Coppell Chronicle Vol. 1, No. 32
Look Out for That Giant Gorilla! • It Turns Out We Can Live-Work in Harmony • Contract Approved for Turf Fields • Loophole-Laden Mask Mandate Extended
A subscriber recently paid me the ultimate compliment: “You make boring things interesting!” This week’s Chronicle will revisit four topics covered in previous editions, so the pressure’s on to live up to that review.
Look Out for That Giant Gorilla!
As you may recall from Coppell Chronicle No. 28, the City of Coppell is not enforcing its rules that prohibit businesses from using many types of temporary signs. This moratorium on enforcement has been in place since May 2020. It was supposed to end last New Year’s Eve, but it was extended for six months and then another three months. The second extension was set to end Thursday.
During their work session on Tuesday, the City Council took an informal vote on extending the moratorium one last time through the end of 2021. On the winning side were Mark Hill, John Jun, Biju Mathew, and Cliff Long, who jokingly referred to the other three council members — Don Carroll, Brianna Hinojosa-Smith, and Kevin Nevels — as “these socialists that want to shut down all the businesses here in town.”
To my knowledge, Nevels is the only council member who owns a business with a brick-and-mortar location in Coppell. Ironically, he’s the one most strongly opposed to the temporary signs.
“Coppell residents expect a certain level of aesthetic quality,” he said, but many of the temporary signs along Denton Tap and Sandy Lake are in states of disrepair. “They set it and forget it, basically,” he said of his fellow business owners.
Hinojosa-Smith reminded her peers that the moratorium started because, at the beginning of the pandemic, it was difficult for residents to know which restaurants and stores were open for business. Those days are long gone. And Nevels pointed out that “now hiring” is the message conveyed by many of the temporary signs displayed these days.
“The original spirit and intent is not quite being observed,” Nevels said.
Early in Tuesday’s discussion, Director of Community Development Mindi Hurley told the council that the city has recently received separate requests regarding an inflatable hot air balloon and an inflatable gorilla.
“Today, with the moratorium on enforcement, those would be allowed,” Hurley said.
As the council was discussing the giant gorilla (there’s a phrase I never expected to type), Hill admitted that he thought the moratorium only allowed extra signs. In truth, the moratorium suspended all the rules. Once the realization of that reality crossed Hill’s face, Carroll said to him, “Come over to the dark side, Mark.”
Although Hill said “that there’s some overkill going on in some places, where you see multiple signs at the same company,” he remained in favor of extending the moratorium through the end of the year, to “do everything we can to help our businesses.”
Nevels, a former chairman of the Coppell Chamber of Commerce, was unmoved.
“To remind everybody of the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” he said, “they’re talking about putting a giant, inflatable gorilla somewhere in our city, and I don’t think that reflects what Coppell looks like. I think there’s a difference between helping businesses that are in need and enabling excessive sign use.”
If the council had let the moratorium expire on Thursday, enforcement of the sign regulations would not have started again until Nov. 1, because the city staff would have given the businesses 30 days’ notice.
Dec. 31 will be a hard-and-fast deadline, though. Hurley said her department will provide the 30 days’ notice on Dec. 1.
“If these people are going to put up a hot air balloon and a giant gorilla,” Hinojosa-Smith said, “knowing what those cost — there’s a huge cost involved in that — they need to know that after Dec. 31, they can’t have that up.”
Got that, merchants? Come 2022, this city will no longer tolerate any monkey business.
It Turns Out We Can Live-Work in Harmony
The story I’m about to tell you falls under the heading of “agree to disagree.”
On Sept. 14, the City Council began a public hearing regarding a proposal to build five live-work units on a vacant lot along South Coppell Road. As reported in Coppell Chronicle No. 30, the council opted to put the hearing on hold for two weeks, with a request for the applicant, Chris Collins, and his architect, Greg Frnka, to consider a reduction in the number of units.
Although Collins and Frnka made some changes to their proposal, the revised version still calls for five units.
“Just the simple economics of this is going to require five lots to be sold or five buildings to be built,” Collins told the council on Tuesday. “Without it being an economically feasible project, it can’t get developed.”
To begin Tuesday’s continuation of the hearing, city planner Matt Steer demonstrated that, even with five units, Collins’ proposal would be the least dense development in the area:
Steer also reminded the council about the changes that Collins and Frnka had made to their proposal at the request of the Coppell Planning and Zoning Commission, as reported in Coppell Chronicle No. 26:
They agreed that only one of the five units could be a doctor’s office, which would generate more visitors than, say, a lawyer’s office or an architect’s office.
They agreed to eliminate the southern parking space on Coppell Road, to increase the visibility of drivers making a left turn from Heath Lane.
They agreed to write conditions that would prohibit work-related activities in the units’ garages.
They agreed to install screens on any second-floor patios to safeguard neighbors’ privacy.
