As a life-long citizen of Orange, I am very concerned about the lack of business growth opportunities here – especially in the Downtown Historic District. I call upon the Orange City Council to reconsider their “nay” vote on the recent request for the updating and renovation of the old train station.The plan is to take that long abandoned structure, one of our few existing architecturally significant public buildings, and turn it into an upscale restaurant with a bar. This is a crucial decision for the city of Orange at this time. The decisions the Council makes as a governing entity affect not only future business; it also directly affects those of us who reside within the Historic District, Downtown area and the entire city of Orange and its citizens.

In the wake of both Hurricanes Rita and Ike, we are extremely vulnerable to both decreasing property values and declining sales tax revenue. We as homeowners and taxpayers have to decide now how much of our own personal time, work effort and money we want to invest in a seemingly stagnant (by your recent decision) area of the city.Council’s decisions affect our decisions. The “nay” vote indicates the future does not bode well for residents of the Historic District or the City at large for that matter.

The Council and Superintendent might try comparing apples to apples and not oranges to apples. They might also consider the history of the Downtown commercial area. In the past, directly across the street from the train depot was Alfredo’s Pizza that sold beer, on the far corner of the same block was the Caribbean Lounge, across the street mid block was Gray’s Pub, and next to the existing liquor store was the Aces bar.West of the tracks on Green Avenue, directly across the street from the school Band Hall was the Union 76 station that sold beer and wine, and behind the Ford dealership there was another liquor store.There was Old Mexico, the original Guadalajara Restaurant, the old Capistrano Café//Bar, the Jack Tar Hotel, and a number of bars in the area, including Cherry’s Lounge adjacent to Lamar Orange. Where is the negative historical data on these places?In over 70 years of a school being located at that site, where is there any data that shows a negative impact on the school or its students? I submit there is no negative information documented.

A restaurant with an attached bar is licensed differently by the State, and is required to operate under different regulations. It would be far better to look at statistics from similar businesses like Chili’s, Acapulco’s, the Guadalajara, and the Steakhouse/Sushi restaurant for a comparative analysis.Orange City Council should consider this more appropriate data in rendering a decision. It is very clear that Council did not make an informed decision considering both the pros and cons of the economic and social impact of the proposed restaurant.

While I understand you have to consider the objections of the school district, I do not understand how you can allow a few objections by those on the WOCCISD school board to dictate and steer our City’s economic survival. The District is entrusted with the education of our children and molding them into competent, honest, citizens.Skewing information, by using statistics from totally dissimilar establishments while ignoring all other available data to bend public policy, demonstrates a disturbing dereliction of that public trust by the District’s leadership.Sadly, it sends the wrong message and sets the wrong example.

In my opinion, based on its standardized test scores and graduation rates, the School District has a huge, long-term task that does not include tinkering with the City’s zoning, planning, and economic development projects. Likewise, the City should continue to stay out of the education business,

My principal concern remains the failure of the Council to perform due diligence before making a decision. It demonstrates a lack of analysis and leadership by some of our City leaders. When Council denied a variance to one of its own citizens who was willing and able to invest a half million of private investment dollars in an endangered historic building, spurring the economic growth of the city, the message Council conveyed to any other potential investors was “take your money elsewhere.”

Is that really what is in our best interest? If this council can’t take into account the greater good of the citizens of the City of Orange, then it is time for fresh perspectives on that governing body. It is my opinion that a variance should be given for the train station project.


Bonnie Blanda Backer