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Citizens push back against zone change requests

Zone change proposals for various properties across Lufkin sparked debate at Tuesday’s Lufkin City Council meeting.

The city did not hold a meeting in early July, which is the council’s standard procedure due to it usually falling around the July 4 holiday, but the Planning & Zoning Commission did. As such, the council was faced with several requests for zone changes throughout the community — some of which caused contention between the landowners and neighboring properties.

Among those, members of the Mantooth Street neighborhood, which sits directly behind Frank Avenue, strongly opposed a zone change at 718 W. Frank Ave.

The property is in a trust owned by the Wade family and represented by Southside Bank. The family sought to change the zoning to “local business” to make it more marketable to potential buyers. The other properties along Frank Avenue follow this same zoning if they are not taken up by hospital space.

The family is looking for consistent zoning down Frank Avenue that is in line with the city’s comprehensive plan and future outlooks.

Jack Wade III pointed to his family’s history with the property; they purchased it decades ago, and in the 1960s, the state took 12 feet of the property to expand Frank Avenue. This “opened the door for the industrial institutional thoroughfare,” he said.

It also took the front of the property and made it inaccessible, he said.

The property couldn’t be sold as a “residential medium” property because Frank Avenue is a major thoroughfare and nobody would want to live there, he said. It would be worth more as a business property.

Additionally, council had just approved a zone change for a similar property just down the street at 707 W. Frank Ave. to “local business.”

The Mantooth community doesn’t want to stop progress but they do want restrictions placed on the property for what could be there.

Vanessa Childers’ property directly backs up to the Frank Avenue property; she spoke to the amount of time and effort the community has put into revitalizing their neighborhood. The historic homes were once beautiful, she remembered, and she wanted to bring that back again.

Additionally, she doesn’t want a loud business that runs 24 hours a day residing in her backyard. She wants to be able to bring her grandchildren over and let them run in the neighborhood.

She wasn’t alone in this; several other community members also spoke up, voicing similar concerns.

One local citizen did speak in favor of the change. Jesse Howard argued the rest of the street had already been developed, and while he meant no disrespect to the other community members, he doesn’t believe development is a bad thing. He believes property values have gone up in part because of the neighborhood’s proximity to the hospitals and shopping.

Angela Williams also spoke on behalf of the Wade family and went back and forth with the city council about possible solutions. Mayor Mark Hicks attempted to determine if the property could be rezoned in segments, permitting the creation of a green space between the would-be business and the residents.

However, councilman Trent Burfine pushed forward with a motion to deny the zone change — which caused debate in and of itself — and his motion was seconded by councilwoman Guessippina Bonner.

The proposed change was not approved by the Lufkin Planning & Zoning Commission but voted down in a split vote, according to several members of the public who attended the meeting. But because the Planning & Zoning Commission voted against the motion, the council needed a supermajority vote for the zone change to be approved; there was no supermajority.

The city council was split on the decision with councilmembers Burfine, Wes Suiter and Bonner voting against the zone change. Hicks and councilmembers Robert Shankle, Rocky Thigpen and Lynn Torres voted for the zone change.

More debate, though not as heated, was spurred on a proposed zone change at 1510 and 1512 S. Chestnut St. to “neighborhood commercial.”

Neighborhood resident Michael G. Parker asked if the council would require the plat to have a green space between any business that moves onto the property. He has no issue with rezoning the property but wanted the residential neighborhood that backs up to the property to remain residential and to keep the roads from becoming major thoroughfares.

Lee Miller, who owns a business across the street from the property in question, said he’d be happy with anything to “get rid of the eyesore.”

Brenda Rhodes, the real estate agent representing the property owners in question, went back and forth with the council as to whether the requirement Parker asked for would be possible.

Ultimately the council chose to postpone any decision on the property to allow the parties to find an amicable solution.

Other zone changes that were approved include:

■ 4600 S. Medford Drive and 1915 S. First St. to “commercial” to allow the Lufkin Mall property to be more marketable and to give its owners more flexibility.

