Several seawall landowners have joined in an effort to get the city of Galveston to abandon several rights of way on the beach front so a developer can move forward with a controversial boardwalk project on the land, according to documents obtained by The Daily News.
The requests for abandonment are the latest and most revealing developments in the Porretto Beach saga, which involves a bankruptcy trustee’s efforts to sell one of the few known privately owned beaches in the state.
Three beach-front property owners teamed up with Randy Williams, the trustee of Sonya Porretto’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate, in the request filed with the city Wednesday.
The three property owners are Sidhartha Sen, who owns the former Seawall Hut on the seaward side of Eighth Street and Seawall Boulevard; James H. Angle III, who owns two lots near Seventh Street and Seawall Boulevard, formerly called Howard’s Souvenirs; and Ted B. Miller, the partner of Texas South Beach Ltd., which owns two lots near Seventh and Eighth streets.
The request for abandonment includes 10 rights of way that Williams had already asked the city to abandon, as well as 25 others neighboring the four applicants’ properties.
The rights of way are all on or near Porretto Beach, between Sixth and 10th streets. If the abandonments are granted, the developer could potentially use up to 10 acres to build the boardwalk, which is planned to have parking, retail, restaurants and residential uses, architect Michael Gaertner said.
“The idea is to do a single, integrated development that as much as possible fills the property that’s there,” Gaertner said.
Sen, Miller and Angle did not respond to requests for comment.
Williams and others working to sell the beach claim that the original 10 rights of way were abandoned in 1978, when Galveston City Council passed an ordinance abandoning them to Henry Porretto. No documents have been found proving that the necessary plats were filed to make the transaction official.
The council on Dec. 14 is set to have a second public hearing and a vote on whether the abandonment of the 10 rights of way actually occurred. If the abandonment is recognized, Gaertner said he will file an amendment to the newest abandonment requests and remove the 10 rights of way from it. If it isn’t recognized, the landowners will start from scratch and bring all 35 of the rights of way to Planning Commission and then Galveston City Council, Gaertner said.
“Many people who were opposed to the city releasing the easements from 1978 expressed concern that the process wasn’t followed,” Gaertner said. “There were additional easements we were asking to have abandoned, so it really did not cause much extra work to include the 1978 release of easements with the current ones so that no one can say that it didn’t follow the process.”
The controversy at its core centers on the proposed mixed-use project on the land and islanders are opposed to that for various reasons, including the possibility that the development will block the public’s views of the beach.
Williams has also been negotiating with Miller on the sale of Porretto Beach, he said. Miller, a Houston businessman, is offering $6 million for the beach property, Williams said.
Trustee Randy Williams had formerly entered a deal with a company called Galveston LLC, which also had offered $6 million. The Daily News had been reporting that Galveston LLC was still the buyer, but Williams in late 2016 entered an agreement with a new company, WRCB L.P., for the property, he said.
Galveston LLC backed out of the deal because it was held up in a dispute about whether the city of Galveston will surrender some rights of way, Williams said.
In a copy of the real estate sales contract, Miller is listed as the contact for WRCB L.P. and the broker for the sale.
Miller was a partner in the company Texas South Beach Ltd., which has had a height variance permit to build on one of the neighboring plots of land.
No plans have changed on the Porretto Beach development since Miller became the buyer, Williams said.
“He has the wherewithal that he wants to buy something for $6 million,” Williams said. “Nothing has changed as far as what the development was going to be.”
The four requests for abandonment also unveiled more details on the proposed project. The boardwalk will include one or two levels of parking and one to four levels of retail, restaurant and residential use buildings of lightweight steel or wood frame, the documents show.
Gaertner, the architect for the development, said he also plans to include several walkways from the seawall to the beach. The buildings would include toilet facilities, showers and changing facilities for the public, the documents show.
The Seawall Hut is the only existing structure currently on the land. All of the four landowners will be involved in some way, whether their land is specifically used for the boardwalk or not, Gaertner said. That could mean a neighboring structure, he said.
Gaertner previously said none of the buildings in the project would exceed 69 feet in height, which is the maximum height a developer can build on the seawall without violating the city’s height and density rules.
“Most of Porretto Beach was parking,” Gaertner said. “The plan is just to have a higher and better use for the part that was parking. My dream is shops and restaurants and entertainment and all kinds of wonderful things that you’d find along any traditional boardwalk, which Galveston is lacking.”
No actual development is expected to occur unless and until the city of Galveston transfers 10 rights of way on the beach to Williams.
Williams has threatened to sue the city over the rights of way, and he and others working to sell the property have claimed the property had belonged to the Porrettos since 1978.
Galveston city attorneys have entered mediation talks with Williams. The mediation agreement sets out steps to settle the issue and specifies that the rights of way would be abandoned only if the trustee deeds the city 100 percent of Porretto Beach West, a few blocks from Porretto Beach. That land is valued at about $160,000, City Attorney Don Glywasky has said.
Rights of way are only used to signify where roads or utilities may be placed. City Manager Brian Maxwell said he doesn’t think the city ever had the intention to use the rights of way.
“I can’t speak for when the original plat was done,” Maxwell said. “I don’t believe there’s been a plan, since the seawall’s been built, to put any roads or utilities there.”
While the development itself has been controversial, Williams pointed out that it isn’t guaranteed to happen.
“Clearly acquiring the property is just one step in the process,” Williams said. “Then they’d have to actually have the money to do any development.”
The development and buyer aren’t of any real importance to Williams, he said. After several years working to liquidate Sonya Porretto’s estate, Williams said he just wants to sell the property.
“I’m kind of left here shaking my head,” Williams said. “Whoever they are, wherever they are, to me it’s can I get it sold?”