Bellaire sidewalk issues surface again
Bellaire City Council is weighing special circumstances when it comes to new sidewalks — again.
As originally planned, the Baldwin Avenue drainage and street reconstruction project will install new sidewalks on the west side of the rebuilt street, but a few residents are hesitant to sacrifice green space for the improvement.
The council on Monday, Aug. 15, voted to issue general obligation bonds worth $6.5 million to help fund the project, which is considered an important part of drainage improvements in the Rebuild Bellaire program approved by voters in 2005.
But a few who live in the Southdale neighborhood want the sidewalk removed from the current design.
They say residents use the street for walking and doubt a new sidewalk will change that, especially since Baldwin isn't a through-street with lots of traffic.
Furthermore, they predict cars parked in driveways along the improved street will obstruct the sidewalk.
The issue arose July 12, when Bellaire Public Works Department and project engineers met with residents of the neighborhood to discuss how construction of the project will impact them.
Three notices about the meeting were delivered to 870 residents. Of 44 persons who attended the meeting, nine opposed the sidewalk and three spoke in favor of it.
Since then, residents have continued to voice concerns to members of City Council.
"We use the side yard along Baldwin as a backyard and play area for our children," Stuart Harris wrote to City Council. "If you build this sidewalk along our houses, it will reduce the amount of green space available for our children to play."
Chris Canonico wrote, "In short, the characteristics of Baldwin with its narrow right of way and short setbacks and extremely low traffic count does not support sidewalks."
He suggested traffic controls could do more than sidewalks to improve safety on the street.
Mayor Cindy Siegel said similar arguments were heard on Ferris, Evergreen and Newcastle when new sidewalks were proposed there.
"The idea is not just Baldwin. The idea is a network of sidewalks," Siegel said.
"We like to say we are a city of homes. People said they wouldn't use them on Evergreen or on Newcastle, but if you drive through there today, they are using them," the mayor said. "A lot more people than you think will use the sidewalks. The purpose is, again, to create a network of sidewalks in the city so you don't have to walk in the streets."
Council members Andrew Friedberg, James Avioli Sr. and Roman Reed said they favor eliminating the sidewalk from the project, but Mandy Nathan argued that most residents are expecting the project as presented, with sidewalks.
As a compromise, council members directed staff to list the sidewalk as an alternate when the project is advertised for bids.
In the meantime, Southdale residents will receive notices seeking their preference on the sidewalk debate.
Council will consider the survey results when it considers the bids in about six weeks.
The project will lower the street elevation of Baldwin Avenue, install a large diameter storm drain and replace sanitary sewers.
The drainage system is to include added detention within the city of Houston's Meyer Tract and is designed to handle a 100-year storm event in Southdale, where about 350 flooded during Tropical Storm Allison a decade ago.
In addition to Rebuild Bellaire bond funds, the city has pledged $3.2 million in mobility funds from Metropolitan Transit Authority and $1 million in pay-as-you-go funds to build the project.
In its action on the $6.5 million bond issue, City Council accepted a low 3.29 percent interest rate bid from Morgan Keegan Co. Inc. on the bonds, which will mature in 25 years.
Jim Gilley of Coastal Securities, the city's financial advisor, said the current bond market rates might justify refunding previous Rebuild Bellaire bonds.
The city is paying an average 4.01 percent on $29.5 million in bonds previously issued for the Rebuild Bellaire program, he said.
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