Spruce Street – Not In My Backyard! But The City Manager Just Won’t Give Up. Why?

HEB dumpster service – note how far the truck extends into the current 60′ R.O.W. – over half the width. And the delivery truck at another business. (Click for larger image)

You’ve heard the phrase ‘Not in my backyard’, right? This Spruce St/Fifth St project is everyone’s back yard. We tend to spend most of our home time in our neighborhood, but just about everyone in the City spends some time in our downtown area. 

Initial Plan for 5100 block of Spruce.  Purple parking areas block existing parking lots.

The plans are about 90% complete and the City is still determined to narrow the streets and build public parking – for who?

These folks are our neighbors. Some of them have been in business for 20 or 30 years or more. A bite to eat at Jax, windshield wipers or a plug for the lawn mower at O’Reilly’s, drop off your car at Bellaire Auto or your youngster at Treehouse Learning Center. How will you replace this kind of service if these trusted longtime businesses go away? Accessing the new H-E-B won’t be easy, either, with all the traffic forced into a constricted area if this street is narrowed.

Imagine Spruce St narrowed to 26 feet! The 18 wheeler is waiting to access the loading dock. Sidewalk and angled parking on the north side as planned could extend to the center yellow line. Click image to view

Regardless of protests by every business in this area, and despite citizen protests, Michael Leech, our Public Works director, supported by Paul Hofmann, our City Manager, continued to promote the angled parking scheme along Spruce Street and Fifth Street.  Coming up with new designs, trying to sway one business owner, then another.  Why?  Are they doing this at the behest of City Council?         

What’s this all about?  Why is this particular location suddenly so important?  No small dress shops, no boutiques.  This is a commercial street that runs behind a large grocery store.  There are no traffic studies, no one knows how much traffic will be generated in this area after H-E-B opens.  Do we need some sort of investigation into the background of this project?

The latest designs were distributed to owners on June 13, 2018 – with no dimensions shown for anything except 7′ sidewalks here, 6″ curbs there, and 46′ B-B, whatever that means. No costs for the additional parking, fancy street lights, landscaping, trees (irrigation?) moving the utilities, etc.  Here are the latest drawings: Spruce_Fifth_6-14-16 Older versions can be found at this page under City Studies.   This project defies common sense.

Parking in front of City Hall – 25′ wide from curb to solid white line.  Include the 7′ wide sidewalk = 32′.  That’s the estimated depth of proposed “streetscape”.

Now for the simple math. Based on what is noted on the most recent drawings, deduct 15 feet from the 60-foot right of way (R.O.W.) on Spruce and Fifth St. for the sidewalks and curbs on both sides of the street; we’re down to 45 feet. 

Then the angled parking spaces – every design standard for parallel parking shows a perpendicular depth of 18 to 20 feet from the curb. Deduct another 20 feet – we’re left with a street width of about 25 feet! Along the rear of the new H-E-B store.  That’s less than the width of my small residential street. The design will probably change again, but regardless this is a foolish and wasteful plan.

(A perpendicular measurement from the curb to the solid white line in the street in front of City Hall is 25 feet.)

Does the engineering firm, Costello, Inc., stand behind this design, no matter how many changes are made? The firm is currently a defendant in a lawsuit filed by homeowners who live in a community that suffered severe flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Will there be future lawsuits over this project, as businesses and livelihoods are ruined?

Will the City of Bellaire be liable for injury or death due to a dangerous and unnecessary plan if a child darts out between parked cars or someone is hit or killed while crossing the narrow street to get to H-E-B? Or while backing out of an angled parking place?

The persistent juggling of the designs and ridiculous attempts to convince people who just want to get on with providing a service and making a living would be a bad joke if it didn’t have such serious ramifications to our businesses and business owners, our property owners, the adjacent residential neighborhoods, and our City’s reputation.  No one is fighting the street and drainage improvements.  The objections by 100% of the owners and residents are focused on the angled parking.  It’s a disastrous plan on so many levels.

Smaller delivery vehicles park at the northwest corner of H-E-B. Apparently there will not be a sidewalk on this side of the street.

It would narrow a commercial thoroughfare and restrict traffic on a street that carries 18-wheelers and smaller commercial vehicles arriving every day from both directions, including all the H-E-B deliveries. They need to sustain stock for a 70,000 square foot store. 

No room to maneuver the large trucks (see the photo at the start of this article), and what about emergency vehicles? It would require drivers heading east on Spruce to U-turn to park in the angled spaces – public parking, so no guarantee you can park at the business you plan to visit.  Same problems for vehicles heading south on Fifth.

It would endanger pedestrians walking across streets to get to businesses.  It would block or remove private business parking spaces.  Replace existing spaces with fewer spaces.  Prevent or impede deliveries to businesses.  It will encourage more drivers to detour though the adjacent residential neighborhood. Not to mention the added costs for all the fluff and finery.  But then, it’s not their money – neither the City Manager nor the Director of Public works live in Bellaire.

5100 block of Spruce St behind H-E-B, where the 18-wheeler access the ramp to the loading dock. Street width will be reduced to 25 feet.

The justification for this keeps changing – first beautification, then to aid in redevelopment.  Of what, our established businesses?

Many of the businesses already have landscaping in place, and there’s nothing to prevent the City from working with property owners to dress up the business properties after the street reconstruction.  And redevelopment has occurred without ruining existing businesses.

According to our City charter Mr. Hofmann was hired as City Manager to “be the chief executive officer and the head of the administrative branch of the City government. He shall be responsible to the Council for the proper administration of all affairs of the City…”

I don’t recall any discussion of his qualifications for employment that included “redesign of our commercial areas” or turning Bellaire into some kind of junior Sugar Land.   This heavy-handed attempt by the City Manager to force his will on the City’s businesses and residents should be addressed. City Council has the power to put a stop to it, unless they support it.  Either way the businesses have a right to a resolution on this issue.

Is this what current and future businesses may have to deal with? Does the City Council believe this sort of treatment of our business community is appropriate?   If so they need to speak up now.  What about maintaining all this?  We still have flooded homes, numerous streets in need of repair or replacement, and problems with drainage. 

Is this sort of project the best way to spend taxpayer money, financed by debt?  Is this what you thought you were voting for if you voted yes for the 2016 Bonds for Better Bellaire?   Give this some thought, because the City Manager and City Council are planning on another $50 million bond issue for next year!

Personally I don’t want to have to drive five miles to buy a bottle of wine or a spark plug. That’s why I live in Bellaire.  It’s time to look after our own backyard, and our neighbors on Spruce and Fifth need our support.

Email the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton at tdutton@bellairetx.gov.  Ask her to forward your email to the Council.

Costello, Inc. Contract  Original contract executed on May 25, 2017, for numerous street and drainage projects: Maple St. from Avenue B to Newcastle; Bolivar St. from Jessamine to Dead End; Spruce St. from Ferris to South Rice Avenue; Fifth St. from Bissonnet to Spruce.  Installation of flapgate structures at S. Rice outfall, 610 Newcastle outfall, and Southdale area outfall and include in Group C Phase 2 Street and Drainage Construction plans.  Depending on exact locations of these structures, significant box structures may be required at the installation locations.

View: City of Bellaire – Current Debt Report as of September 30, 2017  – right at $140 million when all bonds currently approved are issued; per the proposed FY2019 budget, by September 30, 2018 the projected amount of bonds outstanding will be $129.8 million.  Another bond issue is planned for 2019.

About Jane McNeel

Bellaire resident since 1956. Email: bellairebcc@gmail.com. Find more information on 'About This Site' in the main menu.
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