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New development to replace oak trees with canal


The recurring theme of development versus oak trees continues to vex some League City residents and officials.

Recently, Councilman Greg Gripon and many residents were calling for change in the city’s tree ordinance after the Clear Creek Independent School District got permission to cut down a 110-year-old oak tree at League City Elementary School to make way for a parking lot.

In another part of town, 18 mature oak trees must go to make room for a canal in a new waterfront subdivision, the developer said. That plan and other aspects of the development have renewed calls for a tightening of the city’s tree ordinance.

Joe Watson, who is developing Town Harbour Estates on Clear Lake near Lakeside Drive in eastern League City, said loss of the trees would be regrettable but necessary. Moving them was not an option, he said.

“It’s not economical,” Watson said Thursday during a parks board meeting.

The board approved the park plans for the subdivision in a 5-2 vote. President Vaness Hamilton and board member Joanna Dawson voted against it. The five who voted to approve the plan were Jay Williams, Chad Tressler, Sebastian Lofaro, Garet L. Nenninger and Sandra Kelly.

The park plan next goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission and then to the city council.

Town Harbour Estates, a planned unit development, is following the city’s tree ordinance and proposes planting enough trees to make up for the old oaks it will cut down, city staff said.

The plans call to cut down about 500 inches of trees. The number comes from adding the circumferences of the trunks of the targeted trees. In accordance with the city tree ordinance, the developer will plant 630 inches of new trees.

But the new trees will be small, some only 3 inches in circumference, while many of the trees being demolished are 21 inches to 26 inches in circumference. The largest oak tree is more than 30 inches in circumference, Watson said.

The larger, older trees are close to the shore and near an old, overgrown road marked on maps as Oak Road, board member Lofaro said.

But the trees have to go to make room for a 143-foot, man-made canal, Watson said.

Town Harbour Estates will be a gated community with 73 to 75 lots on 37 acres, said Mark Linenschmidt, a senior planner with the city.

A 37-acre subdivision would require about almost an acre in parkland, Linenschimdt said. Town Harbour Estates far exceeds that requirement by planning a total of 3.75 acres of park space for recreational use, he said.

But much of the space would be thin borders on the edges of the development, according to maps depicting the plans.

The Parks Board and city staff could rewrite parts of the master park plan to close the loophole of counting thin spaces in the future, city staff said.

It’s not the only loophole board members want to close.

“The loss of historic oak trees in League City has to come to an end,” park board member Sandra Kelly said.

There is very little reason to ever destroy a heritage or historic oak tree that is more than 100 years old, she said.

“We have to balance between development, progress and the preservation of our history and natural environment,” Kelly said. “League City is known to be the city of oak trees. It is our identity. It is important that we readdress the tree ordinance immediately to keep this travesty from happening again.”

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Private schools differ in approach to school safety

While much of the conversation after last month’s Parkland, Fla., shooting has been about how to improve safety at public schools, several private schools also are reviewing their own procedures.

“What we’ve done is review our emergency plan and made sure our students and staff understand it,” said Laura Noonan, principal at St. Mary’s Catholic School in League City. “We’ve also done active shooter training.”

After Nikolas Cruz, 19, shot and killed 17 students and teachers on Valentine’s Day at his former school — Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — parents, politicians and community members across the nation have weighed in on how to prevent mass shootings.

Private schools are working through many of the same procedures public school districts are, but life at a smaller institution has some inherent differences, officials said.

“The statistics going back to Columbine show that it’s usually not really an outside shooter or bad guy,” said Mark Ravelli, the head of school at Trinity Episcopal School in Galveston. “It’s someone inside, who knows the community — whether it’s someone with marital problems, or who was let go or a student who wasn’t treated properly.”

Keeping tabs on large public school district populations can be a tough task, Ravelli said.

“We have a handle because of the smallness,” Ravelli said. “Every person knows every person. And that does help. It allows us to keep a good radar.”

Trinity Episcopal officials have created weekly student groups that meet to discuss issues and concerns and go over safety procedures, Ravelli said.

But the school also has started locking individual classrooms while in session, Ravelli said.

“It’s good — the kids aren’t wandering,” Ravelli said. “Everyone knows where everyone is. There are locks for a reason. This just makes things one step easier.”

As a matter of policy, private schools in Texas seem divided about what changes should be made to make students safer.

“Private schools need every possible tool in the toolbox to make sure that each individual campus is safe so that students can come to school ready to learn and not fearful of potential violence,” said Laura Colangelo, the executive director of the Texas Private Schools Association, in praise of a recent piece of legislation.

House Bill 867, which was passed in the 85th Texas Legislative Session, allows charter schools and private schools to have one person per 200 students carry a handgun after training.

That person can’t carry a gun if they have regular contact with students, records show.

While the private school association praised the decision, representatives with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and county Catholic schools said they wouldn’t be arming teachers.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Noonan said.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has a policy banning guns from schools, said JoAnn Zuniga, a spokeswoman for the group.

