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Long-rumored Costco Wholesale to open in Webster


After years of rumors and even social media campaigns, Costco Wholesale plans a Webster store that likely will lure shoppers from around Galveston County.

Costco will represent the biggest retail project in Webster’s history and stands to attract more retail and development, officials said. The city has worked to lure Costco for at least 12 years.

Webster city officials on Wednesday night approved the development of Costco Wholesale, which is scheduled to open by the end of the year and employ as many as 250 people. Webster did not win Costco through tax rebates and other such economic incentives, but instead agreed to make site and road improvements to accommodate the store.

Costco plans to build on the west side of Interstate 45, on the south side of Baybrook Commons, where Star Furniture is a tenant, confirming the most recent rumors. The 158,000-square-foot membership-only facility also will include a 24-pump gas station with an 8,127-square-foot canopy, city officials said.

Rumors have swirled for years about Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco scouting Clear Lake area sites. Costco manages an international chain of membership warehouses, selling brand name merchandise at prices markedly lower than standard retail stores. Costco sells groceries, spirits, hardware, tires, apparel, electronics and more.

Costco competes directly with Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart. Unlike Costco, Sam’s Club is well-represented in the area. Costco has three Houston stores.

“Webster welcomes the world’s second-largest retailer to the city’s west side where Costco will experience great success in this vibrant market,” Mayor Donna Rogers said. “Costco’s advent to Webster is of great significance to the city in many ways, and I will be one of the first customers in line with a shopping cart, as Costco is a leader in so many categories.”

But Webster Resident Herbert Kobayashi at Wednesday’s meeting said he was worried about the amount of concrete being added for the Costco construction and that it wouldn’t alleviate the flooding problem in the Webster area.

“This flooding has been going on for over 50 years now,” he said. “We just had a big flood last August. I think it’s about time to plan something. Rather than building up near FM 528, you should build north of it.”

The Costco parking area will feature landscaping that will meet the city of Webster’s landscaping requirements and help with water runoff, said Michael Clark, president of the civil engineering firm Winkelmann & Associates, which is assisting with the Costco project.

There will be 22 street trees alongside planned Jasmine Avenue that will be 4- to 6-caliper inches, which will surpass the minimum number required by the vegetation ordinance, city officials said. The caliper of a tree is measured by the thickness of the trunk.

The parking area will feature 84 trees, where the vegetation ordinance requires an amount of only 38 trees.

“We are planning subsoil and subdrains,” Clark said. “We are paying a particular amount of detail to the landscaping.”

Costco likely will attract more retail and development, Rogers said.

“Costco will generate new jobs, attract a super-regional clientele and ignite complementary development within Webster’s northwest quadrant,” she said.

Traffic shifts as Five Corners access road opens


In a project meant to ease traffic at one of the most awkward and controversial intersections in the city, the Texas Department of Transportation on Thursday opened the new access road at the so-called Five Corners in League City.

At noon, crews were still applying stripes on the road and making signal adjustments, department spokesman Danny Perez said. The opening came after weeks of delays.

Frustrated motorists waited longer than usual to go through the two intersections Thursday morning as Galveston County Sheriff’s deputies directed impatient traffic through flashing red signal lights.

By Thursday afternoon, the traffic began flowing more smoothly, motorists reported. The access road opened about 3:20 p.m., Perez said.

Motorists were able to drive on the new access road Thursday afternoon for the first time since construction began in September 2016.

The awkward conjunction of FM 518, FM 2094 and FM 270 has been a headache in League City for decades. Officials have studied the problem, proposed solutions and debated the outcomes for decades, also. One proposal to build an overpass failed, and the current design does not please everyone.

League City officials in November said crews could complete work at the reconstructed intersection by the end of the year, but bad weather and construction problems delayed opening of the new access road.

“We were originally anticipating finishing by early spring,” Perez said. If the project is completed by March, the state will actually finish ahead of schedule.

Resident Karl Wankowicz is thrilled the project is coming to an end, he said.

“Is it the ultimate solution?” Wankowicz said. “No. But at least we are getting something that should help alleviate the problems at that intersection.”

The project is meant to reduce some of the traffic congestion motorists experience at the three lighted intersections at the site.

