The city council should not abandon Galveston’s rights of way on Porretto Beach and neighboring properties because they may be useful in the future, and because the city should encourage conservation or low-impact development on this vulnerable beach between the seawall and the gulf.
City officials have been overeager to accommodate these abandonments, at first pushing to allow them with no compensation to the city, now urging the city council to consider only whether the city has immediate plans to use them, ignoring all other aspects of the public interest.
Without taking the project before the planning commission, city staff issued a beach front construction certificate here for “a large-scale commercial development for five elevated commercial buildings,” with beach-level parking, 40 percent of which can be concrete.
The trustee of the Porretto bankruptcy estate has a contract to sell Porretto Beach to a developer who owns adjoining property for $6 million if the trustee can obtain the rights of way and include them in the sale; he has said the private property won’t bring more than a few hundred thousand dollars without the public’s rights of way, which is a condition to the sale.
Galveston appraises its rights of way as isolated, irregularly-shaped easements rather than according to the value they add to neighboring property. As a result, the sales price to the city won’t reflect their real value, and the Porretto bankruptcy creditors and the developer will receive a windfall from the public.
City officials claim that these rights of way can be of no future use, but municipal easements are much broader in scope than private access easements. They confer the right to install not only streets and alleys, but also utilities above and below ground, landscaping, beach walkovers, emergency access, sidewalks, lighting, handicapped access, bicycle lanes and more. For decades, this property has been operated as a private beach with no need of public infrastructure, but that may change now that a bankruptcy has forced the sale of the property. Once the city abandons its rights of way, it cannot recover them, whether this particular sale closes or not.
Large-scale developers and real estate speculators are not the only potential purchasers of Porretto Beach. Small-scale developers content with the current footprint, nonprofits who want to conserve the beach, and the city itself are all potential purchasers, none of whom have a need to acquire the rights of way.
There are influential interests that will benefit financially if the city abandons these rights of way. The estate’s largest creditor is a local law firm that stands to collect millions from a contingent fee contract if this deal closes. The prospective purchaser has tried unsuccessfully for decades to obtain the abandonment of rights of way on his property adjoining Porretto Beach.
The lawyers and lobbyists they have hired to persuade the council to abandon the city’s property are promoting private interests at the expense of the public interest. Tell your council member and the mayor to preserve your rights of way on Porretto Beach on Thursday.