■ 1816 Atkinson Drive and 411 Oleta St. to “commercial,” which will allow a family to utilize the property to sell cars.

■ 122 Whitehouse Drive to “commercial,” which will allow the Family Crisis Center of East Texas to build a warehouse that will serve as a processing center for the resale thrift store. Timothy Johnson, representing the neighborhood in question, said the two parties reached an agreement and there will be a large fence built with barbed wire at the top.

■ 2206 Nile St. to “manufactured dwelling.”

■ 303 Ponderosa to “low-density residential.”

The city council also:

■ Appointed Shankle as Mayor Pro Tem.

■ Adopted a 2020-21 revised budget, which accommodates changes needed in the city to finish out the year.

■ Approved a tax resale auction bid for property at 710 Hoo Hoo St.

■ Authorized the Lufkin Police Department to apply for the U.S. Department of Justice Fiscal Year 2021 Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant for $11,906.

■ Approved a subdivision improvement agreement between the city and Shirey Forest LLC.

■ Awarded Cornerstone Concrete Contractors a $73,522.32 bid for the reconstruction of Oak Crest Drive.

■ Awarded Carney Roofing a $187,450 bid for the replacement of the Lufkin City Hall and Police Department roofs.

The council also appropriated funding in the budget for:

■ The remodel of the city hall training and conference room and a lighting upgrade in the employee break room.

■ The purchase of new body-worn cameras for the Lufkin Police Department.

■ The purchase of additional equipment needed for a reserve ambulance for the Lufkin Fire Department fleet.

■ The purchase of air packs for backup engine units and special operation units for the Lufkin Fire Department.

■ The purchase of an off-road utility vehicle, trailer and skid unit for the Lufkin Fire Department.

■ The purchase of uninterrupted power service battery backup units for the city’s computer servers.

■ The purchase of equipment needed to provide spin classes at the Parks & Recreation Center.

■ The purchase of replacement printers and scanners for the city’s finance department.

■ Renovations to the Kurth Lake Lodge.

■ The creation of an amortization fund for the information technology department.

■ The General Fund Construction Fund.

The council also appointed several local citizens to various city boards.


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East Texas Community Health Services unveils new Lufkin clinic
  • Updated

East Texas Community Health Services invited the community to see its new clinic at 1717 Sayers St. Tuesday morning during its grand opening.

The ceremony began with a short introductory program, followed by a ribbon-cutting and tours of the facility.

The clinic has 13 medical exam rooms and six dental offices, not including labs and pharmacy services.

The facility will offer primary medical care, such as family and general practice, pediatrics, women’s health, internal medicine and dental care. The clinic also offers behavioral health and has a licensed professional counselor that comes in one day a week.

Anita Humphreys, CEO of East Texas Community Health Services, said the process to build the location has been ongoing since 2016.

“This project has been a long time in the making,” she said. “And we are so thankful to all of you who participated in its development.”

Humphreys said the process began due to their patient base, which is done by zip-code analysis. East Texas Community Health Services has a clinic in Nacogdoches and noticed a great number of their patients had zip codes in Angelina County.

“As a result of that, we started looking at the demographics of our patients to say, ‘OK, has that been a growing need, and in what areas is it growing?’” she said. “When we identify those, that’s where, strategically, we start looking to see if that’s an area we need to expand to.”

The clinic is a federally qualified health center, meaning it can accept patients not only from Angelina County, but from the surrounding counties, as well.

“We don’t have the same limitations and boundaries that the Lufkin city health district would have,” she said. “We are similar in a lot of ways, but we do have different grant fundings that fund different things.”

Humphreys said the Health Services will always have its ties in Nacogdoches and will continue to change and grow their services as they are needed by the community.

“As we see things, as we’re analyzing our patients’ demographics, we’re also analyzing those diagnoses and the things that are coming through our clinic,” she said. “So if we need to change things, if we need to strengthen or add additional providers, we’ll do that in response to what we’re seeing.”

