Oak Ridge North City Council looks to grow business at I-45 plaza, approves bond refunding and new school permits

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Oak Ridge North City Council followed up on several agenda items from its most recent meeting and heard updates on local developments at its July 8 regular meeting and special workshop.

The council first approved an ordinance to issue new refunding bonds as part of a process that could result in around $350,000 in total savings for the city from its Series 2009 Certificates of Obligation. The GMS Group, represented at the council meeting by John Howell, was approved as the city’s financial adviser for the transaction, which is expected to close in August. All council members were supportive of the planned deal and the likely savings for the city.

Special-use permits, or SUPs, for All Nations Community School and Journey School for the Uniquely Gifted and Talented approved by the council at its June 24 meeting were issued July 8 through identical ordinances that each passed by 4-1 votes. The SUPs are needed to open schools in the city’s plaza district, where All Nations and Journey will operate from Sojourn Baptist Church at 27420 Robinson Road. The SUPs are set to expire on June 30, 2021, and require both schools to apply for permit renewal at the start of that year given the council’s uncertainty over whether an extension will be granted then.

Prior to the council’s regular session, a special workshop was also called to discuss the possibility of rezoning the city’s B-2 secondary and highway business district along I-45 to fill vacancies at the Shoppes of Oak Ridge North plaza. Businesses in the B-2 district must either bring in sales tax as their main use or provide a service, such as a nail salon or barbershop, and representatives from the plaza’s owners, 2ML Real Estate Interests, said they were struggling to attract businesses that fit zoning requirements.

2ML had previously asked the city to consider waiving its B-2 district zoning policy to allow more varied businesses at the Shoppes and increase traffic there for existing occupants. Rather than rezoning that portion of the city, the council decided to consider approving individual businesses that do not primarily bring in sales tax. 2ML representatives said they will work to attract new tenants in the coming months.

The council also decided to arrange a review of the city’s comprehensive plan given recent turnover in several city leadership positions and the ongoing development around the city. The council may hire an outside facilitator to guide the overall strategic planning process, which will involve the council and members of city committees and take place in the city’s next budget year.

Other city business from the regular session included the council’s approval of the Montgomery County Emergency Communications District’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year and the reappointment of Paul Virgadamo, the city’s representative on the MCECD board of directors, to another two-year term. The MCECD manages the county’s 911 system and must receive approval from Commissioners Court and the majority of local governments to pass its budget.

The council agreed to set aside funding in its next budget for repairs to a walkway at the Southern Montgomery County Municipal Utility District’s wastewater plant. The city owns 25% of the plant’s capacity and shares a portion of its costs.

City Director of Public Works Joe Sherwin informed the council that agreements for the acquisition of right of ways needed for the Robinson Road realignment at Hanna Road are finalized with property owners. Sherwin said Montgomery County Precinct 3 had been informed of the agreements, and the county will begin its bidding process for the project once all final documents are submitted. The realignment project is expected to begin following the redesign of the Robinson overpass at I-45.

Sherwin also said the city had opened bids for both its Texas Water Development Board Phase 9 and I-45 Waterline Phase 2 projects, which will improve the city’s sewer system capacity and extend a water line from Robinson to Paula Lane.

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