“Part of being prepared is being proactive,” Noonan said. “We practice drills with students and remind them about safety. We want them to be aware of their surroundings. The most important thing is to know who is coming in and out of school and make sure people are aware of what security measures are in place and how to use them.”

Transit planners seeking input for 20 years of projects

The organization in charge of planning regional transportation projects in Houston and surrounding areas, including Galveston County, is asking for the public’s help in developing a 20-year plan on how it will help people move around.

Starting this week, the Houston-Galveston Area Council will begin holding meetings about its 2045 Regional Transportation Plan, a long-range plan focusing on transportation projects that will recognize traffic needs, goals and strategies over the next 20 years.

A 20-year plan for transportation is needed because of the expected continued growth in and around Houston, officials said.

That’s because, by 2045, the Houston-Galveston region will be home to nearly 11 million people, the council estimates.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council coordinates transportation planning for the eight-county region that includes Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties.

The plan will encompass projected population and employment growth so traffic options for residents can improve, said Patrick Mandapaka, Houston-Galveston Area Council assistant director. The council directs millions of dollars in grants to transportation projects and initiatives annually. Among other things, the council helps fund road paving and widening projects, subsidizes public transportation and grants money to bicycle transportation initiatives.

“The long-range plan will assess demographic trends and transportation demand, forecast future demand for regional mobility, estimate available funding and track progress toward system performance targets,” he said.

There will be an official analysis conducted to determine the cost of the long-range plan, Mandapaka said. This estimate will be included in the final draft of the plan in the fourth quarter of 2019.

There also is an emphasis on protecting the environment and focusing on air quality in the plan, Mandapaka said.

A vital part of this development process will be hearing feedback from residents and acquiring knowledge on ways the plan can strengthen, Mandapaka said.

“We want to engage in a two-way conversation with our residents, our businesses, elected officials and all stakeholders at public meetings,” he said. “The meetings will be organized as an open-house style meeting where attendees can talk with us and learn about how the plan process works and then provide feedback.”

The council has 12 meetings planned over the next two months to gather public input on the plan. Five of the 12 meetings are advertised to gather input from Harris County residents.

There was a specific reasoning for placing meetings in Harris County, said Meagan Coughlin, public outreach director.

“We want to do the best that we can and we cover eight counties,” she said. “We wanted to ensure we had a public meeting at every county. We do have a couple more in Harris County just because it’s our largest area.”

The only Galveston County-specific meeting is scheduled to be held at the Helen Hall Library in League City on April 24, according to the council’s website.

Galveston County is a focus in the transportation plan as the county continues to acquire residents each year.

Since 2010, more than 18,000 residents have moved to League City, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.

The proposed plan will need residential opinions so that it can be upgraded and enhanced, Coughlin said.

“We want everyone to attend the meetings,” she said. “There’s no waiting list and people will come in and will be able to have a two-way dialogue. Just to be able to receive feedback on people’s concerns is the best part when we are able to get solutions from our stakeholders.”

The feedback collected at these series of meetings will be used in the development of the proposed plan, Mandapaka said.

“The next phase will include identifying transportation priorities and needs, developing performance measures for the plan and identifying the investment priorities,” he said. “This process will take about a year to develop the draft plan.”

County to consider lighting Bolivar ball field


County commissioners on Monday will consider giving the go-ahead to a long-awaited project to add lights to a baseball field at Bolivar Peninsula’s Gregory Park.

Commissioners will vote on awarding contracts to two companies — Crescent Electrical and C.F. McDonald Electric — to complete $113,880 in work at the park, according to documents provided in this week’s court agenda.

The work will include the installation of lights at the field, as well as fencing around the entire field and dugout. The companies will install six poles that will hold a total of 28 1,000-watt fights to shine down on the field, according to county documents.

The county put the project out to bid in February, but the work has been contemplated for a long time, said Galveston County Precinct 1 Commissioner Darrel Apffel, whose precinct includes the peninsula.

The project is funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency grants awarded to the county after Hurricane Ike in 2008, Apffel said. It has taken some time for the county to get project work sheets for the field approved, Apffel said.

The 15-acre Gregory Park was damaged by Hurricane Ike, and was not fully restored immediately after the storm. The county broke ground on new multipurpose ball fields at the park in 2012, but it has taken years for funding for the lights and fencing project to be approved, and there is currently little that resembles a baseball diamond at the site.

If the funding for the lighting is approved, Gregory Park would be the second ball field built back on the peninsula in two years. Last year, a private nonprofit group paid for the construction of a new filed in the Port Bolivar community.

“It’s a great, great victory and a cause for celebration for the children of the peninsula,” Apffel said.

He expected there to be some sort of event at the field when the lighting project is completed.

If approved, the lighting project is expected to be completed some time this summer, Apffel said.

Though nearly 10 years have passed since Hurricane Ike devastated Bolivar Peninsula and other parts of Galveston County, local governments are still working to complete recovery projects from that disaster. Officials often blame red tape for reasons for delays in funding. Apffel said Galveston County’s list was nearly done and that county officials have started to plan for projects funded through Hurricane Harvey-related grants.

“We’re down to the last few little things,” he said.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. today.