Whether it was driven by a bright blue pizza joint very near the sidewalk at 21st Street, or by deep deliberation by a committee of residents, a temporary ban on Broadway development has left some Galveston landowners on shaky ground.
For at least the next two months, building new structures is banned on most of the island’s main street. Galveston City Council passed a three-month moratorium in late May, and council expects it will have to extend the moratorium another three months come August.
City officials have said they hope to complete a study on the street’s design during the moratorium and implement design and construction rule changes. Uncertainty about the study and potential new rules is concerning, Broadway property owner Giovannina D’Ambra said.
“I have no idea what restrictions they’re studying,” D’Ambra said. “With my property, it’s kind of in their hands.”
A month of moratorium has been enough to harm business on the largely commercial street, general contractor John Listowski said.
“I’ve seen how the moratorium has slowed down business and people’s interest in Broadway,” Listowski said. “I’ve got clients that have backed out of sales of real estate because they are just unsure of what’s going to happen with the moratorium.”
D’Ambra owns an undeveloped lot on Broadway. She was going to sell to a developer but said she is now doubtful that a sale would go through.
“I’m not going to sell now,” D’Ambra said. “I still have it for lease at this time, but I just don’t know what’s going to happen with it. It’ll definitely affect the property.”
Frank Benavidez, a business owner who bought property on Broadway three years ago, isn’t too concerned, however. He wasn’t expecting to start renovations on his building for another few months, he said.
“We just want to move forward,” Benavidez said. “This project is not going to make or break me.”
Broadway design standards aren’t a new concept for city officials. “Beautifying Broadway” and enacting stricter guidelines on the street have been in the discussion for decades, with little progress.
The city made its biggest step when the city council in 2015 passed a series of design guidelines for new buildings on the street. The council later formed a committee seeking to amend those guidelines, however.
Councilwoman Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, of District 5, said she was against passing the 2015 guidelines and did not support the current moratorium either. Tarlton-Shannon abstained from voting on the measure in May, because she owns a business on Broadway.
“We’re voting on things too quickly and too fast without giving the time for public input,” Tarlton-Shannon said.
Tarlton-Shannon has since created the Broadway Business Alliance, in part to be more involved in discussions about development on the street.
Councilman Mike Doherty, of District 4, said the moratorium shouldn’t cause significant harm to businesses.
“I don’t think the amount of time we’re talking about on the moratorium is going to affect business that much,” Doherty said. “It’s time to step back and really look at this and say, ‘Is this what we really want in our community?’”
The blue building
Officials argue the moratorium came about from a committee’s recommendation, but say the driving force behind the ban was dissatisfaction with a building that complies with the 2015 guidelines — the Domino’s Pizza at 21st Street and Broadway. Many people were dissatisfied, especially with the color and how close the building is to the street, which also is lined with historic properties.
Seeing the design guidelines in the flesh, so to speak, played a part in the moratorium, Tarlton-Shannon said.
“Domino’s has everything to do with it,” Tarlton-Shannon said.
Doherty and Councilman Craig Brown, of District 2, both said the Domino’s building didn’t push forward the moratorium. The building is an example of how the guidelines are working, however, Brown said.
“It shows that the guidelines at that point were not as complete at the time,” Brown said. “Domino’s I think does bring up a visual example of what the guidelines were and possibly what we would like to see.”
The Domino’s building was approved under the city’s existing rules before it was erected, a Domino’s spokesman said.
“The team involved in this new store has confirmed that they submitted plans, including the outside paint color, in advance of construction and they were all approved by local officials,” Domino’s spokeswoman Jenny Fouracre said.
The Domino’s was a “basis” of the moratorium’s passing, said Al Fichera, who sold the land to the developer who built the pizzeria. Ultimately, any dissatisfaction is Galveston’s fault, he said.
“If they don’t like it, they need to blame the city of Galveston,” Fichera said.
“For god’s sake, it’s food,” Fichera said. “You’re not selling heroin over here. It just amazes me.”
The Domino’s building is the latest example of building regulations not working out to people’s satisfaction, Listowski said.
“It seems like people don’t like the product that the regulations produced, and now people want to change the regulations,” Listowski said. “This isn’t something that hasn’t been thought about in the past. It continues to come up when people don’t like the product that is produced.”