Waco: Council approves millions for riverfront development

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Waco City Council met Tuesday night to discuss a number of issues ranging from project funding to permit requests.

Waco residents speaks out during public comment portion of the Waco City Council Meeting (Photo by Madison Adams)

The council voted to approve roughly $20.3 million from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund to be used to pay for site cleanup, public infrastructure, and public improvements for the Brazos Riverfront Development which will be located on nearly 16 acres adjacent to the Brazos River and University Parks Drive.

Megan Henderson, the Director of City Center Waco said the money would come out of the downtown TIF fund which is financed by tax revenues of downtown properties.

“The river is the central focal points of downtown redevelopment, so it makes sense that those TIF dollars would be used for this project and the city's task is to figure out how to balance that with the other needs,” Henderson said.

The City of Waco describes the TIF fund as “to facilitate development or redevelopment of an economically disadvantaged area.”

The money would provide $8 million to focus on the site cleanup costs needed to move forward with the project.

Another $12.2 million would provide public infrastructure like a parking garage, street improvements and sidewalks to the area.

Tuesday evening, the council also voted to award a $4.4 million contract to build a river walk which will connect Franklin Avenue to McLane Stadium making the downtown area more accessible to foot traffic along the river.

The council also heard concerns from residents in East Waco about a permit which was proposed for an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center to begin operation at 1916 Seley Ave.

The rehab center would be a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for ex-convicts to rehab from addictions.

Dozens of residents near the proposed location spoke out against the facility being allowed in their neighborhood.

Many residents like Gwen Jefferson argued it would increase crime in the area and put their children and grandchildren at risk. She said the neighborhood needs the council to pass permits which will help to advance and develop the neighborhood, not slow down or halt growth.

“We want something to be put down there that we can have pride in. Put a neighborhood center town there, where kids can have some, like they were saying, computer classes, other type of classes you know and have a park down over in there somewhere,” Jefferson said.

“If they do that, we'll be satisfied, we won't fight against it.”

After more than an hour of public comment, the council voted unanimously to deny the permit for the rehab facility.

In addition, there were nine vacation rental properties on the agenda seeking permits to operate as weekend and short-stay rentals.

Even with some residents speaking up against the permits being allowed, seven of the permits were approved, One permit was tabled until the December 6th council meeting, and only one permit, for a residential rental unit at 404 Baker Lane was denied.

Kristi Bass owns the property at 404 Baker Lane. She is also the owner of the controversial Barndominium in Lacy Lakeview.

Bass had received approval from the City of Waco's Planning and Zoning Commission to provide short-term rentals of the Lamp Post at 404 Baker Lane, which consists of a large family house, and three separate cottages on three acres of land.

Many neighbors spoke out against the Baker Lane property being given a permit arguing they did not want a hotel property in their neighborhood. The permit was denied.