When Lubbock changes what you or your neighbors can do on a property, do you want to know by mail?

Alex Scarborough, Lubbock, Texas

Alex Scarborough at City Council – image from city livestream

The city is about to make 76 tweaks to what people can and can’t do to their property, and you won’t find out by mail.

Building a duplex and planning for a ten-foot setback? It will soon be a five-foot setback.

That’s on the discussion list in a July 25 public meeting.

You’ll be told about these things on the Internet and a few other places, but not with an official notice in the mail.

Alex Scarborough, the co-owner of a commercial tree farm which was re-zoned last year, thinks that’s a problem. In late June, he used a little humor when speaking to the city council to express his concern.

“I got a call from my neighbor, … and he said, ‘Scarborough! What’d you do to us?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He said, ‘Our zoning has changed.’”

Scarborough did not know about the change last year because it was not mailed. He’s not on Facebook or other social media where the city publicized the change.

LubbockLights.com reached out to him about a week after he spoke to the council.

“My complaint to the city was our relationship wasn’t worth the 68 cents it costs to mail me a letter,” Scarborough said.

The city council, concerned with an estimated $38,000 cost for postage, gave city staffers permission to notify folks of the July meeting by “alternative notification” – same as last year’s meetings.

Alternative notification
Social media: Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), Youtube, the Nextdoor app and Instagram.
Traditional media: The city’s cable access channel, the TV monitors at Citizens Tower, press releases and legal notices in the Avalanche Journal.
Fliers at various locations: Local libraries, city museums and the city utilities customer service center.
Letters to various organizations: Neighborhood associations, homeowners’ associations, churches and other civic organizations.

The changes explained

“We actually did rezone every single property within the entire city on October 1,” said Kristen Sager, director of planning. That’s when Lubbock’s new Unified Development Code (UDC) took effect.

Nine months later, city employees are tweaking some things not working as well as previously thought.

“We are not proposing to rezone any property with these amendments,” Sager said.

There are 76 proposed changes for the UDC. For example:

  • Duplexes will have a 5-foot setback instead of 10.
  • Gas stations will be able to use electronic signs under canopies.
  • A single-family cottage can be on a 3,500 square foot lot instead of 4,000.

There is also a proposed change to how the city council can overrule the planning and zoning commission (proposal No. 23).

Click here to read the full list.

“It’s structured. … It’s very clear what is being changed,” Sager said.

Notice of public hearing

Notice is hereby given that the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council will hold a joint public hearing on Thursday, July 25 at 6 p.m., at 1314 Avenue K, Lubbock, Texas, Council Chambers, to consider the following item concerning property in Lubbock, Texas.

Discuss and take action to amend the Unified Development Code (Ordinance No. 2023-O0054) and Zoning Map including but not limited to proposed amendments …

Why alternative notification

There are more than 100,000 property owners in the city.

“To mail a physical notice to every property owner within the entire city – since we’re amending a code that applies to every property within the entire city – that’s the requirement. We have to notify every single property owner,” Sager said.

But there’s a loophole in state law.

Gas station canopy in Lubbock, Texas
Gas station canopy in Lubbock

“State law allows a city council to approve this alternative notice by a two-thirds vote. So, it can’t be a simple majority. … But it’s an option,” she said.

Alternative notice is how Lubbock proposed and put UDC in place in 2023.

The council again approved alternative notifications for the current round of changes but only after spending several minutes talking about Scarborough’s objections.

Sager heard the message clearly and found more ways to get the word out. She promised the city council she’d be in touch with the various neighborhood associations. She found 11 of them.

She found 150 churches, and 78 homeowners’ associations. She also notified the local Realtors association and the apartment association along with various developers and surveyors.

Lubbock UDC amendment timeline
Image from city presentation

Scarborough’s objection

Scarborough’s parents started Tom’s Tree Place in 1950. He graduated from Texas Tech in 1983 with a degree in landscaping and has been full-time in the family business since then.

Land owned by Zephyr Tree Farm in Lubbock, Texas
Marsha Sharp Freeway, near Golf Suites

The Zephyr Tree Farm next to Golf Suites (along the Marsha Sharp Freeway near Spur 327) came later. Sager said if the property was a tree farm before the city annexed it, which appears to be the case from public records, then it can stay a tree farm.

No problem, she said. For Scarborough, that’s not the point.

“If you’re a landowner and they’re changing the zoning they should notify you,” Scarborough said.

He fully understands there’s a cost.

“At some point in time, there’s certain things that I think are valuable enough that you do that,” Scarborough said.

Outgoing councilwoman Sheila Patterson-Harris sympathized with Scarbough’s situation.

“What do they call it? Scrolling or whatever you do? I don’t scroll,” she said.

Patterson-Harris reminded the city staff to keep track of how many people follow or subscribe to the various social media accounts – and not just take it for granted those accounts reach enough people.

Before voting to approve the alternative notification, outgoing mayor Tray Payne said, “We’re always trying to figure out ways to have people informed.”

“This is the digital age. At some point we’re going to have to figure out ways for people to pay attention in other forms and fashions other than mail. I think this is a cost savings to the taxpayer. I think this is a good way to do this,” Payne said.

There was some thought about putting a notice in the monthly utility bills. The customer list is not quite the same as the landowner list, but that wasn’t the problem. There was not enough time after a June 6 planning and zoning commission meeting to get a notice into the July billing cycle.

A legal notice in the A-J will cost the city just more than $1,800, Sager said – much less than mailing the whole city.

The council voted 7-0 in favor of the alternative notification.

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Author: James Clark- James Clark is the associate editor of Lubbock Lights. He worked in radio, television and digital media for a combined total of more than 30 years. He was Director of Digital News Content at KAMC, KLBK and EverythingLubbock.com for nearly 10 years.