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Council gives initial OK to $450M development deal

LEAGUE CITY

Galveston County’s biggest city could soon be home to a massive $450 million commercial development, including four hotels, a convention center for a hockey team and a baseball team, restaurants and shops, among other businesses.

The League City council voted 6-0 Tuesday, with councilmen Dan Becker and Keith Gross absent, to approve a predevelopment agreement with Epicenter of League City LLC for the project.

“It is exciting,” Mayor Pat Hallisey said of the development. “If everything goes the way we hope it will go, we’ll be in good shape and be able to start generating additional revenues for the city.”

Tuesday’s predevelopment agreement comes about two months after city staff first broached the idea of moving the Chester L. Davis Sportsplex, which sits on about 56 acres alongside Interstate 45, to make way for the development.

Such a development has long been rumored for League City.

“We’re at a crucial point where we’re talking about $230 million in projects, but we also need new ballparks,” Councilman Nick Long said. “This kills two birds with one stone, so to speak. There’s no way we could pay for $35 million in new fields without this.”

As part of the agreement, the developer would fund the design and construction of a new sportsplex for the city on the growing western side of town on about a 100-acre site near the Bay Colony subdivision.

The new sportsplex would replace the current Chester L. Davis Sportsplex, which sits on prime real estate along Interstate 45 that would one day house the new development.

The Chester L. Davis Sportsplex is near the intersection of Interstate 45 and state Highway 96 in League City.

Builders couldn’t begin construction on the new development until the new sportsplex is constructed, city officials said.

The developer would fund the cost of construction for both the new sportsplex and the project along Interstate 45, but the city would help provide some benefits via House Bill 2445, city officials said.

The Texas Legislature approved House Bill 2445, which will allow League City to pledge the state’s portion of the hotel occupancy tax to help fund certain tourism-related improvements, such as a convention center, entertainment-related convention center facilities or hotel infrastructure. The bill went to the governor May 30, 2017, and was approved without his signature June 15, 2017.

League City officials have been working to secure a convention center and related businesses for more than a year, city officials said.

Hallisey in March, for instance, teased the idea of League City as an entertainment center without sharing details and praised legislators for passing bills that would help the city build a convention center.

Tuesday’s agreement is just the first in several steps before any actual construction begins, Councilman Hank Dugie said.

Now that the city has reached a predevelopment agreement, staff will work with the developer over the next several months toward a development agreement to be finalized perhaps by the end of January, officials said.

Once a final development agreement is signed, construction could begin as soon as 30 days later, officials said.


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Ike Dike plan released, corps now turns to details

GALVESTON

A new report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes massive public works projects that, if ever completed, would change the look of Galveston and surrounding areas drastically.

The Galveston seawall could be raised to as high as 26 feet, the report states. A ring levee might surround part of Galveston Island. As many as 10,000 structures on the mainland between state Highway 146 and the edge Galveston Bay might need to be raised, according to the report.

In broad strokes, the corps’ tentatively selected plan for a coastal barrier system proposes measures that could protect millions of people and billions of dollars in property from hurricane storm surges in the future. The report was released Friday, which also marked the start of a 75-day public comment period.

Not addressed in the corps’ report are finer but hugely important details that could shape public support for the massive project. How high will the wall be raised? Where will the levees be placed? Whose properties would be protected by the structure and whose would be left out?

The questions resonate loudly on Bolivar Peninsula, where the corps recommended 25 miles of levees and 2 miles of flood walls between High Island and the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry Landing.

Residents on the peninsula have long expected a barrier would be built, but the report has led to some head-scratching about how a storm-surge wall would be aligned.

“People didn’t really know what it was going to be, and they had a really different impression in their heads,” said Azure Bevington, a High Island resident who has organized a small group of people to collect information about the project.

Some people were under the impression the levee would run along the Gulf side, south of state Highway 87, Bevington said.

Others have heard a wall would be built along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, north of every house on the peninsula. Depending on the placement, a barrier could leave homes and businesses safe behind a wall, or just outside of it, she said.

A call to the corps didn’t lead to many answers, she said. She’s working on convincing the corps to hold a public information meeting on Bolivar Peninsula sometime in the coming months.

“I think we need to start speaking up,” she said

The corps was considering its options for more local meetings, a corps official said Tuesday.

Now that the report has been released, the corps is beginning the process of “optimizing” its recommendations, said Dr. Kelly Burks-Copes, the project manager for the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Study.

“We’re going to be looking at optimization of all the features,” she said. “That means the alignment, the heights and the widths of the features. All the way down the coast will need to be assessed with respect to cost and risk reduction.”

The process for researching and soliciting opinions on the final details of the plan is scheduled to take 20 months, Burks-Copes said. A final report on the coastal barrier isn’t scheduled to be released until 2021, and even after that it would take years to fund and construct all of the proposals included in the recommendation.

The tentative plan released Friday has a lot to chew on.

It contains some of the hallmarks of barrier plans other groups have proposed since Hurricane Ike devastated parts of Galveston County in 2008.

The plan calls for a sea gate between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, which would allow ships in and out of the Houston Ship Channel, but could be closed when a hurricane is moving through the Gulf.

The corps plan also includes gates at the mouths of waterways in the bay’s interior, such as Clear Creek and the Houston Ship Channel, similar to a plan Rice University researchers proposed as a less costly way to protect the most critical pieces of Houston-area infrastructure.

Both ideas have been modeled extensively by groups that have pushed for different versions of the barriers.

Less studied are other parts of report, which propose massive engineering projects apart from the signature sea gates.

