A controversial request for the abandonment of several dozen rights of way at Porretto Beach will go to the Galveston City Council on Thursday for what could be the last time.
Randy Williams, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee trying to sell the beach front property, has been stuck in a holding pattern as the council has debated and deferred variations of the abandonments for almost a year.
Williams has said he doesn’t have faith the rights of way will be abandoned, however. But abandonment is key to completing a $6 million deal to sell the beach. And if the city council’s vote is unfavorable to his position, Williams’ next steps are unclear, he said.
“At this point, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Williams said. “Anything’s possible right now.”
Williams could potentially put the beach on the auction block, or the property could go through foreclosure, he said.
Williams also has threatened to sue the city over the ownership of 10 of the rights of way. Although the city council voted to turn them over to the Porretto family in 1978, the city hasn’t found any proof the legal documentation was filed to make the transaction official.
All of those are still options, said Williams, who has no order to sell the property by a certain date.
The Porretto Beach abandonments have been the subject of heated public debate. Although the beach is privately owned, opponents have criticized abandoning the city rights of way because it would give away the city’s last claim to the beach.
Many opponents are unhappy about developer WRCB L.P.’s pending $6 million purchase, which could make way for a planned multiuse boardwalk development on the beach front. Opponents of such development worry about blocked views and the proposed development’s vulnerability to hurricanes. There’s also a large contingent of islanders who oppose any development on beaches.
It’s not very often buyers have a chance to purchase a private beach — at least not in Texas, where public access for the most part is protected by law.
The 9.75 acres of beach between Sixth and 10th streets — dubbed Porretto Beach Classic — has long been an unusual piece of property and subject of two decades of disputes between owners and Texas General Land Office, which oversees public beaches. In July 2015, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the land office didn’t own the property, making it more attractive to potential buyers. Most of Galveston’s beaches are owned by the state and managed by the Park Board of Trustees.
The Porretto family has owned the beach since the 1950s. Sonya Porretto, the current owner, in 2009 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows companies to reorganize. Two years later, a judge ordered her case be changed to Chapter 7, so that her assets, including the beach land, could be liquidated and the proceeds used to pay creditors.
Like Williams, Michael Gaertner, the architect planning the boardwalk development, doesn’t know what to expect from city council’s pending vote about abandonments.
“No one can predict what they’re going to do,” Gaertner said.
If the beach were to be auctioned, Williams said he’s unsure whether it would be sold for more than a few hundred thousand dollars.
“Nobody’s going to pay $6 million for it,” he said.
The court wouldn’t likely approve a sale below $1 million, given that Rosemary Porretto has successfully claimed to the court she’s owed at least that amount for the beach, Williams said.
The city owns the rights of way but has never intended to use them. The city’s position that it has no intention to use the rights away is usually enough reason to agree to abandon them, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
Galveston Planning Commission on Jan. 9 recommended not to approve the abandonment of dozens of rights of way on Porretto Beach, between Sixth and 10th Streets. The commission’s vote is solely a recommendation and has no bearing on whether the abandonments occur, city planning officials have said.