Background: Soon after South Padre Island's form-based codes were adopted, the Development Standard Task Review Force (DSTRF) was created from (previously mentioned in ourA Short History of SPI's Form-based Codes story) the Padre Boulevard Revitalization Implementation Committee, Development Plan Review Board and Form-Based Code Commission. The purpose of the DSTRF was to be responsible for and "…review site plans and exterior design of buildings and signs along Padre Boulevard, developing and enforcing a Form-Based Code and the beautification and revitalization of Padre Boulevard." The Year 2020: Tension grew between the DSTRF and Mayor McNulty in City Hall over 2501 Laguna Blvd. (Lot 4, Block 44, Padre Beach subdivision, Section IV), otherwise known as Tequila Sunset. Simultaneously, South Padre Island's form-based codes were being compromised. On two separate occasions, February 11 & 18 of 2020, the Mayor of South Padre Island came before the DSTRF to request modifications to Tequila Sunset. One of the requests was to build a composite shingle roof, which is a material below the level required by the Form Based Codes. February 11, 2020: (Former) Planning Director Aaron Hanley discussed his reasons for not signing off on these modifications. Saying "I think that setting a precedent for allowing a design exception for composite shingles would undermine the potential to enforce the FBC down the road for other projects." The DSTRF board agreed and Chairman Gar Treharne explained that, "Part of the aim of form-based code is to update the Island in certain ways and organize, not restrain, growth and business activities, but to keep it organized as it grows… If we grant this exception to you, it's over. The roofing material section of FBC is out the window. I don't see any hardship here." Mayor McNulty quickly interjected with a rebuttal. "The hardship here is you're looking at a $650/square roof versus a $200/square roof." In support of his argument, the Mayor mentioned the washeteria as an example of a building that used composite shingles. He explained that there was no variance, because the previous Planning Director (Dr. Sungman) signed off on it. "They didn't get a variance, they had the Planning Director that did a minor modification, and well, this is a different planning director (Aaron Hanley), so this is why we're here… If you're saying it sets a precedent, well, then it did not set a precedent in the back, and anyway, here we are." The Mayor ultimately complimented the Planning Director on his expertise on the FBC. "No one's reviewed the FBC, and give Aaron credit, he's the first Planning Director who's read every single page of the FBC." [NOTE: According to South Padre Island’s Code of Ordinances: Sec. 20-16. (G). Under section (G) Powers of the Board: A variance may not be granted to relieve a self-created or personal hardship, nor for financial reasons.] After a conversation about floor plans, DSTRF member Kimberly Dollar reiterated, "The most important thing we're talking about here is setting a precedent. I don't think we should set a precedent moving forward to go back to using materials that we've previously used. It's substandard to what the FBC is asking for." The Mayor replied, immediately saying, "A composite shingle roof is not substandard." Dollar replied, "To the FBC, it is though, and that's what concerns me." "This isn't really truly a variance board in a way, so I don't know if hardship is explained," McNulty said skeptically. Treharne interrupted along with the other board members, "It is. It definitely is a type of variance board.” One request did not make it on the agenda. Mayor McNulty wanted to discuss modifications of glass windows at Tequila Sunset. He wanted to build them slightly below the FBC requirements. "I really appreciate not having to throw another $250 down the drain." (According to the Code of Ordinances, Chapter 2 Article IV – Fee Schedule: A variance is $250 per meeting) "It's not money down the drain. It's very productive, look at the talent you have up here. C'mon," said Treharne. This item was not on the agenda, it would require the Mayor getting another filing fee. Planning Director Aaron Haley advised the board not to discuss the topic of glass windows because it was not on the agenda. "I would suggest to the task force, since the agenda item is not on here, to not vote on it or discuss it." The Mayor, visibly upset, scoffed behind Hanley and said, "Oh my God," and walked away from the podium. (53:52) According to Government Code Chapter 551.042 under section (b)"Any deliberation of or decision about the subject of the inquiry shall be limited to a proposal to place the subject on the agenda for a subsequent meeting."
The request for a composite shingle roof was denied unanimously on the grounds that money is not a hardship. However, it was still being built.
Figure 2: (Photo credit: Councilman Joe Ricco’s Facebook Post on June 2 captioned, "Tequila Sunset Remodel Day 108 April 12, 2020", showing the day (according to the post) the composite shingles went up.)
February 18, 2020: Mayor McNulty requested a modification for glass windows at Tequila Sunset to be built slightly below FBC minimum requirements. This meeting served as a continuation of what would have been the fourth request by Mayor McNulty that didn’t make on the previous meeting agenda. Dollar expressed her concerns in defense of the vision for the Island. "My only concern is that we're granting something just below the minimum requirements and we're trying to bring things up to standard." Treharne offered the construction of a false window because, "It wouldn't throw anything off balance," and that it would, "be okay." The Mayor responded, "I was told by the owner that they will Velcro a window up there if you so desire." Dollar questioned Mr. McNulty, "Patrick, you're not going to let them do that to your city, are you? C'mon." After back and forth responses concluded, Dollar implored, "C'mon, you're the Mayor of the city!" McNulty concluded that his request was for his clients, "I'm not the owner of the building, but I do have clients."
Later during the discussion, McNulty explained that it was a minor modification and that if not for the current Planning Director (Aaron Hanley), it would have never been brought to the DSTRF. "There's a lot of minor modifications that have happened. A lot of them haven't been brought to you because it (development review process in Figure 1) says the city manager or his designee (Planning Director) can make those decisions… This is why you all are getting to hear about this stuff for the first time. It's because we have a different Planning Director who likes to do things differently." After discussion, since the minimum percentage was off by 2 ½%, the task force allowed the minor modification. Island Matters asked the Mayor about his relations to Tequila Sunset and Laguna Bob’s among other questions. (Many of these questions were left unanswered.)
Island Matters: Are you the owner, part-owner or have any executive relations to the Laguna Bob or the Tequila Sunset properties? Mayor McNulty: "I do not own any shares or executive position in South Padre Island Redevelopment Corp., owner of the real property and all improvements on the real property at Laguna Bob's and Tequila Sunset." Island Matters: If yes, why did you not abstain from discussion and voting during the meeting on February 19, 2020, regarding agenda item?
- "6.5 Discussion and action to award contract to the qualified bidder, Pyro Shows of Texas, in the amount of $80,000 for the firework displays on July 4, Memorial Day, and Labor Day holidays and authorize the City Manager to execute contract." Mayor McNulty: "I do not own any shares or executive position in South Padre Island Redevelopment Corp., owner of the real property and all improvements on the real property at Laguna Bob's and Tequila Sunset."
Island Matters: If yes, the day before (February 18, 2020) during a Development Standard Review Task Force meeting, regarding minor modifications with glass windows, why did you refer to yourself as not being an owner of Tequila Sunset.
- "I'm not the owner of the building, but I do have clients." (15:52) Mayor McNulty: "I do not own any shares or executive position in South Padre Island Redevelopment Corp., owner of the real property and all improvements on the real property at Laguna Bob's and Tequila Sunset."
Island Matters: "During a Development Standard Review Task Force meeting on February 11, 2020, regarding roofing materials, you asked for a modification to use composite shingles instead of aligning with form-based code for your clients. Are you willing to let your clients make a decision that will have long term consequences as far as possible hurricane damage, and should that come before your position as Mayor for the City of South Padre Island?" The Mayor answered: "Please keep in mind that Mayor and Business owner are two different roles and (those are) two separate and to not be confused."