Steer then explained the revisions that Collins and Frnka had made in the last two weeks:
They withdrew their request for a variance to the setback requirements on the north and east sides of the property.
They knocked a foot off the width and depth of each unit, reducing the air-conditioned space on each ground floor from 1,500 square feet to 1,200 square feet.
Instead of having three public parking spaces directly behind each unit’s garage, there will be two private spaces behind each garage. There will be a public space directly behind each unit, but those five spaces will not block access to the five garages.
Those five public spaces are outlined in solid red on the revised site plan:
Steer said Asher Ahmed, the Heath Lane homeowner who had expressed concerns about cars accidentally ending up in his backyard, sent a letter in support of the revised proposal. Two Mobley Way homeowners who had spoken against the original proposal – Debbie Elliott and Don Walker – showed up to speak again on Tuesday. They both lauded Collins for his willingness to work with his neighbors, even though they wished that his proposal was for four units instead of five.
Collins thanked the council for putting the public hearing on hold for two weeks.
“It gave me the opportunity to sit down and meet some of my neighbors and try to come up with a way to work this out peaceably,” he said. “Without you extending that opportunity, I don’t know that we’d be where we’re at today.”
Council Member John Jun asked about parking overflowing into the surrounding neighborhood. Collins, who resides in a live-work unit that’s across Heath Lane from the lot he wants to develop, said such concerns are not unique to this particular neighborhood.
“Overflow parking happens every Super Bowl Sunday. Overflow parking happens every time Texas-OU plays,” he said. “It just is something that has to be dealt with in a neighborhood.”
That said, the revised proposal makes overflow parking less likely. Although the reduction in the units’ square footage lowered the minimum number of required spaces from 39 to 33, Collins and Frnka still plan to have 43 parking spaces.
The council members repeatedly praised Collins for his cooperative spirit before unanimously voting to approve the revised proposal.
Contract Approved for Turf Fields
Coppell High School’s baseball and softball teams are a step closer to getting their fields of dreams. On Monday, the Coppell ISD Board of Trustees approved a $2.2 million contract for artificial turf at the programs’ stadiums behind CHS9.
District administrators received bids from three companies: Field Turf, Hellas Construction, and Paragon Sports Constructors. Chief Operations Officer Dennis Womack told the trustees that Hellas’ bid was the lowest and offered the best value for the district.
This will not be Hellas’ first rodeo in Coppell. The Austin-based firm installed the artificial turf at Coppell High School’s Buddy Echols Field, CHS9’s Lesley Field, Coppell Middle School North, and Coppell Middle School East. The clients listed on Hellas’ website include all four of the school districts surrounding Coppell ISD, as well as the Dallas Cowboys; Hellas is responsible for the fields at AT&T Stadium and The Star in Frisco.
Trustee David Caviness asked if the artificial turf will be installed in time for the 2022 baseball and softball seasons. Womack said that’s certainly the goal, weather permitting.
Hellas’ $2.2 million contract will be covered by savings left over from the $249 million bond package approved by CISD voters in 2016. As reported in Coppell Chronicle No. 16, the trustees in June approved spending about $8.3 million of those savings on a variety of annual allotments and special projects. At that time, the trustees allocated $2.5 million for the artificial turf. Womack said he will be coming back to the board for approval to spend the extra $300,000 on improving other aspects of the baseball and softball stadiums, such as the scoreboards and the backstops.
“We lose a lot of balls,” Womack said, “because they go over to the neighboring property.” He said 25 to 50 balls can be lost in a single practice. Adding netting to the backstops should eliminate that problem.
As he did in June, Athletic Director Kit Pehl told the board on Monday that the new turf fields will be safer for players and will provide a competitive advantage, because the CHS teams will be able to host playoff games without worrying about being washed out by rain. Pehl said there have been multiple occasions when a CHS team played the first game of a playoff series on the road but wasn’t able to host the second game because their home field was too wet.
“So then we gotta go chase turf at a neutral field, and our kids lose the ability to have the home-field advantage that they would have had,” Pehl said. “From a morale standpoint, that’s a big deal.”
He said the turf fields will also help improve the district’s bottom line. Coppell ISD will be able to make money by hosting preseason tournaments, UIL playoff games not involving the Cowboys or Cowgirls, and games during the summer for teams not affiliated with schools.
Board President Nichole Bentley asked Pehl if he had a plan to market the turf fields for such uses, but he said that won’t be necessary. Turf fields are always in demand, Pehl said, and Coppell is ideally located “in the heart of the Metroplex.”
Loophole-Laden Mask Mandate Extended
Before the school board could discuss fun and games, they had to debate whether or not to extend their mask mandate. As reported in Coppell Chronicle No. 28, the trustees approved a temporary mandate that families can opt out of for these reasons:
Medical exemptions (Editorial comment: “OK, sure.”)
Religious exemptions (Editorial comment: “[sigh] … Yeah, I guess.”)
Philosophical exemptions (Editorial comment: “Come on, Aristotle. Are you serious? Really?”)
