Is it time to close the Flagstaff Inn?

The man who has been charged with — and has confessed to — the murder of an employee of the Ranch Radio Group had a last known address at a room at the Flagstaff Inn in Kerrville. This is according to his jail records page on Kerr County Public Records Archive.

The man charged with murder was last reported living at the Flagstaff Inn.

The man charged with murder was last reported living at the Flagstaff Inn.

This is not the first time that criminal activity has been associated with, or taken place at, the Flagstaff Inn of Kerrville at 906 Junction Highway. A quick search of Kerrville Daily Times archives shows the following:

  • Man asked for directions to Flagstaff Inn and then robbed a convenience store (September 2015)
  • Man staying at Flagstaff fears “snipers,” calls police, gets arrested for possession of meth (July 2013)
  • Man arrested for possession of meth while at Flagstaff (February 2013)
  • Man arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct at Flagstaff Inn when police say he was found peeping in someone’s widow (February 2011)
  • A seven-hour standoff at Flagstaff occurred when an armed gunman held police at bay from one of the rooms (March 2002)
  • An arsonist set fire to part of the Flagstaff Inn (February 2000)

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State and County Lawsuit

The State of Texas sued Flagstaff Inn owner Arvind Patel in 2013. County Attorney Rob Henneke stated that 30 criminal offenses occurred at the Flagstaff from May 2012 to May 2013, including three assaults, one vehicle burglary, nine illegal drug possessions and several “intoxication offenses,” such as minors consuming alcohol and public intoxication.

A few weeks later, it was reported that the county and the hotel operator were negotiating a settlement, but no further news was reported on the matter.


 

Bad Reviews

The reviews from sites like Yelp and Google tell the story of the hotel pretty well.

Total roach motel. Smelly dirty, total dive and definitely NOT worth $275 and BARELY worth $190/week. Totally dated interior. Old linens, kitchen was dirty. I would be afraid to sleep on the bed for fear of bedbugs.

This place is smelly, dirty, ugly, and the water pressure sucks. Do not waste your money or time here because you will regret it.

Probably bed bugs here.

Absolutely beside myself that people that work for hospitality could have such rude inconsiderate attitude towards customers. I came from a very clean home never had a bug problem till I stayed at Falstaff. Bed bugs.


Paying Very Little Tax

According to the state report on Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax, the Flagstaff had only $13,600 in taxable revenue, compared to $117,000 at the Inn of the Hills and another $117,000 at the YO Ranch Resort Hotel. For comparison purposes, even the America’s Best Value had $25,000 in taxable revenues that month. So if it were to close, we wouldn’t lose much HOT Tax revenue at all.

The annual property taxes are approximately $12,730 per year. A pittance for a property that could be much more highly valued as almost any other business.


 

This hotel is a scourge and a blemish on this community. Police answer dozens of calls to this location each month, and the business contributes very little back to the community in the forms of taxes, contributions, or sponsorships. The City of Kerrville should use its regulatory authority to attempt to close this eyesore and hotbed of criminal activity.

The Historic City Election of 2016

On Saturday, May 7, the final votes were cast in an historic city council election in Kerrville, Texas. Record voter turnout for early voting plus election day voting helped boost Bonnie White to the mayor’s seat, and kept Place 3 and 4 incumbents in their seats — Gary Stork and Gene Allen, respectively.

election-2016

Bonnie White has become only the second female mayor of Kerrville in the city’s history. The last time a woman was elected mayor was in the mid 1970s. She garnered 52.9% of the 3,205 votes cast for the mayor’s race, beating challenger Glenn Andrew.

Numerous candidates challenged the incumbents in Places 3 and 4, but Stork and Allen held on, taking 39% and 37% respectively, gaining a plurality of votes in the crowded fields for those races.

Statements from the Candidates

Bonnie White: “Thank you Kerrville. I am so honored to be your Mayor.”

Gene Allen: “Well my friends, it’s finally over. We ran a great race, we held our heads high and took the high road many times. We prevailed! History was made yesterday from what I was told. Being Re-elected makes for the longest serving council member in this city’s history. That’s unconfirmed, but what I was told by authorities on the subject! Lol […] Thanks to all who have encouraged, and helped in any way to make this possible. My promise to you is that I will continue to strive to make Kerrville better than it already is! Thanks so much! Gene”

City of Kerrville City Council Forums

The Hill Country Area League of Women Voters hosted candidate forums at Schreiner University this week. Place 3 and Place 4 candidates answer questions in the two videos below, but no mayoral forum was held because Bonnie White declined the invitation to participate.

City of Ingram Candidate Forums

The Hill Country Area League of Women Voters hosted two forums in Ingram last week for candidates for city council. The forums were hosted at the Ingram Elementary School and included separate forums for mayor and for alderman. Watch the videos below.

Open Letter Regarding “Drones” in Kerrville Parks

Editor’s Note: This is an open letter addressed to the Kerrville City Council from Aaron Yates. The attached image was taken over Louise Hayes Park in 2015.

