On Friday, July 10th, the contractor for Spruce/Fifth and Bolivar/Maple stopped work on projects over a pay dispute with the City.
Raquel Bourjourne, the owner of A Status Construction, had informed business owners of her plan to do so. No one from A Status Construction was on the Spruce and Fifth site on Friday, no sign of construction manager ARKK Engineers, either. The City of Bellaire was not amused, letters were written and contracts were mentioned. Monday, July 13th, A Status was back loading dump trucks with the demolished concrete. We’ll see what the future holds, when and how these projects will be completed.
The entire north side of the 5100 block of Spruce had been demolished, making access to the businesses even more difficult. Both A Status Construction and ARKK claim they are due more money for the long overdue project, but that’s another story. Bolivar remains unfinished, too.
Now what? See those orange pylons down the center of the street in the photo below? They indicate the edge of the pavement, which is also the edge of the street, 25′ wide according to the plans, about the width of a residential street. The unfinished portion is the proposed sidewalk and public parking. Also apparent are the problems for large trucks in navigating the narrow lanes. Again, that portion of pavement is the new street.
An open dumpster that fills up with rotting food sits on Fifth at Spruce, because the H-E-B dumpster cannot be accessed. The project appears to be out of control and may end up in arbitration or court.
This expensive ‘streetscape’ was ill-concieved from day one. It was another of the City Manager’s plans to mold the City of Bellaire to his concept of what we should be, even though he never lived in the City. Think pathways plan, ‘branding’ and the loss of our logo, sidewalks retrofitted into landscaped yards. The recent tug-of-war just to get our 4-lane South Rice Avenue back. Now Mr. Hofmann is on his way to a new job and our businesses are left with this mess.
At the council meeting on January 27th, 2020, Councilmember Wesely submitted an agenda item: “Consideration of and possible action on terminating, modifying, or halting the contracts relating to the Spruce and Fifth Street Reconstruction Project, evaluation of vendor performance, and potential legal action relating to the vendors with contracts relating to said project.” Even though problems with the project were already apparent the motion was voted down 4 to 3, by the same Council members who had approved the project a year earlier. So here we are, six months later and five months past the project completion date. Red flags could have been raised a year ago.
I believe it is time to revisit the motion. My guess is that the remaining businesses would be fine with the mess they have now if they knew they would get their street back quickly and efficiently. And were not going to lose their private parking lots.
Costello, the company that designed the original plans, could revise the Spruce plans for standard paving, at least for the 5100 block. They might suggest the best procedures to redo the 5200 block. The current design doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway. Since ARKK was responsible for the construction management on this project, aren’t they also responsible for the completion if A Status Construction walks off the job permanently?
The businesses did not oppose new streets and drainage, their concern was always the angled public parking. Revising the parking plans to remove the public parking would save the $360,000 budget for landscaping and irrigation. The fancy streetlights already paid for could be used in a future project in a park or along the Newcastle trail, for instance, and provide savings on electrical costs, too.
The Spruce and Fifth businesses have had to put up with this for over a year and they have suffered accordingly. There are already plenty of empty storefronts in the area and numerous for lease signs throughout Bellaire, including at the newly remodeled development on Bellaire Blvd and South Rice. The boutiques and sidewalk cafes some residents hoped for have never materialized. Damage from our current health crisis has only added to the problem.
The disastrous zoning in this area needs to be addressed, too, but for now there’s no time to lose, our businesses need help. Ask the City to get proactive and honor the original pleas of the businesses and residents to just upgrade streets and drainage.
Please share your thoughts and concerns with the members of Council and the Mayor. Emails can be sent to City Clerk Tracy Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask Tracy to forward them to the Mayor and City Council.