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Bellaire city council votes on sidewalks

October 1, 2018

The Bellaire City Council weighed sidewalk projects at recent meetings as residents crowded city hall to express concerns.

At the Sept. 17 meeting, council approved building sidewalks on several streets on the inside of Loop 610 near Horn Elementary, amending the Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 Group D, Phase 1 measure to exclude streets outside the Loop near Bellaire High School in order to revisit the need for sidewalks there once the high school’s planned parking garage is built.

The sidewalks approved include the blocks of 4600 Oleander, 4600 Laurel, 4500 Verone and 4500 and 4600 Holly streets. The 4500 block of Teas Street was also approved, but following a petition from residents, city council plans to take a second look at the matter at its Oct. 1 meeting.

Mayor Andrew Friedberg addressed the council and residents early in the Sept. 17 meeting to point out how much of the city’s time has recently been put toward sidewalks and suggested that council step back and address larger scale questions before making decisions on sidewalks.

“We haven’t answered the big-picture policy questions that are necessary to address before considering specific projects. Like how new sidewalk locations should be selected, or deselected,” Friedberg said. “Why some streets would be prioritized over others, and perhaps identifying which streets should simply be left alone because they aren’t good candidates for the introduction of new sidewalks to begin with, for any variety of reasons.”

After hours of comments from residents, the amended Group D, Phase 1 measure passed with Friedberg in dissent.

Concerned Bellaire citizens came out again Sept. 24 to share their thoughts about Group D, Phase 2 projects. Most spoke in opposition to the plan. Resident Jane McNeel said she was concerned about the effects of laying more concrete down in a city where many homes flooded just a year ago during Hurricane Harvey.

“One expert says it won’t [impact flooding]. Another says it will. Personally, I think covering permeable areas with concrete will cause problems, and we really don’t need this rancor and divisiveness right now,” she said.

A realtor, McNeel said property values in Bellaire have dropped by about $29 per square foot from June through August, as compared with the same period last year, which she said cuts deep into homeowners’ wallets.

Some residents spoke in support of getting sidewalks on their streets. Resident Jennifer Cross said some people in Bellaire did not want sidewalks at all even though she said they are a critical part of public safety.

“Make no mistake — there are some residents who do not want any more sidewalks in this city under any circumstances. You cannot allay their concerns or pause to develop a nuanced plan because that is simply kicking the can down the road, and their end goal is no sidewalks. Period,” Cross said. “This position isn’t tenable with a large and growing child population, being in the middle of the third largest city in the United States. Sidewalks are an essential feature of public safety.”

Resident Mike Jacobs said he was putting together a petition to call for a special election for an initiative that would reject plans for stand-alone sidewalks, allow residents to vote on putting sidewalks on their blocks and create a requirement that the city provide detailed design plans to residents for each block of sidewalks proposed.

“When I look at this situation, I kind of see two doors: one door, we take a pause, we think about what the mayor has said and follow his guidance. Everybody makes mistake,” Jacobs said. “Door two, y’all don’t take a pause, and we as citizens take that choice away from you, and we put the pause in place for you.”

Council meeting and conversations through websites like Nextdoor have grown heated in recent weeks over sidewalks, and resident Charles Bearden urged people to treat each other with dignity, especially for the betterment of the community.

“Citizens are obligated to treat one another, even those they disagree with, in ways that preserve the cohesion and trust that enables a community to thrive,” Bearden said.

Council approved several streets of the Group D, Phase 2 sidewalk projects, citing that they had received little or no opposition, including the blocks of 5100 Huisache, 5200 Linden, 4800 and 4900 Chestnut, 4800 and 4900 Cedar, 5000 through 5200 Locust and 6800 through 7000 of South Third streets.

Friedberg and Council Member David Montague voted in dissent.

At the Oct. 1 meeting, council will revisit the 4500 block of Teas Street and also look at the current requirement for new residential development to install sidewalks.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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