Zoning amendment triggers continued friction over Lytle mobile home park

By Anton Riecher
By a vote of 4-1 the Lytle City Council approved an amendment to local zoning ordinances March 6 establishing a separate designation for mobile home parks previously classified as “secondary businesses” under municipal regulations.
Molly Solis, serving as city attorney during a special session of the council, stressed that the change would not affect the Harris MH Park project underway north of the Interstate 35 access road which is effectively grandfathered under state law.
“You can’t change the game in the middle of the game,” Solis said.
District 5 Alderman Charles Cate was alone is voting against the amendment.
“I do not believe we have provided proper notice to everybody involved in…

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Lytle council rejects proposed 25 mph speed limit in town

By Anton Riecher
The Lytle City Council voted Monday to reject a proposal to lower the speed limit throughout the city to 25 mph after mostly negative comments during a public hearing on the issue.
On a motion by District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez the council voted 4-0 to leave the speed at its present limit.
One response during the public hearing came…

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Lytle to purchase more Aquifer water as quickly as possible

By Anton Riecher
The Lytle City Council approved the purchase of 11-acre-feet of hard-to-acquire Edwards Aquifer Authority water rights for $107,000 during the council’s Oct. 10 meeting.
City Administrator Matthew Dear told the council that the city is always looking for additional water rights.
“I found these on the website for EAA,” Dear said. “The cost when I called the gentleman (Johnathon Blomstedt) is $9,500 an acre feet which is about what we are seeing in the market today.”
Dear said he immediately contacted the city attorney and was told

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Lytle city administrator opts to resume police career

By Anton Riecher
Lytle is again searching for a city administrator after the city council voted Monday to approve a transfer for current administrator Matthew Dear back to police duty with the rank of captain.
“First and foremost, it’s been a great honor to work with you all in the position here,” Dear told the council. “But I think my heart still lies in the police department. That’s where my skill set is.”
The council approved the transfer by a 4-0 vote with District 3 Alderman David Emery absent.
Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said Dear “stepped up during a difficult time and we appreciate him doing that.”
Dear said he pursued the city administrator job as an opportunity for advancement within the city not expecting the captain position to be vacant in the near future. That position is now open due to retirement.
“If I’d have known the captain at the time was leaving I’m not sure I would have made this leap over here,” Dear said.
Dear took over as city administrator in May 2022 after training to qualify for the job. The transfer represents a reduction in salary and benefits.
“The great thing for us is he’ll still be around,” Gonzalez said. “I know that like anything else he always steps up and helps out no matter where we need him within the city.”
Gonzalez said he hoped that the transition could be made no later than the end of the year. However, District 5 Alderman Charles Cate, who made the motion in favor of the transfer, said he was concerned that finding a new city administrator would likely become a lengthy process.
“Devine has had an interim city administrator for several years now,” Cate said.
Dear said it was not his intention to leave the city “high and dry.”
“That’s never been the way I’ve operated,” he said. “Obviously, I would like to transfer as soon as possible but I understand the importance of the position I hold.”
Cate’s motion in favor of the transfer made it contingent on finding a replacement city administrator first.
Gonzalez and Cate agreed that the city administrator job is demanding.
“Whoever fills the role it’s not just about showing up and sitting behind a desk,” Gonzalez said. “This is a job where you’ve got to be out and connected.”
In other business, the council approved donation of $10,000 from hotel-motel tax revenue to the city’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post to promote local tourism.
“The new Lytle VFW hall is not even open yet and we’ve already started putting people in hotels,” said post commander Chris Clouser.
The post is planning several events involving local musicians to draw guests to the area, Clouser said. The money would also go to construction of a corn hole field with proper lighting to bring competing teams to Lytle, he said. Barbecue competitions are also in the planning stage.
Action on a request by the VFW to support its annual Patriot Day Freedom Walk was tabled for further consideration.
At the request of Mayor Gonzalez the council voted to permit Dear to survey council members on priorities for the 2023-2024 budget with Dear compiling the results and reporting back to the council.
“I asked everybody to take a look and see if there are any projects that we need to take into consideration as a way for us to go ahead and minimize going back and forth with staff,” Gonzalez said.
For example, Gonzalez listed two of his own priorities as work on the Benton City Road and developing a city capital improvement plan to help pursue grant funding.