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A “drone” photo taken over Louise Hayes Park in 2015.

Honorable Councilmembers,

My name is Aaron Yates, and I am a Kerrville native living at 709 Moore Street in our fair city. I write to you today to ask that you reconsider the proposed ordinance regarding the use of “drones” in city parks.

For the past nine years, I have experimented with and used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as “drones.” (I will refer to the proper term “UAVs” in my discussion today.) Back in 2007, I started building custom UAVs and testing them out in Louise Hayes Park. I would build, experiment, revise, and the cycle would repeat as I learned more and more about building and operating the aircraft. Having a public open space available to test was very valuable, and at no time did I ever fly near any people or animals, nor did I ever fly in an unsafe manner. I did not encounter anyone who was upset with or bothered by my flights at the park. On the contrary, I have been approached by numerous curious individuals wanting to know what the device was and how it worked. Dozens of curious children have approached me over the years and hopefully my flights in the park sparked some curiosity on their part, and maybe even piqued their interest to pursue science, technology, or engineering.

These days UAVs are much more widely available to the general public. Rather than having to build your vehicle from scratch, you can just browse and shop on Amazon, or go down to the local hobby store and pick up an inexpensive model. This wider access to UAVs has been a mixed bag of good and bad consequences. More folks interested in the hobby is a good thing; but more irresponsible use has cast UAVs in a negative light, such as crashes on the White House lawn or at Wimbledon. However, UAVs continue to provide a valuable service to the community. Uses such as wildfire survey and assistance, aerial photography and videography, and even accident investigation and rescue assistance are some of the valuable ways that UAVs contribute to society. UAVs have sensors such as thermal imaging that help police and first responders locate victims of accidents. They have sophisticated camera systems that allow engineers and surveyors to use photogrammetry to generate topographic maps and orthorectified aerial images. Marketers use aerial photo and video to help sell products or promote events. While the entire spectrum of available technology is not currently utilized in Kerrville, I predict that many industries will see the value in legal UAV use and the applications will continue to expand over the years.

I only mention all of these applications to underscore the point that UAVs serve a much higher purpose than just pure recreation, but recreation is the reason these aircraft keep improving. Increased interest by hobbyists funds the research and development of these new and exciting applications of the technology. To put a halt on recreational usage of UAVs would slow the research and development. Now, of course, a ban on UAVs in little old Kerrville will not put a dent in the international UAV research market, but if small communities around the nation continue down this path of increasing restriction, it would eventually have a detrimental effect on the industry as a whole.

I am opposed to the ordinance as proposed. Not only will increased and unnecessary regulation damage the industry as a whole, but it will also stifle local interest in the hobby. Young people are very excited about and interested in this technology, as evidenced by the children that constantly approach me, but also evidenced by the recent grant and investment in UAVs by the Tivy High School ROTC, who will begin aerial mission planning in the near future. Restricting usage in the park will restrict youth access to the technology, and could prevent some young people from pursuing their interest in technology or engineering.

In addition, the ordinance is unnecessary. In all of my years of using our city parks, I have never encountered anyone flying a UAV in a dangerous manner. I have heard no public outcry to ban these aircraft. In fact, quite the opposite. A poll conducted on the Kerrville Daily Times website finds that (at the time of this writing) 80% of respondents do not think UAVs should be banned. Many comments on the Times’ Facebook page echo sentiments similar to this statement: “Maybe not banned, but definitely regulated.”

But UAVs are already heavily regulated by state and federal laws. Our state law is the most prohibitive, restricting the use over any private property without permission, and banning the use over any facilities of critical infrastructure like water plants or power plants. It also bans “surveillance” of any individual no matter where they are physically located — public or private land. However, it specifically allows use of UAVs over public property. Other state laws protect us from dangerous usage, but they are not specific to drones. Just as you can’t discharge a bullet recklessly or throw bottles into crowds, our health and safety laws already prevent reckless endangerment by any means, including by UAVs.

The Federal Aviation Administration has further regulations regarding the operation of UAVs. All vehicles must be registered with the FAA and all users must affix a registration number to the aircraft so that, if found, it can be traced to the owner. The FAA requires that pilots maintain line-of-sight with the UAV, and users may not use goggles called “first person view” (FPV) to pilot the device, increasing the safety. They must be flown below 400 feet, far away from airports, and cannot be flown over crowds of people. The FAA also requires safe operation as defined in their administrative code.

All of these laws are sufficient to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our local park users without adding extraneous and onerous laws to the books.

One city experimented with the outright ban of all UAVs — Austin, Texas. However, they soon changed their minds, and in April 2015 issued a memorandum that allowed UAV users to continue to legally operate drones in Austin (including parks) as long as they operated them safely. Austin specifically bans their use over big events like Austin City Limits, and the FAA already bans UAV flight near the airport at any time, or over the college stadiums during games. Airspace around the capitol building is also restricted. However, Austin thought better of the outright ban and currently allows citizens to use UAVs recreationally throughout the city, as long as they are used within the current state and federal laws.

