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Rockwall City Council virtually discusses COVID-19, approves special exemption to allow buried utility lines

Last updated on April 23, 2020

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It was (somewhat) business as usual for the Rockwall City Council on Monday, April 20 during the altered council meeting.

One of the first items on the agenda was to honor Harvey Ladd as he turned 100 on April 15. The full proclamation can be found here.

Councilmember Kevin Fowler explained how he had come to personally know Ladd over the last decade.

“I met Harvey, gosh, probably ten years ago when there was a pothole outside of the bank and he wanted that pothole filled,” Councilmember Kevin Fowler said. “And we got it filled. As you left the bank, there was a pothole; it was a big one. He let me know about it and we got it fixed.”

Fowler recalled a story of Ladd in that he had requested a hospital sign.

“My interactions with him were primarily about him wanting a hospital sign, or him pointing out a handicap sign that wasn’t clear or wanting lights across the bridge. There was always something that he noticed that he wanted. He was tenacious; you couldn’t ignore him,” Fowler added.

“He had me, he had Representative (Justin) Holland, to the point to where I called Justin and I said ‘For the love of God, Justin will you please get these hospital signs up’,” Fowler said. “So, Mr. Ladd got his hospital signs up.”

Through their interaction, Fowler explained that he had become friends with Ladd above and beyond city council and bank interactions.

“It’s not unusual for him to call me on a Saturday and say ‘Hey kiddo! Let’s go on an adventure, I’ve got a new restaurant I want to try out.’ Last time it was Standard Service,” Fowler said.

That was that. Fowler, Ladd and their wives went on an adventure to Standard Service.

“So when we found out his birthday was coming up, I had just randomly put on Facebook, ‘Hey, my friend Harvey is turning 100, what could we do?’ and that grew into connections with his granddaughter; that grew into his neighbors who were already planning something,” Fowler said.

A parade of about 35 cars was organized. The parade was led by a fire truck; Rockwall Police Department was involved and other various convertibles and vintage cars.

“Rockwall community came together, we had a great time,” Fowler said.

In other business, Ryan Joyce joined in on the council’s video meeting requesting approval for a special exception for utility requirements.

The subject property is located at the southwest corner of Clem Road and N. Stodghill Road (FM 3549).

Currently, there are overhead powerlines along Clem Road. Joyce plans to develop a 40 -lot residential subdivision on a 61.45-acre tract of land adjacent to Clem Road. The way the current ordinances read, a right of way would need to be requested in order to portion of Clem Road would need to be widened as to abide by the city’s thoroughfare plan. In doing this, the existing overhead powerlines will be required to be relocated.

On April 14, 2020, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a motion to recommend approval of the applicant’s request for a special exception by a vote of 6-0, with Chairman Chodun absent.

According to Section 03.03, Utility Distribution Lines, of Article 04, Permissible Uses, of the Unified Development Code (UDC), “(a)ll utility distribution lines shall be placed underground … Utility distribution lines placed above-ground shall require special approval of the City Council based upon a recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission.” In addition, Section 38-15, Miscellaneous Requirements, of Chapter 38, Subdivisions, of the Municipal Code of Ordinances states that, “(a)ll power and telephone service shall be underground … No overhead service will be allowed without special permission being given by the City Council.” Based on this, the applicant has submitted a letter stating that it would be cost prohibitive to relocate the powerlines underground based on the requirements stipulated by the Farmer’s Electric Company (FEC). A meeting was held between representatives of FEC, Joyce, and staff to try and work through this issue; however, no satisfactory agreement could be reached. The representatives from FEC stated two (2) issues with burying the powerlines: [1] the extra cost was tied to the need to loop the powerlines (much like the City does with its waterlines), and [2] the overhead powerlines currently serve customers on the other side of the road and there would be a cost associated with reconfiguring their connections. The applicant has indicated to staff that he is waiting on a letter from FEC stating these issues; however, as of the date of this case memo the applicant had not received anything from FEC

Council Packet, 4/20/2020

“My favorite cases to get as far as exceptions are when businesses come to the city council to try and solve a business problem. Ordinarily as a rule, I am opposed to that because we are the government, not the bankers, not the owners. But the whole reason we have an exception process is for cases where it does make a little bit of sense,” Councilmember Trace Johannesen said. “In this case, it seems to me that we’re trying to bury the lines for aesthetic purposes and for future needs, and these lines serve adjacent properties that are not the property that he’s developing, I’m inclined to go ahead and issue the variance.”

The exemption allows the applicant to install underground utility wires to homes in the neighborhood that will be developed there. The existing poles on Clem road will not be converted.

Council voted to approve the exemption request unanimously.

Also on the agenda was a discussion of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the city.

In a video posted to the city’s YouTube channel posted on April 20, Mayor Jim Pruitt previously retracted his city-wide

The main concern that the Mayor and other councilmembers noted was that Dr. Gary Bonacquisti, the designated health official for Rockwall County, suggested that “drastic” measures be taken in order to help alleviate the need for ICU beds, ventilators and other necessary medical tools in order to serve COVID-19 patients.

“We did that and we have now found that those numbers are totally wrong. The models have shown that there is nowhere near the need for that medical capacity that we were preparing for,” Pruitt said in the video message.

