Nine Port Aransas City Council candidates put forth varying responses when asked a question on the issue of growth, development and community preservation during the Candidates’ Night voter education forum on Thursday, April 14.
The candidates were given 30 minutes to compose their responses to this question posed to the, by South Jetty editor Mary Judson, moderator at the event:
“On one hand, growth in Port Aransas is inevitable, and the town depends largely on tourism to sustain its economy. On the other hand, the town’s culture, environment and livability should be preserved. What’s your strategy for preserving the town’s culture, environment and livability while at the same time not quashing property rights or harming people’s ability to reasonably make a living here. Please give specific and not general recommendations.”
Christianson suggested limiting the number of vehicles allowed to park at properties based on how many parking spaces they have. That would reduce traffic and leave the rest of the property’s grounds permeable by rainwater, he said.
All development should be kept off wetlands, and the city should increase “buffer zones” for storm water runoff, which could mean the city purchasing property for that and possibly used as park land, he said.
The city should offer incentives to business and property owners to “keep it as green as possible,” Christianson said.
Port Aransas should strictly enforce beach ordinances, maintain its marina and plan for construction of a new one, he said.
Ordinances should be enforced on both residents and visitors, and if an ordinance doesn’t work, it should be changed, he said.
Livability, he said, depends on points of view.
“My livability might be different from someone else’s that lives here,” he said. “Trying to force each other to conform to different standards may be impossible.” The answer is to show respect to each other, he said.
All council members should reacquaint themselves with the city’s charter, codes and ordinances, and the city should strictly enforce development rules, Ruff said.
He said he wants to see measures taken related to Old Town architectural style, height restrictions, long-term rentals and short-term rentals (STRs).
Port Aransas needs more green space, Ruff said.
“Are we not a fishing, birding, beachy town?” he said. “It’s getting hard to remember that with everything getting paved over for parking and shoe-horning rentals into every available spot. We should not be a town where developers buy lots, build short-term rentals that only degrade our livability just to turn a profit. This is the type of STR that has no place here.”
Ruff said he’d like to know what has become of recommendations that emerged from past community workshops and why they haven’t been implemented.
He said he wants to see various city departments get out of their portable buildings and into permanent structures. The city’s police, fire and EMS departments have been in portable buildings ever since their headquarters were ruined by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Smith said her strategy will be to work with council members, the mayor and community members to not only enforce ordinances but also to “remove or keep violators from the pool.”
She continued: “By placing a cap on STR registration, we increase compliance, and property owners will see a return for their efforts: Bad STRs are out, the community receives the benefit of lower noise levels, trash issues, lower traffic and parking issues.”
In turn, she said, long-term rental houses will return to the market, and visitors will enjoy a better experience.
“Implementing architectural standards in Old Town will also give our visitors a much more enjoyable experience,” she said.
Port Aransas needs to focus on eco-tourism and small businesses, Smith said.
“This will continue our city’s measured growth and allow everyone to live here comfortably.”
Carl “Corky” Moore
Moore proposed creating “city districts” that would “allow us to provide for preservation of our unique community including areas like Old Town.” That also would protect small businesses, he said.
Port Aransas also needs to create “STR rental overlay zones,” he said.
“Overlay zones will allow for distinction between neighborhoods and resort communities, allowing us to enforce higher licensing or lower licensing depending on the districts those overlays are operating in,” Moore said.
He also proposed “STR license types,” which he said “will help us enforce city district standards and regulations from that district to address intense STR use within local neighborhoods.”
“I believe a stable and sustainable economy is based on consistency and common sense,” Klepperich said. “In order to balance economic growth with long-term, sustainable living, I think we need to look at how we approach short-term rentals and how they affect population density.”
Port Aransas should conduct a market survey comparing the number of STRs in town with full-time residences and see how many registered versus unregistered STRs there are and tally maximum occupancies, he said.
“City management should then reconcile what the maximum capacities of the city’s infrastructure and amenities (are) to come up with a reasonable maximum population density that the city feels it can effectively manage,” Klepperich said.
The council then could “set up a reasonable number or percentage cap on STR permits,” he said.
“It would be my hope this would slow down development and give breathing room for us to catch up with infrastructure and hopefully encourage investment property owners to offer affordable long-term rentals,” Klepperich said.
Chambers said that measures should be taken to preserve Old Town and ensure that families can keep coming to Port Aransas to live, keeping Port Aransas ISD stocked with students.
Port Aransas needs to keep bay waters clean and “free from a lot of industry,” she said.
Beautification efforts such as establishing more greenery should be undertaken, she said.
The city possibly should charge a fee to RVs for overnight beach camping, Chambers said, adding that it could help fund beach maintenance.
Port Aransas also should be “more strict” on litter issues,” she said.
The city should establish “zones that allow historical look and cultures to be built,” Chittum said.
“I will work to bring groups to the table to aid in establishing these zones,” he said. “Without these zones, it seems impossible to regulate new growth.”
Zones should be put in place “to ensure the history of fishing and other nature experiences that would have to remain,” Chittum said. “These zones are all something that would be attracting tourism and investment opportunities here.”
Zones “would have to allow people to work here, to live here,” he said. I would do this through specifically zoned areas for long-term rentals that would be specifically working class. Employee shortages have to be addressed to attract workers in our area.”
Chittum said he would work with local and state agencies to assure affordable housing.
“I believe our community has some very knowledgeable people in these areas,” he said, “and I would need to incorporate these ideas into my plans.”
Development must be managed and controlled relative to the town’s infrastructure, Phalen said.
Safety is important, so the city must pay particular attention to maintaining emergency services, he said.
Short-term rentals are being packed with more people than they should be, Phalen said.
“We’ve got to manage a cap on this growth at some point. … When we get to short term rentals, at what point do we lose our sense of community? When is enough enough? Sixty percent? Seventy percent? Eighty, ninety percent?”
Newly created rules and regulations shouldn’t be arbitrary and capricious and need to be “data-driven,” he said.
Port Aransas can preserve its culture and the environment if the city continues to partner with organizations in town such as the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, Moore said.
Groups such as the Port Aransas Conservancy and Keep Port Aransas Beautiful have helped and can continue to do so, she said.
“The city can only do so much, managing the city, but if we use the people and the resources like (those groups), we can really do a lot to promote the environment … make it healthy.”
The Port Aransas Tourism & Chamber of Commerce “has a great new campaign called Respect our Island Home, and I’m just so excited about it, because it’s going to help us educate tourists and citizens and everyone who comes here to truly do that, to respect our island home,” Moore said.
Moore suggested that the city also offer financial incentives to developers to create long-term affordable housing.