UPDATE 6/24/2020: Mayor Friedberg announced that City Manager Paul Hofmann has been hired as the City Manager of Bastrop, TX, and will be leaving Bellaire on August 2, 2020.
The June 15, 2020, Council meeting was an in-person action packed forum that lasted over four hours. Unfinished business set the tone for the night with the first agenda item, a second appearance by James Andrews with ARKK Engineers to request additional payment of $116,303.00 for construction management of the long overdue projects of Spruce/Fifth and Bolivar/Maple.
The 240 day Bolivar/Maple project was due for completion on December 24, 2019, and the 300 day project completion date for Spruce/Fifth was February 15, 2020.
To be clear, Spruce and Fifth is a vanity project promoted in 2017 by the City Manager. At that time Paul Hofmann, who has never lived in Bellaire, had been employed by the City for 3 years. Instead of the usual street and drainage upgrade, he presented a ‘beautification project’, intended to upgrade the small business areas around H-E-B to what he believed were Bellaire’s standards. Based on the premise that the existing businesses, many serving Bellaire residents for 25 years or longer, just weren’t attractive enough, and to prepare for future boutiques and cafes, he proposed an elaborate streetscape.
I attended the neighborhood meeting for these projects in the summer of 2018. The business owners from Spruce and Fifth explained that they had no objections to reconstruction and drainage improvements to the streets. Their objections were to narrowing the streets to provide extra-wide sidewalks and angled parking. Access to their private parking lots would be obstructed or removed. Large delivery trucks would be unable to make deliveries.
At that point James Andrews, a principal with ARKK Engineers, declared that if this was so important to the businesses the they could look at the angled parking and maybe do away with it. Mr. Hofmann was also at that meeting (find his memo to Council here) and that was the last time anyone suggested any changes to his plan. Find the Facebook video of that meeting here.
Now Mr. Andrews has requested an additional $116,303 for the construction management contract, mostly for the mess on Spruce and Fifth. With the $403,685 they have already received, plus $43,000 for design review, approval of this additonal payment means ARKK will receive well over half a million dollars, about $562,000, for the two projects.
Honestly, if anyone deserves money from the City it’s the residents and businesses that have been negatively impacted by those projects for over a year. They have lived with the noise, dust, dirt, mud, and the incredible inconvenience and problems with accessibility. I live one block from this mess, and we have had dump trucks, concrete trucks, heavy equipment and equipment transports running up and down our residential street daily. Illegal, yes, but who’s going to stop them?
The Mayor and five members of Council, some of them still on Council today, ignored the pleas and protests of many longtime businesses and residents. Instead they voted in February 2019 to approve the projects as proposed, with only Pat McLaughlan opposed. Unhappy residents later voted two of those Council members out in the 2019 election. A third candidate, favored by Council members to fill term-limited McLaughlan’s place, lost as well.
Now we are left with an amateurish design, expensive landscaping with future maintenance costs, public parking that is much appreciated by H-E-B employees, and narrow streets which will impede the flow of traffic in a busy commercial area. Here are a few of the changes:
- No more dedicated right turn lane from Fifth to Bissonnet. If drivers on Fifth are behind someone turning left onto Bissonnet everyone will wait in line to turn right until that light changes.
- Be careful turning right at the southwest corner of Cedar at Fifth towards Bissonnet. You may end up jumping the curb or swinging into the far lane on Fifth. Which is fine if no one is in that lane.
- Retaining walls have replaced curbs on that same block of Fifth. One vehicle was stuck on the high curb at the exit from Brisket onto Fifth. The width of the driveway exit is difficult for drivers to see when exiting and the curb is a foot high.
- Some drivers exiting H-E-B onto Fifth at Cedar ignore the stop sign on Fifth and shoot straight across, heading west on Cedar.
- Drivers exiting H-E-B onto Spruce will have to negotiate narrow lanes and be on the lookout for vehicles backing out of the public parking.
- Because streets have been lowered an elevated and convoluted wheelchair ramp was added in front of the Sugar Shop on Fifth. And a metal railing. But if one simply walks straight out the front door to the public sidewalk they may miss a 3-inch step onto the sidewalk (see the pylons).
Council member Lewis led off the questions from Council. It seems ARKK has drawn full payment for their contract and now felt entitled to an additional payment, even though the projects are still in work. Other responses from ARKK:
- That the time period in their proposal reflected the time constraints set by Costello Engineering, not ARKK.
