Shenandoah Residents Speak About Rezoning Along I-45

By: Esther Lum, Shenandoah Sentinel editor
| Published 03/23/2024


SHENANDOAH, TX -- Planning & Zoning Commission held a special meeting on March 19 to discuss changing the zoning laws for a narrow strip of land facing the southbound I-45 feeder between Wellman and Reserach Forest. That area consists of various businesses such as hotels, restaurants, a gas station and two vacant buildings. Most of them were built under current (or previous) zoning laws which limit structure height to one story* (21 feet) because homes are located directly behind those businesses. Potential developers have said it is not economically feasible for them to consider a single story structure for any new development, given the narrow depth of the lots (300 feet in some places) and possible future widening of I-45.

P&Z chairman Wes Stephens told an audience of about 100 residents that the county is growing rapidly and currently the interstate and feeder roads in this area total 19 lanes from one side of I-45 to the other. He said rezoning this strip of land would allow multi-story buildings which could be a sound barrier. He noted there was crime associated with the vacant buildings and mentioned MS-13 gang members have been arrested in Shenandoah. Some residents agreed and spoke in favor of redeveloping the area.

Other residents who live adjacent to the commercial strip strongly objected to the prospect of rezoning, citing noise and traffic concerns which would inevitably accompany multi-story hotels or apartments. Some pointed out that the current zoning laws were specifically enacted to protect their homes. Twenty year resident Liane Strigin expressed frustration at having to come back and fight the issue “every 10 years,” and said it seemed like there was more concern for the businesses than the residents. She added the businesses “knew what the zoning was” when they constructed their buildings.

Additional solutions that have been considered are the city buying out affected houses (too expensive according to Stephens), and consolidating commercial properties (not practical for developers). The granting of a variance on a case by case basis would not work because financial hardship alone does not qualify for a variance. City attorney Bill Ferebee said in the past, cities have had greater ability to condemn property, but there are more restrictions now.

The city’s Integrated Development Code (IDC) requires that a minimum of three public hearings be held before council can vote to amend it. Two of those hearings would take place during P&Z meetings, and the third in a city council meeting.

Stephens said that although there would be more discussions on this issue going forward, he thought ultimately the zoning laws will have to be changed to increase building height. P&Z meetings are held monthly; agendas and minutes are on the Shenandoah city website.

*Stephens said 21 feet could include a two story building with a flat roof.

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