Property tax freeze in Lytle on hold

By Anton Riecher
A motion to further investigate the financial impact of a proposed property tax freeze for city residents either over 65 or disabled was approved by the Lytle City Council Monday by a 4-1 vote.
The motion was made by District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez, seconded by District 3 Alderman David Emery, to delay taking any immediate action on the tax freeze. District 5 Alderman Charles Cate who placed the item on the agenda, opposed that motion as he wanted to move forward with the freeze.
“We’re going to have the same figures in six months that we will have in two weeks,” Cate said. “We’re only hurting our residents.”
Michelle Berdeaux, chief appraiser for Atascosa County, told the council that fast action to approve the ordinance would be necessary since the appraisal district is scheduled to certify the tax roll by July 21. Values must be presented to the taxing entities by July 25 to start budget workshops and rate hearings.
“We’re getting ready to start the tax rate calculations,” Berdeaux said. “If you don’t move quickly it will not be on the tax roll before we mail bills.”
In Atascosa County which carries the largest portion of the city’s taxable value almost 200 property tracts or nearly 13½ percent would be eligible for the tax freeze, Cate said. Rodriguez expressed concern that until certified values are available the financial impact of the tax freeze remains unknown.
“I don’t see the rush in trying to get this done by this timetable,” Rodriguez said.
Cate noted that many Texas municipalities have implemented similar measures to stem the impact of rising property taxes on the elderly.
“It does not exempt them from paying taxes,” Cate said. “It freezes their tax value once they turn 65. We’d still be collecting taxes but it would just help alleviate the folks who may be on a fixed income.”
Berdeaux explained that the freeze does not apply if the property owner either acquires more adjoining property or expands their home.
“Then the freeze would be adjusted by the amount of tax that was added,” she said.
Lytle has previously implemented a homestead exemption for property owners over 65 who received a $10,000 exemption, Berdeaux said.
“What you are talking about will freeze that tax amount at the (age 65) level, whatever is established,” Berdeaux said. “If it goes down, the property owner automatically pays less.”
Cate said that Devine passed a similar tax freeze for its eligible taxpayers in June, Cate said.
“While it is able to help the residents I think it also makes the city an attractive place for people to move to,” he said. “If one city has this in place and we don’t they might go there. I just see it as a means for us to help folks out and take care of our own people.”
The council also voted to conduct a workshop to discuss a proposed tax abatement program at 6:30 p.m. July 25.
In other items added to the agenda by Cate, the council voted unanimously to develop plans for replacing and upgrading the city’s water distribution lines. However, action on a proposal to upgrade and improve city road and streets to accommodate future development was tabled.
The council voted to award a $5,046 contract to Advanced Water Well Technologies to remove the wellhead and pump from long dormant City Water Well No. 1 to accommodate the Edwards Aquifer Authority in its plans to use the well to better monitor the aquifer.
City Administrator Matthew Dear reported that the authority had agreed to cover half the cost of the wellhead and pump removal.
Dear reported to the council that the city had received a violation notice from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality regarding the need to complete mandatory water quality testing for copper and lead in its newest water well.
Mayor Ruben Gonzales stressed that the violation was not based on findings but due to a testing oversight.
Dear explained that the new water well required a specific set of tests to be performed quarterly during its initial year of operation. The tests are performed both at the well and again at where water goes into the distribution system.
Ordinarily the testing is only done three times a year, Dear said.
“We did one and were expecting to do it like we normally do but we missed one in between,” Dear said. “We’ve already done the missed test so we can go back to the normal routine.”
During the information items portion of the agenda District 2 Alderman Richard Hughes asked if additional lighting could be installed at the city park baseball fields for evening hours. Dear said that plans to improve the lighting had been postponed due to other city issues.
“We started down that path a while back but had to put the stop to it because of some major improvements needed at the sewer plant,” Dear said.
He said the city staff has been investigating the use of hotel occupancy tax money to fund the ball field lighting improvements. However, that can only be justified if it can be shown that the park had effectively generated funds for the hotel industry.
The estimate on improving the lighting is nearly $300,000, city finance director LaNet Hester said.
Mayor Gonzalez reported that the Veterans of Foreign Wars is planning the ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new post on July 19, the 100th birthday of local Pearl Harbor attack veteran Gilbert Meyers. Meyers, to whom the post is dedicated, also contributed the land for the new building.
Gonzalez also gave an update on Texas Department of Transportation improvements to Interstate 35. Beginning Tuesday new stripping will be added to convert access roads from one-way to two-way traffic.
Improvement plans also call for closing down FM 3175 lanes crossing beneath I35 for extensive repair.
“It’s the only way to get that road done before school starts up again,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to hurt for several weeks.”

Election Info…

City of Devine Voters-

All registered voters in Devine can vote in the mayoral race, and early voting is now underway at City Hall.
There are two contested races in the City of Devine, including:
Mayoral Race
-Cory Thompson (i) and
challenger Butch Cook.