Part of that plan is the new right turn lane off FM 518 onto a bypass that now connects to FM 270.

The new design cuts down the turns needed to get through the acutely angled intersection, city officials said. The idea is to also shorten the time it takes motorists to move through the intersections.

But not everyone is happy with the improvements.

“The Five Corners project is chock-full of design flaws,” resident Jay Holley said. “FM 518 westbound will lose the designated right-turn only lane, and the new southbound pass-through has a designated right-turn lane. Who would turn left from southbound FM 270 just to turn right onto 518? And northbound FM 270 should have received a designated right-turn only lane.”

The new access road will bring much needed traffic relief to residents, city officials said.

Although the road is now open, crews will still need to complete sidewalks and other ancillary items to complete the project by March, officials said.

Coming Sunday

BIZ BUZZ: Development in the island’s downtown is heating up as businesses expand or open new concepts.

Jennifer Reynolds / JENNIFER REYNOLDS/ The Daily News file  

Ricky Bell, drum major for KIPP Northeast College Prep, and the drill team dance down 27th Street onSaturday, Feb. 25, 2017, during the annual Krewe d’Esprit Rosaire Parade in Galveston.

Laura Elder

Experts dispute 6-year-old's injuries in murder trial

In testimony central to both prosecution and defense arguments, opposing expert witnesses spent Thursday disputing which of several injuries killed 6-year-old Whitney Williams in 2016.

Two physicians took the stand on the fourth day in the capital murder trial of Evan David Nolan, 28, of League City, who’s charged with beating his stepdaughter to death while he was watching her and his 1-year-old daughter in the family’s apartment.

Whitney Williams died of severe injuries, including brain trauma, a lacerated liver and internal bleeding, law enforcement officials have said.

Thursday’s testimony addressed both a key prosecution argument and what seemed from earlier questioning to be Nolan’s main defense.

Prosecutors have argued the child was injured and died in a very narrow window when only Nolan could have been responsible. Defense attorneys meanwhile have argued the girl’s mother, Brithony Williams, could have caused the fatal injuries.

Prosecution witness Glenn Sandberg, a neuropathology physician at Baylor College of Medicine, testified that Whitney Williams’ brain showed signs of two different injuries — bleeding three to five days before her death and then a second brain bleed less than three days before she died.

Both injuries were likely caused by severe blunt force trauma, Sandberg said.

“The force needed to do this is not explained by a kid being a kid,” Sandberg said.

The first injury did not exacerbate the second, but because children’s brains are larger than adults, the effects of the second injury should have manifested quickly, Sandberg said.

After Sandberg finished testifying, Nolan’s defense attorneys requested a directed verdict, asserting the state hadn’t proven Nolan had caused Williams’ death.

Judge Lonnie Cox denied the motion and the defense called Paul Radelat, a clinical pathologist, to the stand, who took a different view of Williams’ injuries.

“I think the first injury caused slow bleeding, which led to a seizure,” Radelat said.

Whitney Williams then would have thrashed around during the seizure, which would have caused the second injuries, Radelat said.

Whitney Williams’ other injuries, such as the lacerated liver, might be caused by CPR efforts, Radelat said.

But Chief Assistant District Attorney Adam Poole disputed Radelat’s explanation, pointing out that Whitney Williams didn’t have any broken ribs.

“That’s an important point, isn’t it?” Poole asked. “Are you saying a seizure caused a lacerated liver?”

Nolan texted Brithony Williams Aug. 17, 2016, to come home, Brithony Williams testified Tuesday.

Williams arrived home to find her daughter unconscious on a blanket and rushed her out the door before speaking with anyone else, she said.

A League City police officer driving to work the evening of Aug. 17 spotted a motorist driving recklessly and stopped the vehicle in the 1500 block of East Main Street.

Williams got out of the vehicle carrying her unconscious daughter, police said.

Williams and later emergency medical personnel attempted CPR on the girl before taking her to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, and later to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where she died the next day, Brithony Williams said.

Williams initially told detectives a baby sitter had been watching her children, but she could not provide police with a phone number for the caretaker, according to the affidavits.

Williams told police the baby sitter had called her at work to tell her Whitney had suffered a seizure and hit her head, according to the affidavits.

