A Master Plan For Wasteful Spending – While Harming Local Businesses

UPDATE: The Spruce/Fifth St plans were presented to City Council on Monday evening, January 7, 2019, at 7 PM.  The meeting can be viewed online: https://www.bellairetx.gov/1504/Watch-Meetings-Live-Agendas-and-Minutes  

At this point the proposed date for Council’s approval of the project is February 18, 2019.  A pdf of the presentation can be found here: 1_7_19_Spruce&Fift

The City of Bellaire seems determined to narrow 60 foot wide commercial streets to 26 feet wide (about the width of a residential street) – for 2 lanes of traffic.  Traveled every day by 18-wheelers!  With 2016 Bond money as part of a project to reconstruct streets, drainage, and sidewalks.

This plan includes angled parking, irrigation systems, landscaping, fancy lamp posts and trees, moving the utilities, etc.  In commercial service areas along side and behind a large grocery store.

Proposed route for H-E-B deliveries. A mountable curb with parking spaces in front of O’Reilly’s for deliveries. What if vehicles are parked in those spaces?

It’s another bait and switch project.  Vote for streets and drainage and get a streetscape while forcing longtime local businesses out of town because they don’t suit the desires of current City attitudes.   To be clear, H-E-B designed their new store based on access to a 60 foot wide Spruce Street for their vehicles.

You won’t find a thing in the $7.6 bond issue about angled public parking that will narrow a 60 foot wide street, hinder or block access to private parking lots, harm businesses, obstruct the view of drivers exiting H-E-B onto Fifth, and force drivers to back out into the lanes of traffic. 

The project budget is now $4.6 million. Mr. Hofmann proposed Costello Engineering for a $500,000 contact to design street and drainage construction and sidewalks for 5100 and 5200 Spruce, 700 block of Fifth, the 4500 block of Maple and the 500 block of Bolivar and another contract to ARKK Engineering for $43,000. 

Two more contracts are to be approved for construction and construction administration.   (See the document at left. It has been updated to include lighting, etc.)

Possible flap gates on Cypress Ditch, the railroad ditch, South Rice Outfall, and 610 ditch initially included in this project have been removed.  They will be a separate project.  There are proponents and opponents of flap gates.  If you’re curious here are some examples:  https://www.plasti-fab.com/products/flap-gate/    http://www.hcwatercontrol.com/Flap-Valves

City Council is well aware of the elaborate and expensive plan for Spruce and Fifth, since the basis for it was presented to them at a Council meeting in March of 2018.  At that time one council member asked a City staff member about the estimated cost for this project and was told it would be about $4 million.  

Council members had a tour of the streets this past July, so they should be aware of what will happen to the businesses along these streets.  They’ve had opportunities to halt this plan and to direct the City Manager to stick to streets and drainage, not to squander more taxpayer money and City debt on unnecessary projects.

No traffic study has been produced.  The business and property owners agreed long ago on the need for street and drainage reconstruction, however all oppose the streetscape design.  Sidewalks could be incorporated  into existing driveways – take a look at the driveway for our new Fire Station.

 H-E-B chose not to build the planned sidewalks for their store along Spruce and Fifth because they knew the streets would be demolished for the new construction.  They wonder why the City didn’t do this work before the construction of the store.

Here’s My Take On How This Will Work

Public Works will put on a PowerPoint presentation showing fancy drawings and pretty pictures. Mention will be made of the Comprehensive Plan and probably the Terrain Visioning Bellaire study. That’s where they get their pretty pictures.

 

Rear of H-E-B from corner @ Fifth

Members of council will act surprised, then ask questions about the design – how can 18-wheelers turn onto a 26 foot wide street to access the H-E-B loading dock – against oncoming traffic?  What if there’s more than one truck waiting for access?  What about access for emergency vehicles?  What about cars pulling out of or into the parking lot of H-E-B?  Backing out into traffic?  How does this affect the local businesses?  How will they get their deliveries?  What about blocking the private parking lots?  Whatever…


UPDATE:  At the January 7, 2019, council meeting council members seemed more focused on drainage issues then on a traffic study.  Most didn’t seem too interested in any of the logistics, either.  None of them requested a traffic analysis of this plan.

One of the most sensible questions was posed by Council member Pollard, who asked about the number of handicapped spaces in the public parking areas.  Unfortunately none of the City staff had an answer.  Council member McLaughlan is the only member who has expressed concern for the business owners.

The Public Works person, aided by the City Manager, will assure them that everything will be fine, all problems will be addressed.  This is what they wanted, remember last March when the initial plans were presented? No one objected. 

UPDATE: Mr. Leech assured Council that the angled parking, etc, would not harm the businesses, and that the business owners were happy with the plan.  The business owners who attended the meeting were not in agreement with those statements.

