The city’s planning commission will take up land-use rules for development today as members review amendments to the document that have consensus among different parties and will be voted on by the city council later this month.
Proposals that have drawn criticism or objection in recent weeks and months will be postponed and part of a next review phase before the city council votes on whether to adopt those changes, officials said.
The Galveston Planning Commission today will discuss those changes and the comments the planning department has received on them, said Mayor pro tem Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, an ex-officio member of the planning commission, meaning she attends the meetings but can’t vote.
The city moved the meeting to the council chambers because it expects a big turnout for the public hearing and the public will be able to comment during the 3:30 p.m. meeting, she said. Before the meeting, the planning commission will hold a workshop to discuss the changes, she said.
Many changes to be voted on later this month are administrative, such as cleaning up or defining certain language, according to the planning department.
One area that could be voted on is a proposal to add “Neighborhood Services” as a new zoning designation, Tarlton-Shannon said. The new designation would allow a person seeking to open a business in an area that abuts a residential neighborhood and commercial zone to apply for a zoning designation other than commercial or resort, which are the current options, she said.
Sometimes, neighborhoods oppose businesses because they are worried about the commercial zoning that would come with it, she said. The worry is about the potential for a desirable business closing and being replaced by undesirable business, she said. She used an example of a beauty salon seeking to open in a property that abuts a commercial zone but is considered residential. The neighborhood might not oppose the salon itself, but might be concerned about the property being designated commercial, she said.
The neighborhood services designation would allow for more variation in what can be accepted, such as permitting only businesses that are open during daytime hours, she said.
“We desperately need it,” she said. “Being on council the longest and seeing businesses turned down because of those fears, I can understand the neighborhoods but at the same time it’s hard for the business owner.”
The city in March 2015 approved the Galveston Land Development Regulations, a complete overhaul of a 1991 zoning and land-use document.
In the time since the 2015 approval, city planning staff has been working on revisions and proposed amendments to the document.
Those revisions went before the planning commission last year and to city council in October 2017. The city held public meetings on the changes through December 2017.
The council had planned to vote on those changes, but pushed back the vote after a request from the chamber’s subcommittee for more time to review the changes.
Galveston City Council will vote on the proposals where there’s consensus on April 26 and revisit the issues about the document as a whole after that vote, he said.
The Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce and the city’s planning department have differed on some sections of the document, including setbacks for RV facilities, parking lots and language about sign standards, among other things, according to documents compiled by the planning department. Those proposals will be postponed for more discussion, officials said.
About 30 Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputies this week will practice car chases and other roadway encounters, all from the comfortable confines of a trailer in front of the department’s headquarters.
“This will give deputies a better idea of what they’re dealing with and what they can be up against while in their vehicles,” Sheriff Henry Trochesset said. “That’s part of the problem — we don’t really get to practice pursuits.”
The deputies trained Monday and were scheduled to continue today and Wednesday using a driving simulator from a risk management group sponsored by the Texas Association of Counties.
The opportunity to train deputies comes to the sheriff’s office free of charge, Trochesset said.
Any chance to give deputies more time behind the wheel, practicing specific encounters, whether in real life or via a simulator, will improve the quality of law enforcement, Trochesset said.
One study showed that more than 80 percent of law enforcement at-fault accidents came from employees who were on patrol for less than two years, Trochesset said.
“The more experience you have in a vehicle, on patrol, the more you learn and the less times you have an accident,” Trochesset said.
Of more than 684 law enforcement death cases between 2010 and 2014, traffic accidents accounted for the highest percentage of fatalities, according to a study by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
About 272 of the 686 total cases analyzed were traffic-related, according to the study.
“My goal is to use the driving simulator to reduce cost to the county by reducing collisions and injuries to county drivers,” said Don Courtney, a driving simulator consultant.
Deputies’ time is divided between an in-class portion of the training and the simulation practice, Courtney said.
Those who complete the training receive three hours toward defensive driving as well as state of Texas credit, Courtney said.
The simulator contains thousands of scenarios for deputies, ranging from pursuits to learning how to drive with disabled brakes, Courtney said.
Deputies using the simulator Monday followed a car suspected in a drive-by shooting and a stolen vehicle, among other scenarios.
Counties usually experience a 6-month decline in accidents after deputies train using the simulator, Courtney said.
“This is another reason why it’s beneficial for an agency to retain trained employees,” Trochesset said. “The more training hours and driving you have, or time spent with anything, really, it makes law enforcement officers better employees. You’ll have lower levels of accidents.”
Crews are slated to complete the decommissioning of a former floating nuclear reactor being dismantled in the city’s port by this summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in a recent letter.
The team working on the dismantlement recently completed removing the wall that surrounded the majority of the reactor pressure vessel, said Hans Honerlah, program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore district.