Humphreys also said the clinic was designed to be user-friendly, with the patient in mind.

“We did the walkthrough of how it works with an actual person in mind and not just a thought,” she said. “We are dedicated to working within the existing health care system; to complement, not to compete, to find our niche and to meet it and to be ever-growing and ever-changing with what this community needs.”


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Mount Olive Baptist on mission to replace roof

Members of Mount Olive Baptist Church are looking for some divine intervention to help replace the facility’s roof, which is currently warped due to old age.

Robert Jones, pastor of First Baptist Moscow in Polk County, said he received a call from church member Walter Pride a week ago, as Jones also performs mission work and helps churches with repairs. Jones then visited the church on Cotton Belt Street to see its needs and said he felt called to help them. The roof is about 60 years old, he thinks, and the church needs a new one.

“The church is a small congregation and does not have the means monetarily to do what is necessary to replace the roof,” he said. “The ceiling and walls at the backside of the building have failed inside. If the roof does not receive immediate attention and the rain continues, the building will be lost.”

When the church is able to get the money to fix the roof, Jones said he will be able to fix it along with his team.

“I am asking for help from all the brothers and sisters across the East Texas area to help replace the deck and shingles of this old landmark church,” he said. “John 10:27 states: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’”

Mount Olive pastor Archie Overshine said he also would love to build a community center next to the church.

“I’d love to be able to take care of elderly people during the day,” he said. “After they leave, I want the young people to come in and be able to work with computers, to keep them off the streets.”

Pride also said it’s important to him to better the community and have a good place for people to go.

“I want to make sure that we have somewhere that people can be safe,” he said. “And there’s room for that to be done. God brought me here to do work.”

Along with building new businesses in order to prosper and grow, Overshine said communities need to focus on places that are already there.

“I said, ‘What about the places that are already standing,’ he said. “Let’s rebuild the old businesses. We have so much land over here, we can improve things around here.”

Overshine said he felt called to the church to help people, and will continue to do so as long as he is meant to.

“I really came back to try to make this place a better place, a better community,” he said. “I quit my job because God called me here. I’m just waiting on Him, and hearing him every day. If he tells me to leave, I’ll leave, but until then, I’m right here.”


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Courts resume for Whataburger robbery trial

PEGUES

The first Angelina County felony jury trial in more than a year was stopped Tuesday when defendant Billy Ray Pegues told the court he wished to fire his attorney, John Reeves.

State District Judge Bob Inselmann told Pegues he hopes he will reconsider by the time court resumes at 9 a.m. today — otherwise, Pegues will represent himself.

Pegues is accused of robbing the Whataburger on Timberland Drive in the wee hours of Aug. 19, 2019. He was indicted in October that year and pleaded not guilty to the charges Lufkin police filed against him.

At approximately 3 a.m., cashiers Misty Wlazlinski and Albert Sanchez were working alone at the restaurant. It had been a fairly slow day, each told the court in separate testimonies on Tuesday, and they used the time to catch up on stuff in the back.

Wlazlinski worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift so she could ensure her children were cared for.

She heard a voice while working in the back, asking for service. She knew where it was coming from and walked up to the front counter.

When she walked around the corner, he was “laid down” on the front counter, which she thought was odd. But Wlazlinski approached the counter to wait on the man. She told the court he was a black man, wearing a hat and long sleeves and he sounded like he was in his 40s.

When she asked how she could help him, she saw his face was covered — which was not normal — and she was immediately alarmed. He pushed a note toward her, which she read to herself, she said.

The letter read: “Don’t make me kill you. Listen. Open up the cash register. Give me all the cash. I swear I will blow your (expletive) brains out if you try any slick (expletive). Try me.”

Wlazlinski read the note again in court and confirmed for the jury it was the same.

“He meant business, there was no joking,” Wlazlinski said.

He showed her the gun, in his waistband area, and she believed it was real. She started handing him the money out of the cash register. He asked for the rest of the money and she told him where the other register was. She pointed to it.

