It’s hard not to agree with bankruptcy trustee Randy Williams’ assessment of news this week that Scenic Galveston is interested in buying Porretto Beach and making it public.
Williams, who’s working to sell the land for $6 million to a private developer, said the environmental group’s statement of interest in the land was theater for what’s expected to be a heated meeting of the Galveston City Council today.
“It’s all a show for the next city council meeting,” said Williams, who’s charged with liquidating the assets of Sonya Porretto’s estate, and paying off her creditors.
The timing certainly was interesting, considering debate about Porretto Beach, the proposed development and whether the city should abandon some rights of way on the beach have been going on — raging at times — for more than two years.
None of this has been a secret.
There’s no doubt the group’s offer adds a new level of pressure on the city council to keep the rights of way, rather than cede them to a group of adjacent property owners interested in developing a boardwalk with residences, retail and restaurants.
Williams also dismissed the group’s interest by saying it doesn’t have the financial means to buy the land.
Some opponents of the boardwalk project no doubt hope that if they can kill the $6 million deal the land will become available for far less than that.
The highest and best use of that land may very well be as public beach, but the city council has to consider some realities other than that. Council members who plan today to vote against releasing the rights of way should be prepared, for example, to explain the legal alchemy that would allow them to use a right of way as a zoning tool or a land development regulation.
That’s exactly what opponents of abandonment are proposing. Maybe that can be done legally, but it’s going to take more than two rather vague words — “community benefit” — to make that argument convincing.
Even if those two words do, in general, provide a bridge substantial enough to carry the weight of a governmental decision to encumber private property and deny property owners the full legal use of their land, questions remain.
Who’s the “community” here? Has the council measured it? How big is this community? Is it anything like a majority? And what is the “benefit?” Is there wide agreement that the greatest benefit lies in keeping the rights of way? How has the council determined that?
This is a classic lose-lose situation for the council. The best it can do is carefully follow the law and take care not to mistake what people wish the law allowed with what the law actually demands.
• Michael A. Smith