In all, more than a million pounds of waste have been removed from the vessel and transported to Waste Control Specialists’ disposal facility in Andrews County, according to the Army Corps.
“This is a significant milestone, leaving the last major removal being the removal of the remaining bottom portion of the larger Reactor Containment Vessel — which is the large vessel that contained the vast majority of the nuclear elements on the Sturgis,” Honerlah wrote in a March email to the Galveston City Council.
The team has been working on radiological surveys to prepare the barge for its ship-breaking in Brownsville, he said. More than 99 percent of the radioactive waste has been safely removed to date, Honerlah said.
“Environmental monitoring has been continuous since before the arrival of the Sturgis in Galveston and no evidence of radioactive material, lead or increased radiation exposure from the Sturgis has been documented outside of the reactor containment area to date,” he said.
After all of the radioactive materials have been removed, the team will access the hull bottom tanks to complete the required surveys to allow the vessel to be released for ship-breaking, he said. Ship-breaking refers to demolition of a ship.
The Sturgis arrived in Galveston in April 2015. The $36.4 million project to dismantle the barge, which was once used as a nuclear reactor to power facilities in Panama, sparked controversy among some residents before it began. However, there have been no reported environmental or health problems from the project since it began.
The Sturgis began its service as a World War II Liberty ship. In 1963, it was converted into a floating nuclear power station and outfitted with a nuclear reactor. The ship was eventually used to provide electricity for the Panama Canal Zone. The reactor was shut down in 1978 and had been kept in storage in Virginia until the corps decided to dispose of it.
Hitchcock city commissioners tonight will begin a line-by-line budget review in hopes of finding more savings amid a fiscal slump.
After a 3-2 vote in March to cut operating expenses by $860,000 to keep the city out of the red, Commissioner Monica Cantrell called for city officials to conduct the line-by-line review in search of more cuts.
Department overtime policies and specific departmental spending practices needed to be examined before staff cuts were made, Cantrell said.
About three departments had already used all of the overtime budget for the 2018 fiscal year, but Mayor Dorothy Childress said she would look into the policies and how that had happened.
The cuts were needed because the city is in a bad financial position, in part because officials have been drawing out of a fund balance at the same time that sales tax revenues have declined substantially, two consultants said in February.
City officials slashed department budgets by an average of 19 percent and eliminated two positions in the street department and four in the police department, among others, to reduce operating expenses by $860,000.
Cantrell and Commissioner Mark Cook opposed the cuts to police department staffing, insisting that the line-by-line budget review should be conducted before such decisions were made.
The $860,000 in cuts isn’t enough to solidify Hitchcock’s financial future, so city officials need to consider cuts through both methods, Childress said.
Consultants have said the city should eventually maintain expenses of about $3.5 million to $3.6 million in a given fiscal year. Commissioners on Aug. 21, 2017, approved a general budget of about $4.58 million in both total revenues and expenditures, according to documents.
Hitchcock ended the 2014 fiscal year with more than $2 million in its fund balance, but that number had declined to about $399,000 before the start of the current fiscal year, according to records.
The city in 2015 received about $2.38 million in sales tax revenue from the state comptroller’s office, records show. That number declined to $1.53 million in 2016 and down to $1.19 million in 2017, records show. That was about a 50 percent decline in two years.
To pass a balanced 2018 budget, city officials planned to cover about $690,000 in operating expenses with fund balance money, but had only $399,000 remaining, records show.
Crews are collecting a higher volume of brush and yard waste this spring in League City.
Freezing temperatures in January killed or damaged a substantial number of plants, adding to the extra piles of stems and branches, city officials said.
“Oleanders and certain types of palms seemed to have fared worst,” Assistant City Manager Bo Bass said.
Typical trimming and landscape maintenance that happens in spring creates more yard waste, but the dead fronds and bushes have increased the green waste.
To keep up with the extra debris, the city’s contractor Republic Waste Services scheduled extra pickups for green waste with a brush truck in addition to its regular trash pickups, the company said.
Both homeowners and business owners are generating more green waste this spring, Bass said.
The extra brush and yard trash could block drains and clog ditches, a concern for residents remembering and still recovering from Hurricane Harvey’s deluge and the resulting flood in late August.
“Green waste, including brush, that finds its way into the storm drainage system — whether through curb inlets into underground piping or in open roadside ditches — can obstruct stormwater flow,” Bass said.
Friendswood also is dealing with the spring ritual of collecting brush and yard waste.
To help that effort, the city’s annual Spring Sparkle event is April 14 at Friendswood’s Centennial Park, 2200 S. Friendswood Drive.
The cleanup event will accept tree limbs, grass clippings and wood, city spokesman Jeff Newpher said. Residents can also bring metal, appliances and plastic.
Staff won’t accept wet or moldy items or hazardous waste including tires, paint, batteries and oil, Newpher said.