Someone on Council will ask “What if we don’t approve this plan?”

Either the City Manager or the Public Works person will explain that the City will have to delay or start over and it will cost more money.  More bids will be necessary.  Perhaps they will mention that Council could have re-directed the plans at any time. 

Will anyone ask “Why was the streetscape included?  How much would the project cost if just the street and drainage work were completed as initially proposed?”

Probably not, because the plans and the bids will only be for the entire project, and the enormous cost for this fluff will be buried somewhere in the fine print.  Only one set of plans has been developed to date and that’s for the streetscape designs.  

ACTUALLY,  Mr. Leech said the cost of the “aesthetics” is $195,000, but explained that might not be the actual savings because more concrete would have to be poured.  No breakdown of these costs was presented.

How much concrete is required to offset the cost of fancy streetlights, underground electric lines, irrigation systems, tree wells and trees, planters and plants, relocating utility poles, forms built for the angled parking layout, etc.? 

The Holly Street esplanade (4 blocks) has received irrigation, a few trees, some benches and rocks and plants, and as of last summer the cost was at $250,000.

After much discussion, rather than insist on revised plans and revised bids members of City Council will probably agree to the plans.  They tend to follow the lead of the City Manager.  And this disastrous plan will be approved.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong.  There’s still time for City Council to do the right thing, to protect our local businesses and our residents, and to be fiscally responsible.

Angled public parking on the north side of Spruce – vehicles back directly into lanes of traffic.  18-wheelers turning from Fifth St. must swing wide to make the turn.  H-E-B exits are on the left, as is the access for H-E-B loading dock.  Click for full size.

In the design for Spruce Street at right the rear of H-E-B is on the left .  The yellow highlights show the street 25 foot wide, 7 foot wide sidewalks, and 20 foot deep parking spaces blocking existing private lots.

To reiterate:

  • On a commercial street that runs behind a large grocery store.
  • In an area that includes small service businesses, not shops or boutiques. 
  • Jax, on the corner of Spruce and South Rice for the past 25 years, will lose parking spaces and so lose business.  They stand to lose all the spaces allowed in the street, since that area will be become public parking and open for use by anyone, not just customers.
  • Same thing for other businesses on these streets, many in business for 25 years or more.

The value of a property will decline if a business can no longer provide on-site parking for customers.  Think of Rice Village along Rice Blvd without the pull-in parking spaces in front of the businesses.

One train of thought says that this is a plan to drive out the businesses so that a developer can build multi-story apartments and condos along the north side of Spruce.

That area was rezoned in 2014.  Until then our zoning ordinances did not allow apartments or condos. Other upscale municipalities  (West University, Southside Place, the Memorial Villages) do not allow them.  Existing apartments were grandfathered. 

The design below clearly shows Fifth Street will be 25 feet wide along the west side of H-E-B.   Angled parking on Fifth between entrances to H-E-B underground parking means vehicles exiting onto Fifth from H-E-B will be unable to see oncoming traffic. 

This streetscape will:

Fifth St. Angled parking along the west side of H-E-B. Vehicles backing into traffic, other vehicles exiting the H-E-B underground parking lot, blind to traffic, views blocked.  H-E-B is on the left

  • Narrow commercial thoroughfares traveled every day by large delivery trucks and 18-wheelers, including all the H-E-B deliveries.
  • Leave little or no room to maneuver large trucks or emergency vehicles.
  • Endanger pedestrians walking across streets to get to businesses
  • Obstruct private business parking lots by installing public parking
  • Make deliveries to businesses difficult or impossible.
  • Create hazards to drivers backing out in lanes of traffic
  • Create hazards to drivers exiting the underground parking lot onto Fifth

 

Service to empty H-E-B dumpster requires the full width of the street.

What about maintaining all this?  We still have flooded homes, numerous streets in need of repair or replacement, water leaks all over the city, serious problems with drainage and our aging infrastructure.  Take a look at the mess in the 5200 block of Cedar.  It looks like some industrial parking lot along the Ship Channel.  

The plan for Fifth Street. Click to enlarge. Purple outlines new public parking.

Does the City Council believe this sort of treatment of our longtime businesses is appropriate?

Is this what you thought you were voting for if you voted Yes for the $54 million dollar 2016 Bonds for Better Bellaire?   Give this some thought, because the City Manager and City Council are discussing  another $47 million bond issue for 2019!   

Find more information at: https://www.bellairecivicclub.com/spruce-and-fifth-street-neighborhood-meeting-what-will-happen-to-local-businesses/


Bellaire’s Debt will be $129.8 million at the end of FY2019
Not including the interest

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.

 

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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