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Dovalina looks to new growth for Cotulla in 2022
“The future is bright”
A new truck stop, utility improvements, street paving, flood plain surveys, and restoration of historic sites lie ahead for Cotulla in 2022, a year in which the city government expects to continue its economic recovery.
City Administrator Larry Dovalina said this week that he believes stable revenues from sales taxes at local businesses and a continued healthy cash flow from hotel occupancy taxes will help Cotulla achieve its goals during the upcoming year. Principal among those will be strides in the modernization of the city’s water utility system.
Welders and heavy-equipment operators are presently assembling one of the most visible aspects of the city’s water
system upgrades, a 250,000-gallon water tower at the western edge of the community beside the La Salle County Fairgrounds and close to the water line extensions reaching real estate developments along the Cotulla truck bypass, where new business may soon be established. The tower legs have already been planted and cranes will soon hoist the steel components of the tank into place. When it is finished, the $1.4 million tower will be painted with the Cowboy logo of Cotulla ISD, since it is positioned close to the high school campus and Myers Memorial Stadium on Hwy 97.
Completion of the water storage tank will enable the city to maintain consistent water pressure in previously underserved portions of the network, reach properties that have never had nearby water lines, and encourage development on the outskirts of town.
Funds for the new water tower have been drawn from a loan forgiveness grant made available two years ago to the city by the Texas Water Development Board. Completion is expected between May and June, two months later than originally anticipated, due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the targeted areas for the improved water service is the Cotulla – La Salle County Airport, which opened its new terminal building late last year and has become the largest regional airport between Laredo and San Antonio. Runway extensions, new paving, taxiways and other improvements paid for in large part by grants from the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division enabled the facility to accommodate jetliners and attract more flights during the energy industry exploration of the Eagle Ford Shale.
“We have been involved in that process for a couple of years,” the city administrator said Tuesday. “There have been delays due to the pandemic, but we never stopped any projects. The only delays we experienced were because of people missing from offices, resulting in communication interruptions.”
Also presently in the works for the airport is a wastewater line extension, which will eliminate the need for septic tanks at the facility, Dovalina said.
Critical to local residents during the upcoming cold-weather months in South Texas will be preservation of Cotulla’s water service in the event of a regional power grid failure, as occurred during a winter storm in mid-February 2021. While temporary gas-powered generators have been installed at two of the city’s water wells to ensure continued service during a blackout, permanent installations are now being designed by CDM Smith. Completion of the project is expected in late summer, according to utilities engineer David Wright.
High on the list for developments that will immediately benefit the local economy is finalization of a deal for construction of a new truck stop at the intersection of IH-35 and South Main Street, on the southern edge of town, where road improvements and land clearing have already been undertaken. Dovalina said this week that he expects the Love’s company to proceed with its plans to build a fuel and retail facility at the prominent site.
In anticipation of the development, the Cotulla city government annexed real estate and extended water and sewer lines to the area in recent years.
Once open for business, the truck stop will provide local employment and pay sales taxes to the city, which Dovalina says will serve as a significant boost to the community.
“Sales tax revenues have plateaued for now,” the city administrator said of the city’s income from retail sales at local businesses. Gradual recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and from a slow-down in the energy industry over the Eagle Ford Shale will be powered by new businesses coming to the area and taking advantage of the city’s utility improvements and extensions, he said.
Community residents will also see upgrades to their neighborhoods, with Poole Street reconstruction nearing completion and others earmarked for repaving or drainage improvement.
“The water, gas and sewer lines on Poole Street are new, and removing the old lines involved completely excavating the street and rebuilding the sub-roadbed,” the city administrator said. “As with all projects, the curb and gutter have been repaired, and we are working on repairing the driveway entrances. We need to protect the integrity of the street and prevent damage to the new road by having rocks on it, causing erosion.”
Dovalina acknowledged that construction of several large buildings at commercial sites – notably near IH-35 and at the Las Palmas business district – has caused flooding when rainwater that previously soaked into undeveloped land is now channeled off building roofs, onto paved roads and rushes into low-lying areas. Among those, he said, are properties that lie below grade, including a retail store parking lot and a number of homes in the Mustang Creek floodplain.
“All new construction has to take that into account, and it is written into the ordinances” Dovalina said. “We have built a water retention basin at Las Palmas that is designed to release the rainwater gradually into the creek.