The mayor also noted the lack of information about COVID-19 as it pertains to the city provided to city officials.

“We can’t tell you how many people have been tested; we can’t tell you how many people have shown negative results from this. We also can’t tell you who and where they were tested from,” Pruitt said.

The order put in place on April 6 was withdrawn by Mayor Pruitt in order to allow the city will abide by the state’s guidelines.

Mayor Pruitt noted that on Friday, April 17, Governor Abbott loosened the guidelines to allow other medical procedures that had previously been on hold.

“My question to Dr. Bonacquisti was: ‘Look, you told us we weren’t trying to keep people from getting this specifically, we were just trying to not overwhelm the hospital system, therefore we’re spreading this out over a longer period of time. Well, my thing is we know now that we haven’t overwhelmed the hospital system, so why are we still doing this? Why are we trying to prevent people from getting this, when inevitably they’re going to get it more than likely anyway?” Pruitt said.

Councilmember Johannesen laid out his concerns that were presented to Dr. Bonaquisti. Those were: how are we tracking the negative results in the county and how are we tracking the recovered cases in the county.

“The net is, they’re not being tracked very well at all,” Johannesen said. “It appears that neither the state nor the federal government requires that the negative cases are tracked.”

Johannesen explained that he understood how recoveries were not easily tracked, but the negatives should be more easily tracked.

“Now we’re operating and making decisions, and really important decisions based on half the information,” Johannesen said. “It’s starting to get to the point where we’ve done our part as a legislative body, as a government, and that is to flatten the curve. In a reaction to an emergency; now, it seems it’s not as emergent. Now let’s start to be smarter to the degree that we can.”

Mayor Pruitt explained that part of the reason that these numbers are not available is that there is not a specified health authority in the city of Rockwall or in Rockwall County. Dr. Bonaquisti is not paid to be the designated health authority and continues to run his own practice.

“One of the things we have found to be deficit in through this process was that counties that have these health officials, or cities that have these, they can get these numbers because they’re tracking these numbers from hospitals, from doctor’s offices, those kind of things,” Pruitt explained. “We can’t just appoint a person that would go out and get this information for us. If we could, my gosh, we could hire a private investigator to go out and collect this information. But this information is only available to those health authroities.”

Mayor Pruitt discussed the possibility of joining with another city as Rowlett has done with Garland to receive more accurate numbers.

“If we could get someone to pair up with one of these cities, even if it costs us money for that person to go and get our specific numbers, I think that’s money well spent,” Pruitt said. “We are just chasing our tail to come up with a plan, when we don’t have the numbers to know where we’re going with this.”

Councilmember Fowler questioned what this person would do, as hopefully this pandemic is a “once in a lifetime” thing.

Mayor Pruitt clarified that this person, outside of a pandemic, would make sure that all health inspections are done in restaurants as well as watch for other health matters such as let the city know when to spray for mosquitoes and West Nile Virus.

These are things that previously done on a volunteer basis. Mayor Pruitt suggested this person be a medical professional.

“This is something we would like to get some numbers started pretty quickly having to do with this pandemic. I will tell you that we have had conversations with the county about why we can’t go together and do this and this person does the inspections for all the cities,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said he had requested a meeting with the Emergency Services Corporation to discuss this possibility with Judge David Sweet, but that meeting had been cancelled by Sweet.

“I don’t think we’re getting any answers there, so if we’re going to do something to try and get these number, we’re going to have to do it on our own,” Pruitt said.

The council directed city staff to reach out and collect information from the medical community as to the possibility of this coming to fruition.

You can find the latest COVID-19 information available for Rockwall County here.

The Census as it pertains to Rockwall County was also discussed.

According to a memo included in the packet distributed to the council, the Complete Count Committee continues its local effort for the 2020 Census.

“As you know, Census Day was on April 1st and the initial response was good but we still have some important work to do. The City of Rockwall’s self-response rate is at 56% at the time of this memo with most of the response being conducted online. Residents should have received paper copies and we are hoping for additional increases in the coming weeks from those that may prefer to use a paper copy instead of completing it online,” the memo reads.

The three census tracts with lower self-response rates are 37%, 38%, and 44% and include apartment complexes along SH 205 and down Yellow Jacket; the Old Town and Southside Communities; and Lake Rockwall Estates, Highland Meadows, Linden Park, and Windmill Ridge neighborhoods on the south side of the city. Staff has provided census information to the management companies of the apartment complexes in these areas and they have all agreed to distribute this information to their residents to further promote this effort. The City’s PIO has sent targeted promotions on social media to these three areas as well. The Committee worked with Lake Pointe Church Ministry and the Boys & Girls Club to host a “census day” event in LRE but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. The plan is to reschedule the event if restrictions on gatherings are lifted in the near future in hard-to-count areas.

Census 2020 – Complete Count Committee Update

Steps are already being taken to reactivate field offices beginning June 1, 2020. The Census Bureau has requested statutory relief from Congress of 120 additional calendar days to deliver final apportionment counts. If Congress allows this, the deadline would be moved to October 31, 2020, which will allow for apportionment counts to be delivered to the President by April 30, 2021, and redistricting data to be delivered to the states no later than July 31, 2021.

The next city council meeting will be held on May 4.

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