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PEARSALL HAS HISTORY OF CODE VIOLATIONS
Pearsall Mayor Ben Briscoe and City Manager Federico Reyes are acknowledging the public’s frustration with building permits but say the process is in place for the protection of the builder and municipality.
City officials have been confronted several times over the past year by issues related to permit applications, ordinance violations and an apparent failure by some property owners to follow a procedure whose sequence has been established by the municipal government.
In some cases, according to City Hall, residents have applied for permits after making improvements or alterations to their properties and without seeking prior permission or confirming that the work meets legal requirements or city codes.
“The problem here is a permit must be issued first,” the mayor said to councilors and residents during a Tuesday, June 13, meeting. “This ‘he-said, she-said’ is very difficult on the staff. Those permits are approved by staff who have authority to do that. City council, myself, we can not approve that.”
Briscoe said the council and city staff are planning a workshop in the near future in an effort to ‘shed light’ on obtaining permits.
“It is a process,” the mayor said.
Reyes said circumventing the permit process leads to unnecessary consequences such as fines and infrastructure flaws, especially in areas adjacent to the city limits referred to as the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
“What people have done is come and place structures on properties, specially in the ETJ there is limited infrastructure and people do not do their research to see if they are in a flood zones, if they have access to public roadways,” Reyes said in a phone interview on Friday, June 23.
The city manager also said those selling tracts of land must meet additional requirements that include easement and utility regulations.
Reyes said people have requested an address and then placed a home on the property without a permit. Many homes have been placed on properties that do not meet the specifications outlined in the building code ordinance, he added.
“If we are going to turn on the utilities and authorize AEP to turn on the electricity, we have to have a permit,” Reyes said. “If they do not tell us what they are doing, then we do not turn on utilities. Folks have taken advantage of things and put things just wherever without getting proper approval, so that is changing and that is tough for the community.”
According to Briscoe, the city encourages development, commercial and residential, but it is vital that the application process be followed correctly.
“Everything that is done incorrectly has a consequence, typically to us and to the homeowner, eventually,” the mayor said. “It is required to get a permit before you start working.”
The mayor added that he is recommending the building code ordinance be amended to include fines assessed to builders, realtors and mobile home movers who assist individuals without a permit in hand.
“They should know things cannot be moved in without a permit,” Briscoe said. “It has to stop. Issues like this, it keeps going because there is a never a plan signed and approved. We can do a better job.”
Reyes said the city’s primary function with regard to permit and code enforcement is to ensure health and safety through enforcement of federal, state and municipal regulations. In order to comply with laws, city staff will ask individuals seeking permits a series of questions to ensure the proper permit is issued.
“We need to know what rules and regulations apply,” the city manager said. “There are four different types of homes: mobile, manufactured, traditionally built homes and modular.”
Reyes said the city hopes not not to hamper growth and development but ensure codes are followed.
Councilors quizzed Reyes over concerns from residents being denied permits for storage buildings that are being converted into living spaces. The council passed an ordinance in November 2022 that prevents the structures from being used as residences.
According to Reyes, design plans for storage buildings specifically say they are not designed for habitation. The units are not built to building codes, he said, which also require a living space of 600 square feet at a minimum.
Councilor James Leal echoed Briscoe’s desire for residential development and said he believes the city needs to enforce regulations that protect property values.
“We hear all the time why we are not like other cities, but when you drive around those towns you do not see what you see here because they do not allow what we allow here in Pearsall,” Leal said. “Studies show mobile homes drop property values. Those other towns have designated areas for mobile homes.”
Councilors learned there are 515 mobile and modular units in Pearsall and that approximately 35 percent of them are vacant, while only seven percent of traditionally built homes are standing empty.
“What happens to these homes,” Reyes said, “is they become dilapidated and then we see drugs and infestation.”
Pearsall’s code of ordinances is available on the city’s website and can be read in multiple languages.