Another problem I have with the banning of UAVs in public parks is that it will force some users to operate their vehicles elsewhere, and perhaps in places that are less safe than the public parks. If forced out of city parks, users may decide to fly them in their backyards with obstructions everywhere like trees, power lines, and other people that could cause trouble or injury.

I think our city should take a lesson from Austin and reconsider the prohibition or restriction on recreational usage of UAVs in our parks. If anything, I think the ordinance should mirror state and federal law, and allow UAV operators to use their devices in a safe and legal manner, whether it be recreational usage, commercial/marketing usage, or scientific/engineering usage. The city should prevent UAVs from flying over or around people, and could specifically restrict the flight over crowds such as Kerrville’s Fourth on the River. But these regulations should not be a blanket restriction on all public recreational usage. A directive to Kerrville Police Department stating that they should issue citations for unsafe usage would be helpful for enforcement of the existing laws.

Thank you for your time and consideration on this matter, and your public service to the City Council as a whole. I am grateful that we have thoughtful, intelligent, driven individuals serving our city.

Kind regards,
Aaron Yates

2016 Primary Election Results are in!

Full election results as provided by the county. (PDF)

Kerr County Commissioner Precinct 1

The County Commissioner Precinct 1 Race was the closest local race, and because one person did not claim a majority of the votes (50+%), we are headed to a runoff between Dr. William Rector and Mr. Harley Belew.

Here are the tabulations for Commissioner Pct. 1:

Name Votes Pct.
Rector 1,323 39.85%
Belew 1,086 32.71%
Jones 554 16.69%
Lambert 222 6.69%
Taylor 135 4.07%

Constable Precinct 1

Tommy Rodriguez defeated Albert Luebano handily with 60% of the vote. The totals were 1,839-1,222.


Constable Precinct 3

Challenger Kenneth Wilke defeated incumbent Angel Garza with a 3:2 margin. Wilke received 1,129 (59.99%) to Garza’s 753 (40.01%).

BREAKING: Mayor Jack Pratt withdraws from race

Kerrville’s current mayor, Jack Pratt, announced today on REV-FM that he will withdraw from the 2016 mayoral campaign.

This leaves just two candidates for mayor: current city councilwoman in Place 2, Bonnie White, and challenger Glenn Andrew.

More information coming soon as it becomes available.

Council Watch: February 23, 2016

Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s City Council Meeting.

City Council Chambers at City Hall, Kerrville, Texas

City Council Chambers at City Hall, Kerrville, Texas

Peterson Farm Road Housing Development

The council will hear about a report from Freese & Nichols about how much it would cost to install utilities for the project. Read more about the development site here.

The full report can be found in the agenda packet for this meeting.

Playhouse 2000 Campus Support Facility Naming

The council will hear a request to name the facility “The Kit Werlein Annex.” Kit is the founding president of Playhouse 2000 and was instrumental in the remodeling of the current Cailloux Theater.

Video Gambling Machines

According to the council’s documentation, “The increasing temptation from the proliferation of video gambling machines in bars and restaurants can be alarming.”

The council will consider establishing a citizen’s advisory committee to study this topic.

Planning & Zoning Appointment

One alternate position is vacant and council will consider naming a replacement. The P&Z makes recommendations to council on things like zoning, sign ordinances, platting, and subdivision regulations. There are normally five regular members and two alternates. Current members include Robert Waller, Garrett Harmon, Don Barnett, Doyle Malone, William Morgan, and Rustin Zuber (alternate). Bonnie White is the council liaison.

380 agreements in other nearby cities

Kerrville doesn’t have much history with 380 agreements, but we have found lots of examples of their use in other nearby cities to help promote economic development. Here are our findings:

Boerne

The city of Boerne established a new economic development plan in 2013 that put a strong emphasis on 380 agreements. By that year, the city had already pursued seven such agreements for utility expansion, retail development, and business retention.

From their 2014 economic report:

Utility expansion 380 agreements included Mercedes Benz of Boerne, Toyota of Boerne, Woods of Boerne and Gehan Homes (Champion Heights). Another utility project that the City believes to be of great importance is the South sewer main extension with Du-Mar, Ltd. This particular project will expand our sewer utility customer base by enabling commercial development in the area, which previously did not have access to sewer service. The City also began a focused effort on business retention efforts, with Allcat Claims Service, L.P., being the first to receive incentives to not only keep, but potentially expand their business in Boerne. The seventh 380 Agreement approved by the City Council was for an apartment complex to serve the senior community of Boerne. The project would address both home inventory diversity and utility system expansion goals, but the project was not funded by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in 2013. The developer has stated they intend to seek funding again in 2014.

Boerne’s 2016 economic development plan includes a 380 agreement for a 72-unit apartment complex, and several other projects were being considered.

Fredericksburg

In 2011, Fredericksburg adopted a Chapter 380 Economic Development Program and immediately used the program to enter into a development agreement with the Former Texas Rangers Foundation for their building project on Highway 290 — a project that was originally planned for construction in Kerrville.