Here are the City Manager’s 7 easy steps to beautify downtown Bellaire:
1) Take the 60 foot wide commercial Spruce Street that runs behind a large grocery store, contains no small retail stores or boutiques, and is traversed daily in both directions by large delivery vehicles, narrow it to 30 feet or less and add sidewalks and angled public parking on the north side, which will…
2) Force large trucks turning from intersecting streets to swing wide to avoid jumping curbs while trying to avoid hitting other vehicles when making deliveries to businesses that line the narrow street while…
3) Being blocked from entering business parking lots along the north side of the street because of blocked or limited access to those businesses which…
4) Will damage those businesses economically due to the loss of private parking spaces and customer access and will also…
5) Endanger the lives of people parking in those angled parking spaces as they jaywalk to the other side of the street or try to back out into traffic on the narrow street and meanwhile the plan also…
6) Widens the intersecting Fifth Street that runs alongside the grocery store which would wipe out parking spaces for more businesses and then…
7) Narrows that street while constructing more sidewalks and angled parking spaces along the side of the new grocery store.
This photo was taken a week after the HEB opening and shows Spruce St at the full 60′ width . The 18-wheeler is waiting to access the loading dock. Imagine Spruce St narrowed to 26 feet or so, a wide sidewalk and angled parking on the north side of the street! (Click photo to enlarge.)
The Spruce/Fifth Street project (view plans here) was first promoted as downtown beautification, based on the Comprehensive Plan, the Terrain Studio/ Visioning Bellaire study, and City Council priorities, but no one is willing to take credit for the design for the angled parking spaces along the north side of Spruce and east side of Fifth.
Paul Hofmann, the City Manager, has been involved in this plan for over a year, together with the engineering contractor, Costello, Inc.; see Item 4 under Assumptions in the half-million dollar contract dated May 23, 2017. (view the Costello Executed Contract)
H-E-B was surprised to hear of the planned changes in December of 2017 and their representatives are adamant that they had nothing to do with it. The store plans were based on a 60 foot wide street at the rear of the store.
Mr. Hofmann’s latest justification is commercial redevelopment as suggested by the Comprehensive Plan. He uses catch phrases like “Create parking in the R.O.W that is not directly associated with a current use or tenant” and “Address redevelopment of deteriorating and underutilized commercial areas” and “Ensure future development is done to higher standards”.
This appears to be a deliberate plan to push out the current businesses along Spruce Street and Fifth Street, with bond money paid for by Bellaire taxpayers. Longtime businesses that many Bellaire residents use and rely upon.
The Comprehensive Plan does suggest encouraging commercial development and adding green space to downtown areas. It also encourages mini-grants to existing commercial businesses to help finance building façade improvements, enhanced landscaping, or other upgrades that might not otherwise occur. (view pg5.17 Mini Grants). Mr. Hofmann does not mention that part of the Plan.
On May 21st the City Manager reported to Council on the recent neighborhood meeting for Spruce and Fifth St business and property owners. He admitted that 100% of them opposed the parking plan, however he continued to promote it. When questioned about the proposed design that would block or wipe out parking spaces on private property, he blithely answered that there would be no impact because this will be on public-right-of way.
Pressed about the existing layout that allows customers to conveniently pull into private business parking spaces directly from the street – which would no longer be possible under his plan – The City Manager responded that he had not heard that concern – even though he was at the meeting. That’s odd, because I attended the meeting and that’s pretty much what every business owner in attendance mentioned.
Although they will suffer some losses during the construction phase the business and property owners did not oppose the street and drainage work. There have been questions about the wisdom of street construction so soon after the opening of H-E-B. No traffic studies for this area are available because this is a whole new ballgame. Who knows how traffic will flow when H-E-B opens?
Instead the owners and managers emphasized the damage that will occur to businesses if this sidewalk/angled parking plan is approved. Jax will lose parking spaces and therefore business, O’Reilly’s daily delivery by an 18-wheeler will be difficult to impossible, Joseph Campise’s salon will lose almost all parking spaces, and so on. Incomes and livelihoods are at risk. What a shabby way to treat members of our business community.
We have seen redevelopment in Bellaire commercial areas over the years and it has occurred without the City driving out businesses. The strip of shops in the 5200 block of Cedar recently changed hands when the owners moved out of town, and is now being remodeled. When the 60-year-old Earthman Funeral Home on Ferris was sold it was renovated and is now a yoga studio and a restaurant. The owners of the property at the southwest corner of Bellaire Blvd and South Rice have chosen to demolish the existing center and rebuild a larger one. All market driven decisions.
Why would a business want to locate along a street with public right-of-way as the main parking for businesses? Most businesses want the freedom to set out a sign that states parking only for their business, but anyone can park as they please on a public street.
This project will be very expensive and possibly dangerous. I was almost rear-ended backing out of angled parking in front of City Hall; just imagine backing out next to one of the new super-cab pickup trucks on a narrow street full of vehicles headed to or from the new grocery store. Traffic problems along Spruce will push traffic into the adjoining neighborhood. And all of this is absolutely unnecessary
Never in my memory has a Bellaire City Manager actively promoted the displacement of local businesses. And never in my memory has a City Council tolerated this sort of behavior by a City Manager. For all intents and purposes the Spruce St/Fifth St project appears to be a done deal. Mr. Hofmann never waivers in his pronouncements about contracts, start dates, etc., as though Council has already approved the design.
As this drags on the businesses and property owners are left languishing in some sort of limbo, not knowing if they will have a business or livelihood this time next year. The plan can and should be voted down by a majority of the members on City Council, at least four votes will be required. Will the Mayor and City Council agree to follow the City Manager’s plan or will they protect our community’s longtime businesses and property owners? There are better ways to promote redevelopment.
If you want to weigh in on this project please email the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask her to forward your email to the Council.
City of Bellaire – Current Debt Report as of September 30, 2017 – right at $140 million when all approved bonds are issued