CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — Construction of a side wall on the proposed new Bealls store on RR 1431 has prompted a torrent of complaints to city officials and on social media that have been critical of the current aesthetics as well as the developer’s decision to position the building’s storefront away from the main roadway.
Marble Falls city staff acknowledge they have received complaints, while more than 50 comments on one Facebook profile page characterized the project in a negative light.
Those comments include:
• “How sad for our beautiful little town. How can something like that happen here?” — Lori Collier
• “That is the biggest ugliest eyesore ever … That thing is disgusting me.” — Randy Clark
A few positive comments suggested sprucing up the existing wall.
Herb Belofsky recommended a “mural depicting the Hill Country’s finest bluebonnets and lake scene.”
Despite the criticism, the developer said more work is planned for the north-facing wall.
“It’s going to have better landscaping than anything you’ve ever seen in the history of Marble Falls,” said Bill Bray of Estes-Bray LLC. “There’s going to be trees, plants, a lot of color, every 25 feet there’s going to be a downspout with a trim color, so when the trim materials are put in and the downspouts, that wall isn’t going to look that way. You’ll have a lot of flowers and plants. It’s going to be real pretty.”
Longtime Marble Falls resident Gary Delz initiated the social media chatter critical of the project.
“It’s just a long, long, huge wall facing 1431 facing H-E-B; no windows, no decor, no nothing,” Delz said in a phone interview Aug. 11. “The question is who’s in charge of restricting the building codes in Marble Falls.”
Assistant City Manager Caleb Kraenzel, who oversees building permits, said staff became aware of the north-facing wall when the developer presented the site plan.
“We had discussions regarding the appearance,” Kraenzel said. “Something along the lines, ‘Is there some way there could be a material break or some architectural differentiation?”’
The city can make a recommendation, but the existing code is limited in its requirement for building construction.
Even though Bray has plans for foliage, downspouts and trim, the existing code does not require which way a building faces but primarily sets a maximum requirement for type of materials used on sides facing any roadways.
“We do have an exterior appearance requirement. It says the exterior of the building facing the street should be of a certain type of material. In this case, it would be masonry, stone, stucco, brick, wood veneer — 75 percent of one of those materials or combination of those materials,” Kraenzel said. “So in Mr. Bray’s case, the north building face is 100 percent stucco. That exceeds the minimum for city standards.”
Delz expressed concerns about the distance of the building from the roadway, which is several feet closer to RR 1431 than nearby businesses.
“(The building) just looks like it’s much closer (to RR 1431) than it should be, like it’s not offset enough for the right-of-way there,” Delz said.
Bray said designers turned the front of the building to face Avenue N to accommodate the 45,000 square-foot floorplan for the 2½-story structure.
“It couldn’t be done any other way,” Bray said. “There would be no parking there. It would be to the side of the building.”
The history of the project dates back to plans several years ago to relocate an existing store to make room for commercial expansion of another venture.
According to city leaders, developer plans included moving the Bealls store, which is currently adjacent to H-E-B at 1503 RR 1431, across the street to make room for a new and bigger H-E-B.
H-E-B officials say that once the current Bealls building is razed, crews will launch construction on the new store at that location.
To accommodate the Bealls development, city officials relocated a portion of Avenue N about 50 yard east to line up with Bluebonnet Drive, closing the old roadway that is now part of the private property for the Bealls project.
The developer offered $150,000 toward the relocated city roadway and participated in the engineering and design of the new road, Bray said.
The city still awaits word from the Texas Department of Transportation on the potential for installing a traffic light at the new Avenue N/1431 intersection, city officials said.
One of the city’s next efforts will involve addressing commercial building construction concerns outlined in the comprehensive plan approved in June.
Even though Bray’s group has vowed to enhance the features of the north-facing wall, a future developer — as the ordinance is now written — has no obligation to do so.
“The majority of the public feedback was that the city should enhance its minimum requirements for the appearance of commercials buildings,” Kraenzel said. “Were’ looking at updating our zoning regulations (as a by-product of public input in the comprehensive plan).
“There’s no specification regarding windows or architectural enhancements,” he added.
An updated proposed building code is expected within the next two months subject to city council approval, Kraenzel said.
The result would impact future projects but not the current one under fire, he added.
At least one of the social media commenters reiterated Bray’s sentiment.
“We need to wait (until) it is all finished. They left ample room between it and the street for shrubs and foliage,” Doug Goree said. “I have a feeling that large wall will be decorated in some way or another.”
Bray said landscaping could be completed by February of 2017.
The Bealls grand opening is scheduled for April 4, 2017.