ABILENE, Texas -

The Abilene City Council approved a plan Thursday to tidy-up part of Ambler Avenue from I-20 to Grape Street.

The council voted unanimously in support of the effort.

Representatives of Hendrick Medical Center, Abilene Christian University and Hardin-Simmons University, along with businesses in the area, appeared before the council in favor of the project.

"It will be great to attract and retain more students," HSU President Lanny Hall said.

"We believe the plan will benefit the entire city," said Kelly Young, ACU’s chief financial officer.

The project, called the Ambler Avenue Corridor Overlay, has been opposed by Abilene City Council candidate Steve Savage. The owner of Stinky Steve’s septic business had noted four council members – including Mayor Norm Archibald – have direct ties to three institutions leading the effort.

Archibald, for example, works for Hendrick.  

Texas law allowed the four council members with connections to the schools and medical center to vote on the matter because it would be impossible to get a majority without four of the seven members participating.  They, however, had to file affidavits disclosing their affiliations.

Council members referenced the success of past corridor overlays, such as the Buffalo Gap project nearly 20 years ago, and more recently, Pine Street.

They said it is important for Amber Avenue to be presentable, especially with three major institutions in that area.

"That curb appeal of the front door of our community is something we want to take pride in and ensure that any new development that happens along that corridor meets a high standard," said Jon James, the city’s director of planning and zoning.

During the meeting, Savage expressed concern over a provision of the ordinance regarding portable signs after a member said signs to promote registration for athletics should be exempt.

"I don't think it's fair to tell new businesses as they pop up that they can't have these kind of signs if you're going to make exemptions for sports or whatever," Savage said.

The council decided to revise the proposal to allow portable signs in the area until a citywide decision can be reached.

Another point council made that has caused concern in past discussions: automotive and storage businesses will not be barred from moving into the area.

However, extra paperwork will have to be filled out making an exception for businesses if they comply with the higher appearance standards.  

There were a couple of other revisions to the proposal.

An exemption was added for single-family residences in the zone. The new standards will not apply to those homes.

Larger institutions, such as the universities, will be allowed to display multiple signs. The original proposal said each business could only have one sign.