When detectives questioned Williams about text messages with Nolan, indicating he was watching the girl, she told investigators Nolan had been watching her daughters at the couple’s League City apartment, according to the affidavits.

League City police and U.S. Marshals arrested Nolan after a traffic stop the day after officers encountered the girl, police said.

Radelat’s testimony will continue today.

The trial is expected to last through the week, Poole said.

Community group recommends $135.9 million TCISD bond


A community group comprised of Texas City and La Marque residents surveying the school district’s buildings and infrastructure recommended a $135.9 million bond Thursday in a meeting with the Texas City Independent School District board.

Trustees made no decisions nor discussed a bond election Thursday night, but heard the group’s proposal and learned about residents’ responses in community surveys about the district’s campuses.

The board will likely make a decision during a meeting Tuesday, district spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said. The school board could choose to call an election on the entire bond proposal or parts of it or not call a referendum at all, Tortorici said.

The group also did not discuss Thursday what a possible $135.9 million bond would mean for the district’s tax rate, which affects homeowners and businesses within the boundaries of the district spanning parts of Texas City and La Marque.

A community group of about 70 residents has been studying and surveying the school district’s campuses for months after Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 caused significant damage to aging facilities, particularly in La Marque. The group also looked at schools in Texas City, some of which were aging and had been deemed in need a repairs, members said.

“It was without a doubt the consensus of the committee that we’ve got to do this,” said Angel Garcia, a Texas City resident and member of the committee.

“For our kids, teachers and for the community, we need schools we can be proud of and we seek to create the facility initiative our children need.”

The committee recommended several items in a potential bond, including replacing four schools, improving security, making districtwide repairs and launching an initiative to supply each student in grades seven through 12 with a computer.

In its study, the committee learned that building a new La Marque Primary School, 100 Lake Road, would cost about $24.1 million, compared to the $24.9 million price tag of repairing the aging building, said Edna Courville, a member of the committee. In online and phone surveys of more than 600 district registered voters, about 84 percent supported building a new school, she said.

Manuel Guajardo Jr. Elementary School, 2300 21st St., in Texas City, was built in 1957 and needs renovations to meet code and instructional needs, she said. The cost of renovation would be about $13.1 million, whereas building a new campus would cost about $25.7 million, Courville said. About 68 percent of registered voters surveyed supported building a new school, she said.

The board also recommended constructing a new La Marque Elementary School, 1217 Vauthier, which would cost about $24.4 million, she said. The school sustained damage during Hurricane Harvey and had existing problems, which were estimated to cost $25.6 million to repair, she said.

About 86 percent of registered voters surveyed recommended building new instead, Courville said.

La Marque Middle School, 1431 Bayou Road, was also damaged during Harvey and had previous damage from its age and deferred maintenance, she said. The cost of a new school was estimated at $44.5 million, compared to $30.5 million for repairs, she said. About 77 percent of registered voters surveyed preferred building new, she said.

The committee also recommended districtwide safety and security measures totaling about $6.5 million, which 87 percent of registered voters surveyed supported, Courville said.

Campuses across the district were in need of roof repairs and new parking areas, the committee found. Those costs were estimated at $9 million and had overwhelming support from registered voters surveyed, she said.

The final recommendation by the committee was for a districtwide technology initiative, which would provide every student in the district in seventh through 12th grades with a computer, she said. About 84 percent of registered voters surveyed supported that initiative, she said.

La Marque Elementary School, La Marque Middle School and La Marque Primary School were flooded by Hurricane Harvey in late August 2017, forcing the district to find new classrooms for about 1,600 students.

Officials had hoped to get the repairs done quickly and resettle the students within weeks. But crews found more damage inside the schools than expected, Tortorici said.

The schools are more than 50 years old and, as construction crews worked to dry out the buildings, they found more and more things inside that needed to be repaired, Tortorici said.

The school board in October 2017 hired Robert Nicks, an associate professor at Lamar University, as a consultant to lead the advisory committee. In November 2017, the committee began meeting to review campuses across the district and see what needs they had.

The group met at least six times before drafting a recommendation and delivering it to the board Thursday night.

The state closed the La Marque Independent School District in 2016 and ordered it annexed by the Texas City district.