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Bellaire council to consider upgrades to Spruce, Fifth Streets

February 12, 2019

A plan to turn downtown Bellaire into a more pedestrian-friendly urban village is set to go before the city council on Monday, Feb. 18, but area business owners have voiced concerns.

The proposed $2.7 million Spruce and Fifth Street Reconstruction Project would largely be to improve drainage and paving along the two downtown Bellaire streets, according to Bellaire Director of Public Works Michael Leech in a presentation on Monday, Jan. 7. He noted the drainage improvements would give the area a 100-year detention.

Leech said another goal of the improvements to two blocks of Spruce Street and one block of Fifth Street would be “to make it a destination, somewhere where people might want to go, might want to dine and do some shopping” as part of the city’s comprehensive plan. He brought up other nearby examples like CityCentre and the Sugar Land Town Square.

The work, he said, would fall in line well with council’s priorities, including public infrastructure and utilities with better drainage, safety through increasing street lighting and seven-foot sidewalks, commercial redevelopment through updating but keeping the area’s character and adding newer developments that would better the image of Bellaire.

Bellaire citizen Dr. Winfred Frazier spoke in the same meeting in support of the plan, saying it would have economic benefits for the city and its taxpayers.

“More commercial options will allow us to spend more of our money here in Bellaire,” Frazier said. “Additionally, an improved downtown area will bring up property values, which will offset the amount of money we pay as residential taxpayers.”

However, at the council meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, several business owners along the affected streets stood up against the plan, with parking for their customers at the center. Jax Grill Owner Paul Miller spoke for several of the business owners who ceded their public comment time, and he explained their concerns.

“First of all, parking: every space equals dollars to our bottom line, it means job security to our employees, and it means tax dollars to Bellaire. Access: no curbs so that large trucks can deliver supplies multiple times per week to multiple businesses up and down the street,” Miller said. “Safety: narrow lanes cause backed up deliveries, can cause pedestrian and traffic issues at all intersections and in the middle of the street.”

Miller said he did want the city to keep the streets at the current wider width, add landscaping, avoid installing steel plates that make lots of noise as big trucks roll over them, add street lights, and fix the area streets that he said had been torn up by the many trucks during the H-E-B construction.

Bellaire Auto Center Owner Craig Mueller said the plan to turn downtown Bellaire into a place where people walk from business to business to shop or dine just isn’t realistic.

“The layout of this downtown as it has been for 100 years is not conducive to a walking environment. Customers of mine that live north of Spruce Street, they tell me, ‘We don’t walk to H-E-B to go shopping. We drive,’” Mueller said. “Maybe they take the kids to Menchie’s and get some frozen yogurt, but they don’t walk around. They take their cars and go from one business to another as they do that.”

City officials have met with business owners to discuss concerns, but Miller said little has been done to address them. Leech’s presentation cited some examples of his department’s work with the area owners, including managing trucks and deliveries at H-E-B, widening driveways and planning for additional parking spaces.

Bellaire Council Member Pat McLaughlan, a registered professional engineer, said he had that day driven the blocks in question and didn’t see why such a project was necessary.

“I didn’t see any reason for the city to be tearing up what appeared to be a perfectly serviceable street and using our tax dollars to build a new street,” McLaughlan said. “Our tax rate is increasing. Our debt load is increasing. And I’m reluctant to fall into this trap that we seem to have around town about rebuilding some streets.”

The council meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 18, at 7008 S. Rice Ave.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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