She opened the register and he took money from there. There was a customer, which Wlazlinski believed scared the suspect away from the store.

She said she wasn’t as scared at first because she was in shock, but was scared much later.

The man fled the store, and videos produced from outside the Whataburger and the First Cash Pawn shop next door show a man fleeing the restaurant around the same time.

Sanchez said things around the store changed after that, which was confirmed in testimony by Titania Davis, who was the general manager at the time.

Davis and Wlazlinksi said the man got away with approximately $197.

Wlazlinksi told the court she had only heard his voice again when entering the courtroom; prosecutor Stephanie Stroud asked her to point to and describe the person whose voice she recognized, and she pointed to Pegues.

Reeves asked her if she served anyone before Pegues, and she said she hadn’t. The video from the pawn shop showed one person walking away from the store close to the same time. Wlazlinksi said she hadn’t served the person but that they may have used the store’s restroom without her knowledge.

He asked a few questions, to which she mostly didn’t remember well enough to give direct answers. Reeves asked Wlazlinksi how she could tell his voice apart if she couldn’t really remember the other details.

Stroud asked if she’d heard any voices like that since the incident, and she hadn’t.

Davis shared the recording of the incident with Lufkin police. The cameras are in several areas throughout the store, including two over the cash registers. One of those cameras was fuzzy, but the other was more clear, Davis said.

Stroud then showed the footage from that night, after confirming the time stamp would be somewhat different from the time of the call because the cameras didn’t change the timestamp with Daylight Saving Time.

The video showed a Black man walking in, bending over at the counter before an employee approached him. He handed the employee something and she then proceeded to open the cash register and hand the till to him. He took the cash and the two moved to the other register at the drive-thru.

Another video, from another side of the store, showed the same events.

Reeves asked about the cameras outside the store, to which Davis said you could see a little bit of someone running down Paul Avenue. He also clarified that Davis didn’t know or recognize Pegues.

Crystal Daniels, a pawn broker for First Cash Pawn on Timberland near the Whataburger in question, provided video footage of the Whataburger parking lot for the time at which the incident occurred.

The video showed the pawn shop’s backyard, which also shows Paul Avenue. The video shows one person coming up to the store with a bike, doing something before entering the store, and then leaving on the bike.

The video does not show the markings witnesses and earlier videos indicated the suspect had.

Wlazlinksi called 911 and police were able to dispatch officer Adam Coats to the scene within minutes. During his testimony, Coats was questioned by Reeves and Stroud about body-camera footage of his arrival at the restaurant.

The body-camera footage supported testimony of the incident offered by Wlazlinkski and Sanchez.

Coats is the officer who secured the note given to Wlazlinkski for evidence and confirmed she had been the only one to touch it with her bare hands — a point made repeatedly in witness testimony Tuesday.

Christy Pate, a Lufkin police crime scene technician who deals with analyzing fingerprints, talked the jury through the process of matching fingerprints.

The connection between the two prints was closer than any other prints brought up by the database, Pate said. There have been multiple comparisons of the prints completed and ultimately it was determined to be a positive match.

Reeves asked if anything could mess with this analysis, such as a scar or burned fingertips. She said she noticed a scar, but it didn’t impact the comparison of the fingerprints.

It was about this time that Pegues became more agitated and began speaking out of turn. Inselmann sent the jury out for a recess and allowed Pegues to voice his frustrations for a few minutes off the court record.

In that time, Pegues accused the courts of not offering him a fair trial and said his attorney wasn’t doing enough to represent him. He asked multiple times to fire Reeves, but when Inselmann asked him about this on the court record, he said he’d keep his attorney.

The trial resumed for another few minutes before Pegues spoke out again and Inselmann again sent the jury into recess.

This time, Pegues said on the record he wanted to be done with Reeves. Debate about the matter went back and forth while Inselmann tried to convince the man to keep his counsel.

Ultimately, and after discussing this with Stroud as well, court recessed until today.


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