Several restaurants along Oak Ridge North’s western edge will soon have an increased profile on I-45 after City Council approved a new program funding one year of highway logo signs for three local eateries.
Through the initiative, proposed at the council’s Feb. 24 meeting by Director of Economic Development Jordan Buras, the city Economic Development Corp. will pay to post the restaurants’ logos at the Exit 76A sign on I-45 through the end of 2020. The restaurants—Chi Japanese Cuisine, Miyazaki and Pallotta’s Italian Grill—are all located within the city’s B-2 Secondary and Highway Business District. All three will have their names and logos added to the main highway exit sign, with Pallotta’s and Chi also receiving directional signs along the highway exit ramp.
Council Member Alex Jones favored Buras’ two-year proposal, saying the cost was justified by the EDC’s goal to retain local business and potentially assist other establishments near the highlighted eateries.
“If those signs even have a small impact and it brings just a few more people to these restaurants, those people are also going to see the stores that are around them. ... It’s not just the restaurants they’re potentially helping, it’s everyone else,” Jones said. “Ultimately, the people that have skin in the game is the city and its taxpayers. If all the restaurants close up because they can’t get foot traffic, who’s that benefiting?”
Council Member Tom Coale favored the concept from an economic development standpoint, but said he hoped for an agreement that would involve some risk on the restaurants’ parts rather than a fully city-funded plan and asked to reduce the grant's term. After discussion, Coale and Council Members Frances Planchard and Dawn Candy all voted against the proposed two-year initiative. Following a motion from Coale to approve the grant for a one-year trial, council unanimously passed the modified program.
The annual total for the three restaurants’ signs was expected to fall below $12,000 and will be further prorated by Texas Department of Transportation contractor LoneStar Logos Management Co. LLC based on the signage installation date this spring.
Later in the meeting, council also voted to express its opposition to the construction of a proposed 120-unit low-income housing complex south of the city. The apartments would be located around 25400 Richards Road southeast of Ford Elementary School, within the city of Houston’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
While Oak Ridge North has no authority over that land, state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, asked city officials for their input as his office gathers community feedback on the project. Toth’s District Director Braden Deckard said the legislator's office will send a formal letter of either support or opposition to the project to the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs this week.
Most council members and Mayor Paul Bond said they oppose the project, with Coale the lone supporter of the development.
“I don’t have a problem with it. It’s not in the city limits. They’ve got to live somewhere; you’ve got to have it someplace,” he said. “This is not totally in our backyard, and I personally don’t think you’d have any more problems with that apartment project than you would some of the ones we’ve already got down there sitting on [I-]45.”
Other city officials said they were worried about possible effects on crime, property values and local schools if the apartments were to open up.
“Unfortunately, this one is also across from an elementary school and could have a negative impact in regards to its ratings down the road. Not only to mention the fact that first responders are probably going to get pulled from here if anything happens. It’s not the immediate impact, but it’s the future impact that may be a hindrance to the city of Oak Ridge North if this development were to proceed,” Bond said.
Jones said the council had previously opposed Conroe ISD’s handling of the feeder zone for Grand Oaks High School after its recent opening east of the city, and said he believes the new complex could further affect Oak Ridge High School.
“If you looked at the [disparity] between Grand Oaks and Oak Ridge High School in terms of median household income and things like that, they were basically leaving us with a much of lower household income on that than what we had at Oak Ridge High School before,” he said. “This would feed directly into Oak Ridge High School. So if you think the numbers are low now, wait until you see this go up. ... I couldn’t be more objected to this.”
Council Member Clint McClaren said he believed local real estate could suffer with the complex’s opening.
“Just because of its near proximity to us, it’s going to hurt our property values,” he said. “When you’re trying to sell a house, you’re going to be handicapped. We’ve already got enough issues with the current apartments down that direction and the amount police activity that goes on down there. Why do we want to invite any more?”
City Manager Heather Neeley also said Rick Moffatt, a member of the city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 1 board of directors, expressed concerns over the project prior to the council meeting given the land's proximity to the TIRZ's southern boundary.
Council eventually voted 4-1 to submit a statement to Toth’s office opposing the project, with Coale voting against the motion.
During the Feb. 24 meeting, council also approved the city's 2019 financial audit report prepared by the accounting firm Belt Harris Pechacek. Additionally, council members debated a proposed ordinance establishing Woodson Road as the official route for large trucks traveling east or west through the city, but voted to table the proposal to allow city staff to further refine the route.
As a final order of business, Council voted to cancel its May election as all three expiring positions—the seats of Bond, Coale and Jones—remain uncontested. The three officials received no challengers following the Feb. 14 candidate filing deadline and Feb. 18 write-in candidate deadline, and were declared elected for new two-year terms through an ordinance approved unanimously Feb. 24.