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‘Taco’ comment in email raises Martinez’ ire

Friday, February 27, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Inappropriate comments about tacos and tamales may have torpedoed the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association’s attempt to block a zoning change at City Council last night. Tex-Tar Waterproofing owner Richard Johnson was seeking a zoning change from a neighborhood commercial district (LR) to general commercial services with a conditional overlay (CS-CO). Wayne Tobias spoke on behalf of the neighborhood association, which was asking for a prohibition on a number of business types on the lot at 11600 North IH-35.


A brief discussion of the case was held before the Council’s 5:30pm break. Council Member Mike Martinez spoke after recess. He praised the “genuine and real” efforts of the applicant and then said, “Mr. Tobias, I want to talk to you a little bit about the email you sent.” The email, which Tobias had inexplicably sent to his opposing lawyer, makes an attempt to explain why he and the neighborhood oppose food preparation as one of the business types allowed under LR.


Martinez said, “first of all, I’m certainly sympathetic to the neighbors’ concerns, but it’s a little bit difficult to remain sympathetic, and I’m not sure you intended it this way, but this is how it reads up here on the dais.” He then read aloud a passage, “I think it would be nice if the preparation was bread, or something similar, but food preparation businesses that are springing up in this area are ‘tamale’ and ‘taco’ makers, a little too greasy around a residence.”


Martinez paused. “I think you could have used a much better choice of words. And then you stood up here at the podium and… said ‘We’re willing to allow Mr. Johnson to move into the neighborhood.’ This is a zoning decision. It is not the neighborhood’s decision to allow anyone to move into or out of that neighborhood.”


Martinez, who had previously announced that he had to take a conference call, then got up and left. (See his comments below.)


Earlier, Katherine Loayza, representing Johnson, said waterproofing falls under the construction services business type, necessitating a zoning change. The applicant and neighborhood had been working together on conditions they would be happy with. Eventually, the neighborhood wanted to restrict not only CS uses but to take away some uses that come with an LR distinction such as plant nurseries, food preparation and 17 others. 


Loayza said the size of the lot, .27 acres, greatly restricted the market opportunity for many of the uses the neighborhood wanted banned. She said its use was compatible with the area.


“The fact of the matter is that this location along the highway frontage road has for a long time been used for small construction related businesses or commercial uses,” she said. Although staff recommended against the change, she said that “is their standard response based upon the basic zoning principle in the report, which says such uses are generally compatible.”


Loayza said that Johnson was willing to add several conditions to his lot, including that the overlay eliminate all other CS uses aside from construction services. Johnson also agreed to limit the lot’s height to 40 feet, to have a screen placed around his garbage dumpster and a fence with a 25-foot setback from the property line to the neighboring residence.


Tobias said the neighborhood group consistently opposes several types of businesses whenever a zoning change comes up. He then opined, “We do have concerns with what he’s doing and how he’s running his business.” Tobias later expressed concern that the construction “mess” could end up influencing others to keep junk around in their front yard. “You never know what you end up with… that little mess… slowly creeps into the whole neighborhood,” he told council.


Council Member Sheryl Cole made a motion to adopt CS-CO zoning with construction sales and services as the only CS use and allow all LR uses. The motion also included provisions made by the applicant. The council voted unanimously 5-0, with Martinez and Mayor Will Wynn off the dais.


Martinez sent the following comments to In Fact Daily this morning:

But I have to ask you to put your comments into context.

I did not storm out because of what was in the email or comments that were made by Mr. Tobias. I actually announced, as well as Brewster, that we had a conference call waiting in the exec session room and Lee and I had to take that call. It was a call between us and the Mayor Adelaide, Australia to discuss how we might help our sister city due to the devastating fires they have had and the impact on their community.

Please understand that while I thought the comments where completely unnecessary, I even gave Wayne the benefit of the doubt by saying that he might not have meant it this way but he certainly could have chosen a better choice of words.

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