By Bill Spinks

The biggest news from the Midlothian City Council meeting may have come right at the top last Monday night, when Fire Chief Dale McCaskill announced the long-awaited grand opening of the brand-new Fire Station No. 1 at the beginning of the meeting.

The new station, located at 1900 W. Main St. on the southeast corner of Main and U.S. Highway 287, will hold its grand opening ceremony this Friday at 10 a.m., McCaskill told the council.

"We’re going to try to make that as open as possible," McCaskill said. "Keeping in mind social distancing, we have a plan for that. We don’t want to limit it so much that the people that were instrumental in this project aren’t allowed to come."

McCaskill said the fire department will be moving into the station well beforehand. On Wednesday, he said, some trailers were scheduled to bring some equipment, and by Thursday morning, the station will be occupied by the C shift and will be active even as equipment continues to move.

"We’ll have the ceremony to open it up and we’ll have plenty of opportunity for people to walk through the building and ask questions," McCaskill said. "On the 22nd, I’m going on vacation."

The new Fire Station No. 1 is 18,000 square feet with fully modern facilities and the ability to house 12 firefighters per shift. There is also a dedicated training room, a state-of-the-art alerting system that will reduce reaction time for response, a tornado shelter, and interior finishes that will provide a clean and safe environment. Additionally, a museum-like foyer will showcase the station’s own 1918 Model T fire engine.

"We’re excited about this," Mayor Richard Reno said. "This is much anticipated."

Midlothian voters approved a bond issue for construction of the new station in 2017 at a total cost of $8.1 million. It will replace the original Station No. 1 downtown, which will be repurposed according to city plans.

"We’re excited to open that station up," McCaskill said. "I hope that … as you drive by that on 287, see the vision that we saw three years ago, which was to build a fire station that not only is functional for our fire department and (gives us room to) grow in the future, but to also be a place in our community where people can drive by and say that … this community has something going on."

Second time’s charm

After almost an hour-long discussion, the City Council approved a planned single-family development covering approximately 224 acres along the north side of Mockingbird Lane, east of Walnut Grove Road. The minimum lot size in the proposed Hidden Lakes on Mockingbird subdivision is one acre, which meets the "country module" guidelines in the city’s comprehensive plan.

The measure initially failed after a 3-3 tie, but councilmembers ultimately reached a majority agreement after developer Andrew Garrett urged the body to revisit the plan to make it work. After changes were made to the ordinance, the final vote was 5-1, with councilmember Ted Miller casting the "no" vote.

The hang-up was over a barricade on the western end of Maggie Lane, a street that is a part of the city’s future thoroughfare plan. The barricade is intended to prevent heavy construction traffic and was to remain up until the end of construction, after which the street would be opened.

Two residents spoke before the council, urging that Maggie Lane remain closed after the heavy infrastructure work was done. However, access to new homes on the street’s extension drew concern from the council, as well as emergency responder access.

Councilmembers ultimately agreed to amend the motion and keep the barricade up until 50 percent of new homes in the development have a certificate of occupancy.

Another wrinkle is the presence of Eagles’ Nest, a subdivision to the immediate north of the new development that contains a public-use airfield. Because of that, the development will have to take Federal Aviation Administration height regulations into account.

Because the 3,216-foot runway extends right up to the property line, noise is another potential complaint for the three lots immediately adjacent to the end of the runway, Eagles’ Nest representatives told the council. That sparked more discussion.

In other development action, the council also OK’d a voluntary annexation of an 11-acre property on the southeast side of the city; a change at 716 Avenue G to provide for professional offices there; and the change to a 56.4-acre tract located to the west of North Walnut Grove Road, between Steeple Chase Court and Shiloh Court, for a planned development for single-family use.

Other items

•The consent agenda consisted of approving of minutes from the previous meeting and declaring the Nov. 3 election for mayor and three council seats.

• A maximum ad valorem tax rate of 67.5 cents was established for the upcoming new fiscal year, a one-cent decrease from what finance director Ann Honza proposed. Mayor Reno introduced the decrease, citing the city’s strong financial standing. The vote was 4-2, with councilmembers Miller and Wayne Sibley voting no. Each penny of tax represents about $443,000 in revenue to the city, Honza told the council. A public hearing will be held during the Sept. 8 City Council meeting regarding the proposed rate, after which the council will vote to set the rate.

• A special exception was approved to allow additional parking spaces at a new medical office building at 4430 East U.S. 287.

• The council approved an agreement with CIGNA and MetLife to provide city employee benefits.

• An amendment to the city’s certification pay plan schedule was made, which increases pay for employees with certain certifications as an incentive.

• Councilmembers approved a two-month interest forbearance between the Midlothian Community Development Corporation and the owners of the local Marriott hotel. This was a continuance of a previous forbearance.

• The council reviewed amenities associated with the Redden Farms development, which include elements of the original farm, such as a grain silo and farmhouse architecture. Other features include landscaping, a traffic roundabout, an extensive hike and bike trail system, workout stations along the trail, a resort-style pool, a separate club house and amenity area for the gated age-restricted community, three additional parks scattered throughout the community with pavilions and playgrounds, and a large dog park for residents.