Why would a City choose to harm its small businesses? Spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so?
In November of 2016 Bellaire voters gave the City Council and City Manager a big pot of money – right at $54 million dollars. About $34 million was available to be spent on streets, water, drainage, and sidewalks. In 2017 City Council approved about $3 million dollars of contracts to 6 engineering firms. As one Council member noted – before one drop of concrete was poured.
In the first group of contracts was a $500,000 award for engineering services to Costello Inc., covering the 500 Block of Bolivar, the 4500 Block of Maple, the 5100 – 5200 Blocks of Spruce, the 700 Block of N Fifth and the installation of 4 flap gates. No mention of any special design for Spruce and Fifth Streets or their proximity to the new HEB.
On May 23, 2017, a letter/contract from Costello, Inc. to James Andrews, City Engineer, Costello _Executed Contract_May_25_2017 listed eight assumptions for the project. Number 4 states “Recommendations from the City of Bellaire’s Urban Village Downtown Streetscape package will be reviewed and incorporated into the designs for Spruce St. and Fifth St. as much as possible, but landscaping to be designed and implemented by others.” Number 6 states “Two Public Meetings to occur during design and construction phases of the project.” The contract is signed by Samuel W. Kruse, Jr. for Costello, Inc. and Paul Hofmann for the City of Bellaire. So by May of 2017 there were plans to change the design of Spruce and Fifth.
During the Council meeting on December 4, 2017, the Public Works director made a presentation Bonds_Presentation_12-4-2017 for additional contracts plus updates on those underway from March. Again the Costello contract was mentioned, also that flap gates were included in that particular project, but no mention of Urban Village or HEB.
Finally the Council meeting of March 19, 2018, and the Presentation of Spruce and Fifth Street Design Considerations Spruce_St&Fifth_Considerations. Members of City Council seemed unaware of the plans to narrow Spruce Street by adding angled parking on the north side and reconfiguring 34 feet into three 11 foot lanes, or to add angled parking to the east side of Fifth St and extend the width of Fifth to the full 60 foot right-of-way, which will eliminate parking for two active businesses along the west side of Fifth. They also seemed surprised by the number of area business people who spoke against the plan, and to learn that no public meetings had been held.
Clearly this Design will harm most of the businesses in this area, and Mr. Hofmann is working very hard to sell this plan to City Council and local businesses. These are handouts of Costello overlays that City staff distributed to business owners in that area last week. Parking for the two lots of the salon on the corner of Spruce and Fifth is eliminated, as is the parking at the small bakery on Fifth across from HEB. This plan might be great for streets with plenty of space and no parking lots, but not in this location.
An overhead shot of the existing parking lots along the 5100 block of Spruce is also shown. Jax parking is relatively unaffected but the angled parking along both blocks of Spruce will eliminate parking spaces and hinder access to the wide parking lots of other businesses located along the north side. 4/15/2018: overhead of 5200 block of Spruce was added – please note how many existing parking spaces on private property will be blocked and lost by the proposed angled parking.
Now to the cost. Per their report in August of 2017 Costello estimated Spruce St would cost $979,188 and Fifth St would cost $693,051, for a total estimated cost of $1.672 million. Maple and Bolivar costs are estimated at $1.3 million. Costello’s estimated cost for the 4 streets is just under $3 million and plus a possible 20% in contingencies.
No costs were provided for the four flap gates that are to be installed or for Construction Management. None of the costs for landscaping, utilities, lamp posts and installation, or other ancillary costs were included in the Costello estimate. Nothing about the landscaping that is shown on the HEB plans. Who will pay for that when the construction is completed? As I mentioned in an earlier article, this is just the wrong location to spend this kind of money and political capital.
Most streets in Bellaire have a fairly wide right-of-way. Ours is 60 feet, the same as Spruce and Fifth, though our paved street is 26 feet wide from curb to curb. So the curb and about half of our front yard is city right-of-way. Can the City to expand into right-of-ways in residential areas to satisfy some demand for additional space? Maybe in the vicinity of parks for angled parking? Or widen other residential streets for wide pathways and bike trails? What happens to front or side yards, to trees and plantings?
I told a member of City Council recently that the City and Council have the bully pulpit – newsletters and blogs, websites and listservs – and those of us living and working in Bellaire are always the last to know about plans that will affect our lives and our properties. That’s why I started this web site.
What I’ve come to realize after speaking with other Bellaire residents and with business owners who stand to lose income and perhaps their business is that bullying is exactly what’s going on here. The attitude of the City and the City staff is that it’s City right-of-way and too bad if it hurts your business. Longtime business owners feel betrayed. Four of them spoke in opposition to the plan at the March 19th meeting and many more were in the audience.
The City Manager is promoting this plan and we have a right to know if he is doing so with Council’s approval. If not then it’s time that they just say no to these tactics. They may feel they are following the Comprehensive Plan, however the Plan can be cherry picked to back up one promotion and ignored when it provides an opposing viewpoint to another.
Upgrade the drainage, repave the streets, and provide walkable spaces by installing the 5′ sidewalks, incorporate them into existing driveways just as is done on other commercial construction. Leave the original design in place to provide wide lanes for large trucks as well as personal vehicles, and include a plan for some bike lanes.
Small businesses, walking, biking – all part of the Comprehensive Plan. If a developer comes along and manages to buy up the block to build the recently rezoned mixed used multi-family housing the design can be updated.
Please study the plans included in this post, drive by the businesses affected by these proposed changes, and then let City Council know what you think. Should we pay taxes in order to drive out our hardworking business owners?
Email our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton, at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask her to forward to members of Council