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Zachary City Hall

Citing concerns about costs and other details of a proposed public-private partnership for a new city government building, the Zachary City Council on Tuesday voted down an ordinance that would have allowed the project to move forward.

On a 4-1 vote, the council said no to an agreement the city had requested to enter with Downtown Strategies, a firm that specializes in downtown redevelopment.

The city would have put up $12 million for construction and leased land it owns downtown to the firm for 30 years. The firm would in turn build the facility and sell it to the city later on for the amount it still owes or the building’s appraised value at that time, whichever was less.

Plans for the building, which would replace the aging City Hall, called for three stories, including a bottom floor that would be rented out to retail businesses — something the city has been eagerly seeking as part of its efforts to reinvigorate downtown.

Council members were wary of entering a lease agreement for such a long time, and they also raised concerns about how successful the retail space would be. They said they would prefer that the building project be awarded to a company selected through a traditional bidding process to ensure the city is getting a good deal.

It’s not clear what comes next for the project, which had been championed by Mayor David Amrhein. He warned at Tuesday’s meeting that bidding out such a large and significant job may not yield the results the council wants.

“Low bid’s not always good when you’re building something this big,” he said, pointing to the potential for problems if a builder is chosen for a low price as opposed to expertise and quality. And he said the process would be much slower.

He added that commercial real estate firm Beau Box reviewed the proposal and said the costs were reasonable.

Amrhein reiterated his view that the partnership with Downtown Strategies would be an opportunity to make positive changes in Zachary — comments that were echoed by Councilman Hunter Landry, the only member of the panel to vote in favor of the ordinance.

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A couple of business owners in downtown also spoke in support of the proposal, saying they were excited about the prospect of a nice, new building as well as the opportunity to bring more businesses and shoppers to the area.

Councilman Lael Montgomery questioned how wise it would be to saddle the city with debt and a long-term agreement with a private company for a project that may not completely pan out, as recruiting retailers to the downstairs shops may prove easier said than done.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” he said of the proposal.

In other action Tuesday, the council spent several minutes trying to sort out how a day care is set to open soon in a house on residential 40th Street despite the owners never coming to the council for permission.

Often, people who want to operate businesses out of residential buildings must ask the council for approval. It turns out, however, that day cares are a “permitted use” for houses under the current development code in Zachary — a rule that was tucked away into a seemingly unrelated section about public gathering spaces. The city can sign off on applications for permitted uses without sending them to the council.

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The Villavaso and Associates firm, which is overseeing a rewrite of the code, discovered the gathering space rules during its review of the complex document. A batch of tweaks was on the council’s agenda for a vote Tuesday anyway; they were approved and included a different process for handling child care facilities.

Council members were irked that the firm hadn’t caught the issue sooner.

Because the application for the day care on 40th Street was submitted to the city and approved while the old rules were in effect, the council doesn’t have any power to stop the business from opening. The owners must still get a license from the state, though, which regulates child care facilities.