The mandate was approved on Aug. 30. On Monday, Trustee David Caviness cited a Public Health Guidance document issued on Sept. 17 by the Texas Education Agency that says, “School systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask.” (It also says, “School systems must allow individuals to wear a mask if they choose to do so.”)
“When we initially did this policy, I think we had some ambiguity in the law and the guidance, and we really were in no man’s land,” Caviness said. “We don’t get to pick and choose which laws and which rules we follow. For me, I think this latest guidance is pretty clear on the direction we need to go.”
(Although he was not masked on Monday, Caviness did have a patch over one eye, leaving Trustee Neena Biswas as the only person on the dais whose face was completely uncovered.)
Before the board voted 5-1-1 to extend the mandate — with Caviness voting against the extension, and Biswas abstaining — Caviness said, “I can’t see putting the district in the crosshairs of a lawsuit-happy attorney general.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is indeed making a List of Government Entities Unlawfully Imposing Mask Mandates, and he’s checking it twice. As of Thursday, he had Coppell ISD marked as a naughty district.
Trustee Tracy Fisher threw some water on the concerns about a lawsuit. She said such a suit would need support from Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, a Democrat who is unlikely to back Paxton as he tries to enforce an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott.
“All of this is politics,” she said.
Trustee Manish Sethi said the district’s lawyers advised the board that they could rescind the mandate if Paxton does sue CISD. Indeed, the resolution says the mandate will continue until the end of classes on Oct. 25, the date of the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, “or until there are further requirements as a result of ongoing state and federal litigation or other applicable legislative action.”
“I am conflicted, but for me, the weight of keeping our kids safe is much heavier,” Sethi said.
Sethi, Trustee Leigh Walker, and Board President Nichole Bentley all expressed concerns about lifting the mask mandate when approximately 1,800 students are on the cusp of returning to in-person education due to CISD eliminating virtual learning.
“It may not be a double whammy,” Bentley said, “but it feels to me like it has the potential to be a double whammy.”
Those students are scheduled to return to their campuses on Oct. 12. The board will revisit the mask mandate on Oct. 25.
“That would give us two weeks of those virtual learners being back on campuses,” Bentley said, “and give us a little bit of time to see how that all shakes out.”
At one point during Monday’s debate, Fisher said Superintendent Brad Hunt made the decision to end virtual learning. Hunt quickly interjected to say, “It was a team effort, and there’s certainly a lot of information on why we made that decision.”
Hunt then said something that raised my eyebrows: “There’s a lot of concern from our staff about offering virtual, and I know we’re very concerned about our teachers. And I think if we don’t listen to our teachers too, then we’re gonna have a walkout.”
If any trustees had questions or comments about a supposed walkout by teachers, I missed them.
Hunt then addressed the needs of students.
“We want the kids in school because they learn better in school,” he said with detectable emotion. “Our kids are suffering. And so, when we talk about doing what’s right by kids, we have got to take that to heart, and know our kids are doing better when they’re in person.”
Just before the trustees voted, Fisher summed up the debate with an evergreen statement: “If we’ve got community members who are concerned about masking or the governor’s orders or whatever, I mean, everybody’s welcome to call and complain and do whatever you need to do.”
• I’m sorry to report that Kasa Kolache will close for good on Oct. 24 after not being able to reach an agreement on a new lease for its MacArthur Boulevard location. “We’ve been here 15 years,” owner Enrique Barrera told me this morning. “It’s been a good ride.”
• As reported in Coppell Chronicle No. 24, the Coppell YMCA offered its first youth cricket league over the summer. Meanwhile, Coppell Middle School West has instituted a weekly round of Cricket Friday.
• One of the patriots who addressed the Coppell ISD Board of Trustees during the “Open Forum” portion of Monday’s meeting insisted that “the media is the virus.” Well, I consider myself to be part of the media, so you, dear reader, can consider yourself infected … with information!
National Night Out: Your neighborhood is most likely having an outdoor party on Tuesday evening. I know the exact time and location of the one in my ’hood because a neighbor slipped a flyer under my welcome mat.
Family Trivia with a Twist: The Cozby Library will host a Family Feud-style trivia contest on Saturday afternoon. The winning family will get an Anamia’s gift certificate.
Give for Grants: The Coppell ISD Education Foundation received 26 grant requests from 10 campuses. You have until Oct. 31 to pick your favorite and put a little money in the bucket.
Thanks for "infecting me with information"😂.
An inflatable Gorilla?… good grief.
I’m not a business owner, and I don’t mind the “we’re open/we’re hiring” signs posted at a specific business. However, drive past the Sprouts shopping center and you’ll see 2-3 “power washing” ad-signs off W. Sandy Lake Rd. Hmm? Last I looked there is not a power washing company in that shopping center. I agree with Kevin Nevels “there’s a difference between helping businesses that are in need and enabling excessive sign use.”