Investigation article by David Bellow
A city can only enforce the laws, regulations and ordinances of the city right? Not according to the Lumberton, TX City Council. Corruption in East Texas runs deep. The City of Lumberton, in Hardin County, has a record of getting into trouble for doing the wrong things, and they are about to get into trouble yet again. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of good council members who speak up in meetings, but they are overruled by the majority of the board. The majority on the board, led by Andy Kelley and Don Burnett, does some crazy things. See end of article for a list of recent abuses by the city including losing a million dollar lawsuit because the city stole a man’s land.
Lumberton City Council’s “Sidewalk to Nowhere” Illegally Kills Business Center that will bring Jobs and Tax Revenue
The latest crazy thing the Lumberton City Council is trying to do is kill a planned business center in Lumberton by not allowing the business center to be built unless there is a sidewalk to nowhere included in the plan. The sidewalk would literally go nowhere and not connect to ANYTHING and would NEVER be used. Yep, the city is killing a multimillion dollar project that will bring in good businesses, jobs, and tax revenue to the city. They are killing the project over a sidewalk that is NOT required by law or ordinance to be built. The city has no authority to kill this project and in the end the city will lose, again, and the residents of Lumberton will have to foot the bill. This abuse of authority reminds me of the EPA not having a legal reason to stop oil drilling in Texas so they create new endangered animals to stop oil drilling in Texas. Why the hostility from the city? I don’t know, but I do know that David Gracedel supported an outsider candidate in a recent city council election. The councilman that Gracedel did not support in the election was quick to be the first councilman to make a motion to reject a variance for Gracedel.
I first heard about this issue in an article written by Kevin King in The Examiner. The city defended itself by saying businesses in the city are required to build sidewalks. The city’s story sounded strange because the city has never required ANYONE to build a sidewalk in Lumberton so I wondered why the city was trying to force businessman David Gracedel to build one, and I wondered if the City even had the authority to force him to build one. I wanted to know more so I did a little research and I read the entire code of ordinances for the City of Lumberton. Well, it turns out that the city rules and regulations do NOT require Mr. David Gracedel to build sidewalks. Furthermore, this sidewalk would be a sidewalk connecting to nowhere because there are not sidewalks in front of most businesses in the city. Even more troubling is the city seems to be singling out Mr. Gracedel because the city has never tried to force any business, even recent ones, to build a sidewalk.
This situation is almost a repeat of when the city approved a subdivision a few years back for Mike Hawkins. The city then they tried to come back and force the man to build another road in the subdivision. The developer got a lawyer and the city was slapped down because, well, the city cannot approve a design and then come back and try to change the design
Here are the facts about the illegal Sidewalk to Nowhere in Lumberton
· David Gracedel applied for a commercial construction building permit to build a business center on 4 acres of land that he owns on Hwy 69 in Lumberton.
· Gracedel’s plat and building design was submitted to the city. It was drawn by professional engineers and architects, it was in full compliance with city building regulations, it had handicap parking and sidewalks to the entrances of the business center, and the design was ADA APPROVED (Americans with Disabilities Act).
· The city had 30 days to approve or deny the plat, otherwise the plat would be automatically approved. The city did NOT send Mr. Gracedel an approval or denial within 30 days so the plat was approved by default.
· Well after 30 days had pased, after the plat was already automatically approved, the city contacted Gracedel and told him that the plat would not be approved because it did not include a sidewalk along Hwy 69 in front of the parking lot.
· Gracedel pointed out that the design was in compliance with ALL city ordinances and also in compliance with all disability laws. The city cannot make you do something unless they have passed an ordinance requiring it.
· The city countered and told Gracedel that the city was forcing him to build sidewalks under the subdivision ordinance.
· Gracedel pointed out that the subdivision ordinance does not apply to him because he is not applying to build a subdivision nor is he applying to subdivide his property. He is only applying for a commercial construction building permit.
· The city countered by saying that at one time the land was subdivided.
· Gracedel pointed out that his land was subdivided over a decade ago before the subdivision ordinance was even on the books, and furthermore, the subdivision regulations only apply to someone who is applying for a new subdivision after the subdivision ordinance was passed.
· Gracedel also pointed out that the subdivision ordinance has been on the books for several years but all the recent construction projects that the city has approved did not require sidewalks and his business was the ONLY one that the city was trying to force to build a sidewalk. Heck, the city did not even require the Lumberton school to build a sidewalk along Hwy 69 when the school just did a major construction project along Hwy 69 this year. Furthermore, his business is not near any other businesses or sidewalks. Even if he did build a sidewalk it would not connect to anything because it would dead end at a sewer lift station to the right of his property and it would dead end well before it reaches a private road to the left of his property.
· The city said too bad, we want you to build a sidewalk. The city went further and said that even if the ordinance is not clear that sidewalks are required, the city council plans to make a new ordinance requiring sidewalks so Gracedel is forced to build a sidewalk now even before there is an ordinance requiring him to do so.
Does the City even Read their own Ordinances? Sidewalks NOT required!
First of all, Gracedel’s plat was already approved by default so the city cannot force him to change it and they cannot deny the permit. Second, I took a look at the code of ordinances for the city of Lumberton and I wonder if the members of the Lumberton City Council have ever read their own code of ordinances. It is clear that Mr. Gracedel does NOT have to build a sidewalk. The only mention in the ordinances of someone having to build a sidewalk is in the subdivision application rules, and the subdivision application rules do not apply to Gracedel.
But wait, there is more! Even if the city inaccurately tries to impose the subdivision ordinance on him, the subdivision ordinance is clear that sidewalks are ONLY required if the person applying for a subdivision is going to build a NEW road. In other words, according to the subdivision rules, only if Gracedel is building a NEW ROAD in a subdivision is he required to build a sidewalk with curbs along the new road. Mr. Gracedel’s business center will not have any new roads as customers will enter the parking lot directly from the Highway.
The City of Lumberton has been getting into lots of Trouble over Abuses of Power
Sometimes I wonder if the City Council in Lumberton, TX believes that they are above the law. They sure act like it. It seems like yesterday that I broke a story about the city losing a million dollar lawsuit after they stole a man’s land and tried to give the man nothing even close to what the land was worth. They thought they were above the law and could do what they wanted but the man had money to hire a lawyer and the city lost. They actually were able to keep the lawsuit a secret from the residents of Lumberton until I found out about it. Or how about the fact that the city council knowingly hired a man to be the city attorney and prosecutor even though the city prosecutor owed $40,000 for not paying local property taxes in over a decade. Yep, the city prosecutor would prosecute people who violate city laws even though the prosecutor himself was violating law and not paying his taxes. I broke that story as well and the city finally fired the attorney after the public found out. Even more recently, Councilmen Don Burnett and Andy Kelley saw the Political Action Committee they belong to fined by the Texas Ethics Commission after the committee illegally got a $25,000 donation from Walmart. These city councilmen then turned around and gave Walmart a variance that Walmart had wanted.
The City Gives Variances to Businesses like passing out candy in order get more Tax Revenue, so Why Kill this Multi-Million Dollar Business Center?
I just do not get it. The city of Lumberton has an ordinance that does not allow alcohol to be sold within 300 feet of a school or daycare. The city has recently allowed businesses to break the city rules and sell alcohol within 300 feet of schools and daycares. Why? Because the city says we need the tax revenue. What I do not understand is why the city is killing Gracedel’s good business project that will bring jobs and money to the city, but the same city is willing to allow other businesses to break the rules and sell alcohol by a school because the city says it will bring in more money for the city. It just does not make sense and it reeks of corruption, political games, and the good old boy system.