Email to Bellaire City Council Regarding the Spruce/Fifth St Project – 2-13-2019

February 13, 2019

Dear Mayor and members of City Council,

You will be making an important decision with long-term consequences on February 18th.  Perhaps you actually view the Spruce/Fifth St project as some sort of beautification plan, while not quite understanding the damage that will occur to the businesses and to the social fabric of this city.  We don’t need these divisive issues every few months.

Design for 5100 block of Spruce St, at the rear of H-E-B. The actual street width is narrowed to 25′

The business owners know what they need to operate successfully.  They are not a bunch of fools and simpletons, nor are they a group of obstructionists.  They work hard and they contribute to this City.  They have no reason to lie.  If they felt losing access to their parking lots, losing private parking to public spaces, and narrowing Spruce to 26 feet wide would be in their best interest they would be the first to support this plan.

Unfortunately the City Manager and now the Mayor have chosen to “double down” on the Spruce/Fifth St project through a web of prevarication and half-truths, in City memos and emails.

  • The City Manager claimed that the Spruce/Fifth project was presented to Council in March 2018.  Not really.  What was presented was a “Possible Design for Consideration”.  Most members of council appeared surprised and uncertain by the presentation.  Please view the video.  Nothing was approved.
  • The City Manager countered a claim that Council never voted to approve the project by stating that Council voted to authorize it in March of 2017.  A half-truth.  The project was not approved, Council voted to award an engineering contract “authorizing the City Manager to enter in negotiations for an amount not to exceed $500,000 to be executed by the Mayor, with Costello, Inc., for Design Engineering and Construction Administration Services for the Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 Street and Drainage Project Group C Phase 2”. Street and drainage. You might check to see if the flap gate design was included in that half million-dollar contract.  Again, please watch the video.
  • Claims have been made by the City Manager, the Public Works director, and the Mayor, that the businesses have been accommodated and the inference is that many have accepted the project but just don’t want to admit it.  Kind of like proving a negative, isn’t it?  Also not accurate.

What we know for certain is that business owners objected to the plan as proposed in March of 2018, they discussed the problems with the plan when it was presented at a neighborhood meeting in May of 2018, they tried to impress the difficulties with the plan to members of City Council during a Council tour in July, 2018. Both they and Bellaire residents have lodged protests in writing and in appearances before Council, the most recent a presentation on January 28, 2019.

  • When mention was made of the City Engineer’s promise at that May meeting that the angled parking could be removed the City Manager’s response is that:
  1. Neither the City Engineer nor a member of staff has the authority to make that change (although he claims staff has made a lot of changes to accommodate the businesses)

and

  1. That the City Engineer is no longer involved in the planning (although ARKK has a $447K in contracts for Third Party Review  and Construction Management for the project).

Which begs the question – just who can remove the angled parking and 7 foot wide sidewalks, planters, lighting and irrigation, etc., from the plan?

  • The City Manager claimed Jax never had a right to the parking spaces in the street, and the Mayor claimed that Jax will gain parking spaces.  Prevarication. I recall when Jax was granted those extra spaces along their parking lot.  Don’t you think someone with the City at the time or in the past 25 years would have noticed and objected if it were not allowed?  Fewer public parking spaces will replace the fourteen spaces currently available, and the new design will impede deliveries to the entire Jax center.  A public parking space that replaces a private parking space is no bargain.   Blocking private spaces will not help the current or future businesses.  There has never been a problem with parking along 5100-5200 Spruce.  I should know, I’ve lived one block away for the past 33 years.
  • Finally the cost, well over $3 million dollars for Spruce/Fifth.  Residents feel Council has approved a lot of wasteful spending, and they mistrust the motives of this city manager.  They want decent streets and reliable drainage, not streetscapes that are costly to build and costly to maintain.  Coupled with the debt, flooded homes, more bond issues, and the increased tax rate (another bit of misinformation by the City Manager and the Mayor – our tax rate has indeed increased – from $.4159 to $.4313) I guarantee this will not sit well with the taxpayers, who could care less about the City Manager’s manipulation of the Comprehensive Plan.

By the way – why is there an automatic line item at the end of the Spruce/Fifth bid to Centerpoint for $50,000?  Why are there two new wooden utility poles in the grass along Fifth Street just north of Don Joseph Salon?  Has the City already entered into an agreement with Centerpoint for this project?

I’ll leave the H-E-B issues to H-E-B; no doubt they will address the problems to their business that will occur if the current design is approved.

You and the City have recently received a petition for three charter amendments, signed by over 800 residents.  Many more would sign were more signatures required.  As one of the numerous petition circulators I met a lot of residents, some of them your neighbors, and I found a well-educated citizenry who are not happy with current decisions by City Council.  Most city leaders would consider the sidewalk petition a caution light, a time to step back and move more slowly.  Repair the streets, add drainage if needed, watch the spending.

As elected officials I feel your first loyalty should be to the electors, Bellaire residents and Bellaire businesses, not to the City Manager.  He’ll move on, we’ll be left with the problems.

Sincerely,

Jane McNeel

The six bids I received can be viewed at https://www.bellairecivicclub.com/dear-mayor-and-city-council-about-those-bids-for-spruce-and-fifth/

According to the City Attorney’s office a seventh bid was received from Fused Industries but the City did not release it because “the information may implicate the proprietary interest of third parties.”   That is now in the hands of the Texas Attorney General.