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Bellaire special election could be in the works

February 4, 2019

The first resident-initiated special election in Bellaire since 1981 is now a real possibility.

At a city council meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, Bellaire resident Mike Jacobs presented council with three petitions calling for a special election to amend the city charter over future sidewalks.

Jacobs said the petitions had more than 2,500 signatures, exceeding the city charter’s requirement of 5 percent of the community’s approximately 11,600 registered voters to call for a special election.

The petitions came after several conflict-filled council meetings last year that went on late into the night as Bellaire residents voiced concerns about the Community Pathways Plan and other proposed sidewalk projects.

“Whether it be changing from a four-foot sidewalk to a five-foot sidewalk in almost literally the 11th hour, attempting to force new construction homes to install a sidewalk, not properly notifying residents when sidewalk construction is set to commence or ignoring the will of over 80 percent of a block’s residents by moving forward with installing sidewalks they didn’t want, this council isn’t acting in good faith,” Jacobs said.

City Clerk Tracy Dutton said while it would take some time to verify the exact number of signatures on each of the petitions, they did appear to have the required signatures to call for a special election.

Jacobs said the amendments would look at how future sidewalks would affect flooding and address a lack of both transparency and local control in Bellaire.

The first proposed amendment to the charter would require that to build a sidewalk on any residential block, the city would need to eliminate the water discharge effects of its impervious material elsewhere within the city.

A second proposed amendment would require the city to get written approval from at least 50 percent of a residential block’s property owners before building a sidewalk. The approval would have to come within three months of the construction’s start.

With the third proposed amendment, the city would need to send residents written notice via certified mail, detailing exactly where a sidewalk on their block would be installed and how it would affect things like trees, landscaping and drainage lines. A hydrological study done by a party unaffiliated with the city would also be required.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will not have this issue coming forth with every new overzealous council member. We will amend the city charter, and we’re going to take this power away from you,” Jacobs said, addressing council.

Mayor Andrew Friedberg said Bellaire has been grappling with sidewalk issues “since the beginning of time” and that a special election would not really improve that fact but just draw it out further.

“It’s important that people understand this really isn’t even about sidewalks. In response to public input, sidewalks are already off the table anyway,” Friedberg said. “This is about amending the city charter, and whether that’s the best or even an appropriate way to legislate a divisive issue.”

He said last fall, he encouraged council members and citizens to pause and look at more important priorities.

“Moving forward, before considering individual sidewalk projects we should first address the big-picture policy questions and over time work toward a deliberately inclusive plan with public involvement and buy-in,” Friedberg said.

Council Member Trisha Pollard said the city council had responded to feedback from the community and that she hopes to find common areas of understanding in the future.

“Council clearly listened to residents’ input and did what they asked us to do,” she said. “I look forward to working together to find areas of common ground, like sidewalks across the Union Pacific railroad tracks on Bellaire and Bissonnet and other commercial areas.”

Other council members were sought out for comment, but no responses were received.

The city has 20 days to verify the signatures, according to the city charter. If the requirements are met, the city would then need to decide on a date for the special election.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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