Council nixes downtown grant application
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” YOU’RE BASICALLY LYING..”
WON’T DECLARE HISTORIC DISTRICT BLIGHTED AREA
Although they favored sending an application to the Texas Department of Agriculture before a May 3 deadline for half a million dollars to upgrade public facilities, Cotulla councilors balked last week at declaring the heart of the city blighted in order to meet funding criteria.
Under contract with the city of Cotulla to seek out state and federal grant funding, GrantWorks representative Natalie Gonzales succeeded on Thursday evening, April 13, in garnering unanimous support for the application through the TDA’s Community Development Block Grant. That optimism was quickly reversed, however, when she asked the council to sign a resolution declaring downtown Cotulla a blighted area.
A motion by Councilor Gilbert Ayala, seconded by Councilor Manuel Rodriguez and supported by the remaining elected officials, was ultimately revisited and denied when the council learned that a vital component of the application was a resolution that they believe would disparage the city’s work in the historic district.
If it were granted, the funding would pay for a number of upgrades to the downtown area, more than fifty percent of them related to handicap access such as ramps, parking, handrails and specially designed curbs.
Other upgrades possible through the grant would include lighting, but Gonzales proposed that the city’s gas-fired downtown street lights be replaced by electric lighting.
The funds would be channeled to the state’s community development grant from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“This is not one of the fan favorites,” Gonzales said of the resolution put before the council as part of the grant application. “It’s a a tie-back used for the grant. When HUD dollars are used, you always need to meet a national objective, which is to end slum and blight.
“The only way to qualify for the grant is to designate the area either a slum or blighted,” Gonzales said. “In other words, declaring that it needs to be modified.”
“I strongly object to calling the downtown area blighted,” City Administrator Larry Dovalina said during council deliberations Thursday. “You’re basically lying, because it’s not blighted. Once you declare it, you can’t take it back. I think you’re making a mistake; there are thriving businesses there.”
Gonzales said she believes the specialized grant is being made available to cities like Cotulla for the first time this year, but the resolution would have to pass and be signed by the council if the city is to meet the application deadline.
“I understand the HUD requirements and what you’re trying to do,” Dovalina said. “If you want to proceed with the grant, you really need to think about it.”
“I question the wording,” Councilor Alejandro Garcia said of the resolution. “This is detrimental to the city. We do have lighting there. I’m on the side of Mr. Dovalina.”
“I want to hear the meaning of ‘blight,’” Councilor Manuel Rodriguez said. “Make me understand it more.”
Councilors learned the word is used in the resolution to imply there are presently safety hazards to public access in the downtown area and that such conditions may hinder economic development and tourism.
“If you’re saying it’s blighted, you’re saying it’s a risk for people to be there,” Councilor Garcia said.
Councilors were silent when asked to offer a motion on the resolution.
Moments later, they were unanimous in reversing their earlier support for the application.
“You may have another chance next year to apply,” Gonzales said, “but we do not know the scoring criteria. The guidelines may change, and the amount of funding may change. Something always changes. It’s the nature of the authority.”
Cotulla’s downtown area has been the target of more than a decade’s worth of improvements, from landscaping and lighting to street striping and parking, building preservation and promotion through the Main Street Program. Gas lighting with vintage-style lanterns has been installed, handicap-access ramps and curbs built, sidewalks leveled, and local grants made available to business making improvements to their facades and signage. The city has bought two of the area’s oldest and most historically significant buildings, converting a gas station and car repair shop into the new City Hall, and refurbishing the former Stockmens Bank for office and exhibition space at a cost of a million dollars.
Councilors did not add further comment Thursday evening on their rejection of the resolution that the downtown area is blighted and did not recommend that alternate grant funding be sought.