Galveston’s seawall, which stands between 17 feet and 21 feet, would be raised to as high as 26 feet in spots, according to the report.

A ring levee and flood wall would encircle parts of Galveston Island and bisect the East and West Ends. It would require more than 50 gates where it crossed roads and railroads, a large, vertical gate in Offatts Bayou and three pump stations.

On the mainland, about 10,000 structures between state Highway 146 and the shores of Galveston Bay, which includes the unincorporated areas of Bacliff and Santa Fe, might need to be elevated as part of a mitigation program.

An appendix of the report, citing another study the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District completed in 2016, states the government would have to buy and replace an estimated 1,080 dwellings or businesses. The corps didn’t verify that estimate, however, according to its report.

Galveston and Galveston County leaders said they generally were pleased with the report, but needed more time to fully grasp what the corps is proposing. The report released Friday fills 442 pages, not including the 18 appendices.

Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said he expected there would be public, and sometimes passionate, disagreements about the parts of the plan.

“It’s going to be mixed,” Yarbrough said. “We’ll have to work through that.”

Yarbrough expected that some of the parts of the project would be approved faster than others, while the more controversial measures are delayed or debated.

“This isn’t going to be all in one big contract,” he said. “It will be phased in when money’s available and based on where there’s the most bang for the buck.”

Public input on such massive engineering projects is something the corps takes seriously, said Bob Gilbert, the chairman of the University of Texas Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. The agency usually takes care to solicit and gather public opinion, he said.

That’s important, particularly in cases in which some properties could be moved into flood plains by the construction of a levee or a wall.

“It would surprise me, or it would really be a concern, if somebody said ‘Oh, my gosh I had no idea this was going on,’” he said. “That shouldn’t happen.”

The corps is accepting comments on the coastal barrier study through Jan. 9. A public meeting is scheduled for Galveston on Dec. 12 at the Galveston Island Convention Center.


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Friendswood man gets 20 years in dealership shooting

A district court judge Tuesday sentenced a Friendswood man to the maximum 20 years in prison for shooting his manager at a Dickinson automobile dealership shop six times.

Joshua Allen Lee, 30, pleaded guilty in July to one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and elected to have Judge Michelle M. Slaughter, of the 405th District Court, assess his punishment, officials said.

Lee was charged in connection with the shooting of Michael Pavlas, of Alvin, in January.

Pavlas’ wife, Heather, Tuesday said the family was happy with the judge’s decision because it is the maximum sentence.

Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is a second-degree felony that carries a punishment range of two to 20 years in prison.

Pavlas survived the shooting and later returned to work at Gay Family Auto despite being shot six times with a large-caliber handgun during a dispute about Lee’s work hours, police said.

Pavlas, a father of two, has been a manager at the Gay Family Auto body shop in the 3000 block of Interstate 45 for about two years, his wife, Heather Pavlas, said.

The shooting happened on Pavlas’ birthday, according to state driver records.

Lee was apparently upset about the hours he had been assigned at work and fired multiple shots at Pavlas with a .357-caliber Ruger revolver, police said.


Courtesy 

Joshua Allen Lee


JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News  

Arbor Day Galveston event (copy)

Chef Mary Bass’ menu for the Arbor Day Galveston event will feature chicken piccata, wild rice with butternut squash, cranberries and pecans, and a harvest salad.


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Coming Friday

Galveston officials hope new measuring tools and technologies will help reduce the amount of water lost to an aged, leaky system.


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State agenda OK'd with division over police pension

GALVESTON

After delaying for a month, the Galveston City Council passed a legislative agenda that removed a previously drafted statement calling for a new structure for the police pension board makeup.

Passage Thursday of the city’s priorities in the upcoming Texas legislative session comes as discussions to reform the ailing pension for Galveston police officers have stalled.

The city council approved the agenda unanimously on the consent agenda.

The draft presented to the city council in September called for “fair and equitable representation” on the pension board, meaning three members appointed by the police and the city each.

A seventh member could be elected by the board or a third party, the previous draft agenda proposed.

The current board consists of four members appointed by the Galveston Municipal Police Association and three in the city.

The final agenda removed such language, instead lobbying state representatives to address board governance.

The agenda language is misleading and comes as city and pension board negotiations meet new sticking points in discussion, board Chairman Geoff Gainer said.

“It seems the city is pretending to negotiate, but lacking in good faith,” Gainer said. “If the city continues down this path of failing to negotiate in good faith, the board will have to consider litigation.”

The city has cited unequal representation on the board as one reason halting progress in revising the struggling police pension.

The pension board and city are trying to come to an agreement on the plan’s reform in advance of the session in January.

“If we don’t agree, it goes to Austin and ultimately, they make the decision,” City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

The city originally was considering a board proposal requiring a supermajority vote to change benefits, but focus from state pension board Chair Rep. Dan Flynn changed the city’s direction, Maxwell said.

State representatives indicated they would prefer fewer police-appointed positions on the board, Maxwell said.

The ideal board composition would remove any plan beneficiaries from the makeup, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

“I have a real problem with beneficiaries of the plan controlling the board,” Yarbrough said. “To me, there’s an inherent conflict of interest.”

The police pension board continues to remain interested in the compromise of requiring a supermajority to change benefits, Gainer said.

The board composition is just one of several points of contention as the police and city attempt to bring the plan back into amelioration.

The city also believes the age at which officers can draw pension should be raised, which the board disputes.

City staff must bring the negotiation progress before the city council at its November meeting, Maxwell said.