The potential abandonment of public easements on Porretto Beach will head to Galveston City Council on Jan. 25, but the deciding factor could fall on how the council members approach the vote.
Is the abandonment about a controversial planned development on the land, or is it about the easements themselves and whether the city has any use for them?
City Manager Brian Maxwell said it should be the latter.
“You’re not supposed to use the abandonment process to dictate development,” Maxwell said.
Instead, Maxwell said it should be decided “solely on whether or not the city has an intended use of the property.”
Not everyone agrees. Galveston Planning Commission voted 4-3 on Tuesday to recommend that city council doesn’t abandon dozens of rights of way on Porretto Beach, between Sixth and 10th streets. Several of the people who voted not to abandon the rights of way cited their reasoning as being more about the public interest and the development that could result after an abandonment.
The rights of way on Porretto Beach have been the subject of community interest for more than a year. Sonya Porretto’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee Randy Williams is trying to sell the beach to pay off debtors and has signed an agreement with a private company for $6 million to purchase the land, with the rights of way included.
The city owns those rights of way but has said those were never intended to be used and that there is no intended use in the future.
The developer, WRCB L.P., is planning a multiuse boardwalk on the land. Some people have opposed the development’s potential environmental effects and because it might block beach views.
The city council should look at two steps when determining abandonment, City Attorney Don Glywasky said. Does the abandonment impede the traveling public and does the public have any use for this land? And does the abandonment have a community benefit?
The Planning Commission ultimately made its recommendation on the second question, Glywasky said.
“There has to be some evidence,” Glywasky said. “There was testimony about how this would benefit the public. They used their discretion to make a determination whether it was in the best interest.”
Maxwell said the community benefit aspect should deal with the rights of way themselves, not the planned development. Rights of way exist for the purpose of placing utilities or roads, he said.
“It’s getting mired up in community desire,” Maxwell said. “But in my mind, an abandonment should be based on whether a city needs that property for some intended use in the future.”
Michael Gaertner, the architect who is designing the development, said he felt the planning commissioners were subjective in their decision-making process.
“I guess to my way of thinking, the other commissioners voted their opinion of the project and not whether it falls in the criteria,” Gaertner said. “I think that your own personal opinion and your personal preference should not be a factor.”
Councilman Craig Brown, of District 2, was present for the planning commission vote and said that he doesn’t feel the commission voted in an incorrect manner.
“It seems like the planning commission was not against development,” Brown said. “It seemed that those planning commission members who were against the abandonment felt that location on the beach and on the sand required special attention other than just looking at normal development.”
Councilwoman Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, a nonvoting ex officio member of the planning commission, said she has always understood abandonment should be separate from conversations about development.
“Clearly, one side of the argument was about the development and the other side of the argument was about the abandonment,” Tarlton-Shannon said. “That’s the way I’ve been taught when you’re on planning commission. You’re supposed to look at the abandonment.”
The planning commission’s Tuesday decision has no bearing on the ultimate abandonment decision, which falls to Galveston City Council. The council will meet Jan. 25.