- That the contractor, A Status Construction, which both Costello and ARKK recommended, was slower than most.
- That the contractor has submitted a list of over 300 delay days for the projects. ARKK feels about 150 delay days are legitimate.
- Mr. Andrews verified that ARKK had previously recommended that the City of Pearland not use A Status Construction on a complex project in 2017.
- But bottom line, ARKK had no responsibility for the problems.
Council member Lewis asked whether ARKK considered their contract with the City to be time limited, and Mr. Andrews replied the price was based on the number of anticipated man-hours for the management of the construction. The hourly rates shown ARKK’s breakdown of their proposal range from $175 for a Senior Project Manager to $95 an hour for and Inspector. Find a copy of the COB/ARKK contract here.
Council member Wesely suggested that a root-cause analysis be created to prevent these problems from recurring on future projects. Council member Hotze questioned the legal status of the City regarding the contract with ARKK. Council members Pappas, Verma, and Mayor Friedberg, all attorneys, want to delve deeper into the language of the contract. City Attorney Alan Petrov seemed to suggest that based on the current contract the company would have grounds for a lawsuit if Council does not approve their request.
ARKK Engineers has been awarded over $2.5 million dollars in contracts from the 2016 BBB bond funds. They are responsible for the management of the construction on Spruce and Fifth (Group C Phase 2). We Bellaire residents need to do the math. Maybe it’s time for the City to hire a new City engineer.
The agenda item was postponed again. It may be on the next Council agenda on July 6, 2020. UPDATE: 7/4/20: There is no agenda item for this request on the 7/6/20 Agenda. Let’s see if is reappears for the July 20, 2020 Council meeting.
Some Council members needed a second round of debate on the parking arrangement on South Rice in front of City Hall even though the current design violates a City ordinance. A traffic study was ordered in 2017 prior to construction of City Hall, at a cost of $14,650. Then another study was ordered in 2019, at a cost of $10,895. That study focused on the South Rice/Jessamine intersection and retaining the angled parking.
After a mind numbing PowerPoint presentation of the the two parking studies, questions from Council, and the admission by Public Works director that neither study provided any basis for improved pedestrian safety, Council voted to return to the original 4-lane avenue with parallel parking.
Council member Fife suggested extending the esplanade down South Rice past the City Hall as suggested by an earlier stud by Terrain Studios. She believes that South Rice Avenue is too wide.
She also criticized Council members for what she sees as their ‘adversarial’ attitude towards City staff. She suggested that if they would just call the City Manager or staff their concerns would be addressed. Transparency may not be an issue with Council member Fife, but my suggestion is that residents email their concerns to the Mayor and members of Council. Make them aware and let them take up the issues with the City Manager and staff so that we can all be informed.
One Council member also asked what happened to the pedestrian crossing light on South Rice at the old Laurel street crossing. It was removed for construction of the City Hall/Civic Center. Is there a possibility that the light could be reinstalled?
City Council approved acceptance of receipt of financial assistance in an amount up to $4,095,702 from the HUD Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program for the partial funding of the Group C Phase 3 Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 Streets, Drainage & Sidewalks Project in the 4500 block of Larch Lane, 4500 block of Mimosa Drive, 4600 block of Cedar Street, and 500 block of Chelsea Street.
Discussion on the new City Council Priorities was postponed. Council member Wesely proposed several procedural changes to future meetings: (1) a 10 day window for Council members to propose an agenda item; (2) the agenda and agenda packet for upcoming meetings be distributed on the Tuesday preceding a meeting; (3) that the packet contain all documents pertinent to the agenda items; and (4) that the IT staff create a feedback forum for residents to provide feedback on a agenda items prior to the meeting. He suggested the discussion of this proposal be postponed to a later meeting.
Council member Lewis asked if the design of a Specific Use Permit (SUP) project that was previously approved by P&Z and City Council, in this case a parking garage on the old Chevron property, can be changed before construction begins. City Attorney Alan Petrov explained that such a change can be made as long as it meets the requirements of the specific zoning code and ordinance for that location, and that a site plan is not required. The SUP can be amended, but another public hearing before Planning and Zoning and City Council, or a joint hearing, would be required.
Finally, an agenda item was postponed to discuss the role and responsibilities of the city manager in delivering accurate and complete information to council relative to requests for updates entered on the agenda or that are necessary for council to make decisions.
Bellaire’s Debt is $127.5 million at the end of FY2019, one of the highest per capita in the state.
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