“We have problems in the community with drainage that has never been addressed in the past,” he added. “It affects the sub-grade areas. The city can’t get involved in private property, but we can help prevent rainwater flooding from affecting more homes.”
A map revision study by contractor CDM Smith – the same company presently building the water tower – will again examine the Mustang Creek floodplain and determine where the city may make improvements to the channel that flows between open country north of Cotulla, past residential neighborhoods on the east side of town, to the Nueces River.
“We will submit that to configure the floodplain and floodway to alleviate insurance requirements of homes affected by the current map,” Dovalina said, adding that the outcome will mean not only better drainage but also savings for those living in an area that should not be inundated after a storm.
The floodplain map presently used by the city may date as far back as the late 1950s, according to Dovalina, and doesn’t take new development, population growth and modern-day creek channeling into consideration.
Paving projects now in the planning stages in a cooperative effort between the city and La Salle County government include drainage improvements to Baker Street, for which the city has acquired nearby properties; the paving of Dilley Lane; and upgrades to an area of Lane and Huddleston streets where rainwater frequently pools.
“We are also looking for broken drainage lines and increasing the flow of new lines,” the city administrator said. “There are homes in that area traditionally below street level, and these people are getting flooded.”
In further community improvement, the city will continue its abatement of abandoned and dilapidated properties. The effort that began in the mid-1990s to rid the community of hazardous structures, overgrown lots and unsightly structures has involved demolition of unstable buildings long vacated by their owners. In some cases, the city has traced ownership out of state to families uninterested in maintaining their properties, and in others a delinquency in property tax payments has resulted in seizure of the lots, land clearing and resale, in order to bring the properties back onto the tax rolls.
“We are going to continue doing this to ensure that our community is cleaner and safer,” Dovalina said. “We are reducing the number of abandoned properties throughout Cotulla.”
Revenues from the city’s hotel occupancy tax – a surcharge on every room booked at Cotulla’s many hotels and motels – have helped fund several community improvement and historic preservation projects over the past decade. In 2022, Cotulla expects to draw up plans for the restoration of the Plaza Florita and Welhausen School, both of which are now listed on the national register of historic sites for their significance to South Texas cultural history. The plaza will be returned to its original appearance, as designed in the 1930s. This will mean demolition of the public restrooms and pavilion built in the late 1990s, as well as some playground equipment that has fallen into disrepair.
Since portions of the plaza upgrades were funded twenty years ago by the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife (TPW), the facilities that will be removed must be rebuilt at another site, and the city has purchased lots near Plaza Florita for that purpose.
In other historic preservation efforts, Cotulla will complete its restoration and revitalization of the original Stockmens Bank building on Front Street, now owned by the city, where craftsmen and construction crews have worked over a year in stabilizing the century-old building, replacing structural components, repairing the roof and facade, and replacing windows. Plans for the building include an exhibition space highlighting Cotulla’s place on the historic Camino Real, the ancient trade route between the Gulf Coast and San Antonio as well as between Catholic Church missions at key sites between Texas and Mexico. A marker commemorating the route was unveiled by Texas Senator Judith Zaffirini at the intersection of Hwy 97 and Front Street in 1995 but includes no features that may attract tourists or historians.
Other portions of the Stockmens building will be used as municipal office space. The plans fall in line with the city’s acquisition of the former Cotulla Motors garage at the corner of Main and Carrizo streets, a building whose facade was preserved while the present-day City Hall was built within. An official grand opening ceremony for the new City Hall has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Preservation and repurposing of the Stockmens Bank building is expected to cost a total of around $800,000, all of which is covered by the city’s hotel tax revenues.
Dovalina looks to 2022 as a year in which the lives of Cotulla’s residents will be improved in many aspects. With prospects for new employment, improvements to essential services, better streets, flood mitigation, modern facilities already open or planned for construction, and attention to detail at parks and historic sites, Cotulla can view its prospects in high spirits despite the ongoing threat of a pandemic.
“The future is bright; we are achieving sustainability in our services, and we are seeing a recovery,” the city administrator said. “We are meeting our budgeted goals, even though there has been some adjustment necessary. We look forward to the new truck stop and other projects in that area. We are restoring the ambience of a plaza that is close to the hearts of the people of Cotulla, and we are giving them a city in which they can take pride.”