District 2 Race
-Angela Pichardo (i) and challenger Michael Hernandez

Distict 5 councilwoman Debbie Randall is unopposed.

Early Voting:
April 24-28, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.;
May 1-2, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Early Voting one Saturday, April 29 – 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Election day: May 6, 2023, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
You can Vote at City Hall, 303 S. Teel, Devine.

Devine ISD Voters-
Polling locations in both Medina and Frio Counties

Vote For or Against the following Bond issues:

Proposition A – 31.5 Million for Safety and Renovations of Schools, Band Hall

Proposition B – 1.5 Million – for 4 New Tennis Courts

Medina County Polls:
Vote at Medina County Precinct 4 Annex Building this year (317 TX-132 N, Devine).
Early Voting: April 24-28, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; and Saturday April 29 9am-2pm; May 1-2, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. May 6, 2023 (Election Day) 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Election day: May 6, 2023, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Frio County Polls-
Voting at the Bigfoot Alternative Center, 13777 FM 472, Bigfoot, TX 78005
April 24-28, 2023 (Early Voting) 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; April 29, 2023 (Early Voting) 9:00 am – 2:00 pm and May 1-2, 2023 (Early Voting) 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
May 6, 2023 (Election Day) 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Medina County- Vote at Medina County Precinct 4 Annex Building
(across from Tractor Supply)
Voters can vote in the ESD District elections, where they are registered to vote.
Medina County ESD 2 – (Devine Fire area) – add 1.25 % to sales tax
Medina County ESD 5 – (Natalia Fire area) – add 1.25% to sales tax
Medina County ESD 4 – (EMS Devine/Natalia areas – add .50% to sales tax
ESD4 overlaps both fire districts (2&5), since EMS can bill for services they are asking for only .25 from each district, so .25+.25= .5% sales tax
*Note: 8.25% is the maximum any city or county in Texas can charge for sales tax. Medina County is at 6.75% currently, so that leaves 1.5% open.
ESD 2, 4, and 5 – All Voting at County Building:
Election day: May 6, 2023, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Early Voting: April 24-28, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; and Saturday April 29 9am-2pm and May 1-2, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
May 6, 2023 (Election Day) 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Lytle ISD- Vote for one or none, Single Member District 2

Trustee Special Election for Single Member District 2 will be on May 6, 2023 between Jessica Perales , and one write-in candidate Jeremy Davenport.
Voting in a trustee for Single Member District 2. (Voters must vote in the Single Member District where they are registered to vote.)
Note: Lytle ISD is only conducting the special election. They were able to cancel the general election, which is the annual election due to unopposed candidates. The special election is due to having two SMD vacancies however, they canceled the SMD 5 election, but not the other as there was one write-in candidate for SMD 2 before the deadline.
Polling places:
Lytle ISD Administration Office, 1537 Cottage St., Lytle, Tx.
Medina County Courthouse Annex, 1300 Ave. M Room 108, Hondo, Tx.
Medina County ESD No. 1, Station #15, 17934 FM 1957, Rio Medina, Tx.
Medina County Pct. 4 Annex, 317 State Hwy. 132 N. , Devine, Tx.
Medina County Pct. 2 Annex, 8366 FM 471 S. , Castroville, Tx.
Early Voting weekdays: April 24-28, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; and May 1-2, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday April 29 9am-2pm.
Election Day: May 6, 2023 from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

City of Lytle – cancelled election due to uncontested races.
Natalia City/Schools – no elections
LaCoste City – no elections

Local Elections on May 6
Where, when, why, how much
Early voting April 24- May 2

 City of Devine-  Vote at City Hall
 Vote For or Against
Bond Election- $18 Million for drainage and flood control
Everyone can vote in the Bond election
Everyone can vote in mayoral race.
Mayor- Cory Thompson (i) and Butch Cook
District 2 and 4 get to vote in their races as well
Council Dist.2- Angela Pichardo (i) and Michael Hernandez
Dist 4 – Debbie Randall
Devine ISD- Vote at County Building
Vote For or Against
Proposition A- 31.5 Million  for Safety and Renovations of Schools,  Band Hall
Proposition B- 1.5 Million – for 4 New Tennis Courts
Medina County- Vote at County Building
 (across from Tractor Supply)
Medina County ESD 2 (Devine Fire area)- add 1.25 % to sales tax
Medina County ESD 5- (Natalia Fire area) add 1.25% to sales tax
Medina County ESD 4- (EMS Devine/Natalia areas – add .50% to sales tax
ESD4 overlaps both fire districts (2&5), since EMS can bill for services they are asking for only .25 from each district, so .25+.25=  .5% sales tax
*Note: 8.25% is the maximum any city or county in Texas can charge for sales tax. Medina County is at 6.75% currently, so that leaves 1.5% open.
Lyle ISD- cancelled election, no contested races
City of Lytle- cancelled election- no contested races
Natalia City/Schools- no elections
LaCoste City- no elections

