completely on the market would have. He said tenants would have to pass background and credit checks, and that he would offer two local police officers free rent to live in the complex and provide extra security. He said any project built with the tax credits had to pass state inspections to insure proper maintenance and management. He said he and the seller of the land, Steve Johnston, would provide a $30,000 fund to assist in paying for speed bumps, signs, and other means of improving traffic. He said he did not think traffic in the area would be a problem and that any issue could be dealt with. He added that the financial investment in Dumas from the complex would have a positive impact. Finally, he pushed back against the notion that people living in apartments or affordable apartments were more likely than homeowners to commit crimes or cause other problems. "People are people, and everyone deserves a decent place to live."
Mayor Bob Brinkmann and each of the commissioners spoke Monday. Commissioner Pat Sims said that Dumas Independent School District Superintendent Monty Hysinger told him that students from the west side of town could be bused to school, alleviating the need for them to continually cross Dumas Avenue. Commissioner Michael Barr pledged that the commissioners would do what they could to help alleviate the traffic problems that exist now in the area. Brinkmann said that he had heard the concerns of the opponents and took them seriously. He pushed back against the idea, expressed by one of the opponents, that he and the commissioners were putting money before the welfare of the residents. He said he had come with an open mind and that he would not do anything that would negatively affect Dumas residents. He said he had researched the concerns of the opponents, talked with the police department and others, and he said the responsibility to find solutions for traffic, crime, and safety issues in the area lay with the city, not private developers, and he added that the city was capable of dealing with each of the concerns. He said the city needed the housing and that people needed to have places that they could afford. "Dumas has to grow," he said. He said while he appreciated the opponents' concern about traffic and safety for children, those issues exist everywhere in the city, and no one can guarantee everyone 100 percent safety. He pointed out that in the five years he had been either mayor or commissioner, no one had brought the concerns expressed Monday about existing problems in the neighborhood to the commission. Some opponents said they had approached previous commissions and mayors without success about speed bumps, traffic lights, and other things.
Brinkmann said he had looked at the way Salem/Clark had operated elsewhere, and he was satisfied that the complex would not ruin the neighborhood or become a crime-ridden slum.. He added that there were other affordable housing apartment complexes in Dumas that were well maintained. He said he had lived in apartments before and that apartment dwellers were the same as anyone else. Finally, he said he knew the decision by the commissioners would anger some, but that they had the responsibility to look out for the welfare of the entire population.