Lytle approves contract for water system improvements
estimated at $5.5 million admidst incoming growth

By Anton Riecher
The Lytle City Council voted 4-0 Monday to approve a $771,147 engineering services contract for water system improvements estimated at more than $5.5 million.
On a motion by District 5 Alderman Charles Cate, the council voted to hire TRC Engineering for the water improvement project including a 250,000 gallon elevated tank on the town’s south side, a 12-inch water line extending from Interstate 35 to Railroad Street and a new pump for the city’s booster station.
Cate questioned whether an even larger elevated tank might be beneficial in the long run.
“Coming back in 10 years from now if we have to build another elevated tank it’s probably going to be triple what it is right now,” Cate said.
For full video coverage of the meeting visit the Devine News YouTube channel at youtu.be/0b6XaSzAXM0.
Craig Bell, representing TRC, said he could prepare estimates on a larger tank for consideration at a future council meeting. The figures presented Monday were already updated from a presentation several years ago.
“Costs aren’t going down, you’re right about that,” Bell told the council.
Financing for the water improvements is covered under $8.5 million in certificates of obligation approved by the council last year.
The elevated tank, to be located in the Rosewood Estates subdivision, will consist of a concrete pedestal supporting a steel bowl. More than 5,800 linear feet of new 12-inch PVC distribution pipe will replace existing six-line pipe as part of the city’s water main loop.
“The longer we wait the more it is going to cost,” Cate said. “If we put this off and don’t pull the trigger in the next six months we are looking at spending even more next year.”
In other action, on motion of District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez the council authorized city staff to move forward with a financial cost evaluation for an amendment to the Lytle Farms subdivision public improvement district calling for a substantial increase to $20 million over the next 30 years.
A PID is created under the state’s local government code to provide specific types of improvements or maintenance such as landscaping, sidewalk construction, roads, security, street lighting and water facilities.
The Lytle Farms subdivision will consist of nearly 200 homes of which 99 will be duplexes.
Also related to Lytle Farms, the council scheduled a workshop for 6:30 p.m. March 21 on establishing a consistent policy on providing street lights. The workshop comes after the council voted 3-2 in February to take no action on a request by Lytle Farms that the city take responsibility for the monthly electricity to power 14 street lights.
City Administrator Matthew Dear reported a favorable reception from Texas Department of Transportation officials regarding two sidewalk projects proposed by the city. He said TxDOT is looking for “turnkey projects” without a lot of engineering involved.
One project calls for sidewalks along Main Street near the city hall and post office. Dear said TxDOT recommended extending the project even further to reach Somerset Street with a six-foot-wide sidewalk on one side and a 10-foot-wide pathway on the other.
That project might well qualify for 100 percent funding by the federal government, TxDOT told Dear.
The second sidewalk project would extend from McDonald Street to city hall with pedestrian bridges across Interstate 35. TxDOT objected to the pedestrian bridges, Dear said, and recommended amending the project to eliminate sidewalks already included in the frontage street improvements underway.
With regard to the I35 frontage road project, Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said that TxDOT is nearly two weeks behind schedule with the northbound road being opened to two-way traffic still needing curbs and sidewalks. He promised a complete update at the next council meeting.
District 3 Alderman David Emery was absent from the Monday night meeting.

Re-zoning in downtown Lytle proposed, storm water utility discussed, council asked to help fund “visitor’s center”

The Lytle City Council present a plaque to City Administrator Matthew Dear for 20 years of service as a police lieutenant and assistant fire marshal before taking the reins of city government. The council also voted to make Dear permanent city administrator, removing the word “interim” from his title in place since taking the job in May.

Scheduling of public hearings on proposed zoning amendments restricting the use of recreational vehicles and modular buildings in downtown Lytle received a go-ahead from the city council during its regular session Monday.
Regarding modular buildings, the council voted in February 2020 to create a new zoning district along Main Street that restricted the placement of mobile homes to certain areas, City Administrator Matthew Dear explained. However, that ordinance did not include modular-type buildings.
Extending the ordinance to include that type of construction requires again notifying residents potentially affected and conducting a new set of public hearings on the issue, Dear said.
If re-zoned, any pre-existing modular structure would be classified as “non-comforming,” meaning it would be allowed to remain but could not be expanded or enlarged, city attorney Jessie Lopez explained. If replaced, the new structure would need to comply with the ordinance.
District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez asked that any new ordinance be exact in defining the difference between a modular structure and a pre-fabricated building that would be allowed. On a motion by Rodriguez, seconded by District 3 Alderman David Emery, the council approved allowing the legal work to move forward on the amendment.
District 1 Alderman Joseph Morrow was absent from the Nov. 14 meeting.
With respect to recreational vehicles, Dear explained that a 2019 amendment to the zoning ordinance prohibited the use of mobile homes in certain commercial areas along Main Street. But the amendment did not specifically prohibit the use of recreational vehicles in those same areas.
As with the modular building issue, a revision defining zones RVs can be used along Main Street would require notification of affected businesses and public hearings to discuss the proposed changes before the council could vote.
Again, on motion by Rodriguez, the council approved moving forward with the proposed changes.
The council also voted to proceed on developing an amendment to the Lytle zoning and subdivision codes to establish requirements for on-site parking and garage requirements. Dear said the action would be aimed at “bigger, masterplan communities.”
Subdivisions without requirements for garages and ample driveway parking for at least several vehicles tend to develop problems with parking that blocks sidewalks and forces pedestrians into the street, several council members remarked.
“Do we want to paint the picture of what we want our community to look like or do we just want them to come in and build whatever they think we need,” Dear said.
In other action, the council voted to approve updating the city’s building regulations to adopt the latest editions of various national and international codes governing electrical, plumbing and construction work.
The code update comes several months after the council voted to update the local fire code to agree with the 2021 edition of the International Fire Code, Dear said. The city had previously been using the 2006 edition of the code.
“The building code and all the other codes we use for construction here in the city were based on the 2008 editions,” Dear said. “That’s pretty outdated so we needed to bring that up to the 2021 model.”
In certain ways, the updated codes are more lenient than the codes that had been in place, Dear said.
“I can tell as to the fire code what I saw in certain things allowed in the 2021 code weren’t allowed in the old 2006 version,” Dear said. Improvements in technology allowed the changes, he said.
The old codes adversely affected the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) rating which determines the cost of fire insurance for local homes and businesses, Dear said.
“Once we get these (updates) adopted we can contact ISO and they will bring our rate down,” he said.
On a motion by Emery, seconded by District 2 Alderman Sam Cortez, the council approved adopting the updated standards.
On a motion by Rodriguez, seconded by Emery, the council voted to award a $34,900 administrative services agreement with the grant management firm GrantWorks to obtain a Texas Community Development Block Grant.
The grant would be used for flood mitigation and drainage planning, Dear said.
The council also voted to authorize Dear to negotiate an engineering services agreement with San Antonio-based Kimley Horn for development of a drainage master plan for the Lake Shore Estates Subdivision.
Some council members questioned if it would be better to include the Lake Shore drainage plan under the overall city drainage plan under discussion.
“I do believe that if we fix drainage issues in Lake Shore it’s going to cause issues downstream,” Dear said.
However, Emery urged immediate action on the Lake Shore issue rather than wait an additional two years or more to complete the overall city plan.
“They have been waiting and suffering for this for years,” Emery said.
Dear was also authorized to negotiate with Kimley Horn for engineering services to establish a municipal storm water utility in Lytle. Added to the monthly utility bill of Lytle residents, the storm water utility is something common to most cities, Dear said.
“Once we get the utility established by ordinance everyone gets to pay into it monthly,” he said. “It’s an assessment on your property. Then we can use those funds to mitigate storm water and do drainage in the city.”
The Lytle Chamber of Commerce asked for the city’s annual participation of $35,000 in a proposed visitor center to offer information about lesser known offerings and events within the community. The presentation by Dear said the center would “offer a feedback mechanism from the community and visitor to help improve appeal.”
Total cost for the visitor center is estimated at $72,669 annually. Cost of one employee to staff the center is estimated at $52,525.
Dear said the city staff is frequently too busy to assist visitors seeking out tourist information. Funding the center would be on a year-by-year basis just as the city’s participation in Little League.
“Our staff is already busy doing other things such as processing bills and taking care of customers,” Dear said.
On a motion by Emery, the council approved participating in the project using monies from the hotel occupancy tax.
After a brief executive session to discuss pending litigation and purchase of property the council voted to allow the city administrator to acquire property discussed in closed session.