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Galveston council eyes rules for stalled building projects

GALVESTON

The city council wants to clean up structures that are out of compliance with codes by requiring owners to prove they’ve done some work before they can renew building permits.

Many of these structures are out of compliance, but the city’s code enforcement department can’t require homes and businesses with city building permits to comply with all city codes during construction, city officials said.

It’s a problem the city council might try to fix this spring with an ordinance requiring people to pay the permit fee again after a specified period of time, an effort that will try to prevent properties from sitting for months and years without any work done, city officials said.

Right now, people can obtain a building permit that lasts six months, but can renew for another six months without paying the permit fee again, Executive Director of Development Services Tim Tietjens said.

“To date, what we’ve done is just literally call folks,” Tietjens said.

The concern arises when building permits are slapped on structures that are out of compliance with city code, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.

“The owner could go get a building permit to do renovations on the building, but there was never guidelines that said they had to move forward within a certain time,” Brown said.

The city wants to be accommodating to people who run into problems during construction projects, but at some point, they’ll have to draw the line, District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski said.

Listowski is also owner of building company HomeLife Builders.

“When there’s no work going on and it’s just sitting there in a state that doesn’t look good, the city needs to do something about that,” Listowski said.

District 3 Councilman David Collins has, like other council members, received significant complaints from residents in his district, he said.

“My concern is dumpsters,” Collins said. “They sit there forever.”

Dumpsters and other construction-related materials will stay in front of homes for months or years, he said.

One building at 3627 Broadway has been sitting in various stages of construction for years, Assistant Planning Director Catherine Gorman said.

The city first issued it a permit in May 2016, she said.

“We know the dates that things were issued and if we don’t have any inspections called in within a certain period of time, then they’re flagged,” Gorman said.

But determining which properties haven’t seen work in a long time is mainly a matter of getting complaints, she said.

The owner of the Broadway property couldn’t be reached Friday.

The problem of stagnant houses isn’t an uncommon one in Galveston, said Robert Zahn, president of the Galveston Association of Realtors.

To some extent, houses in inactive states of construction do affect home prices, he said.

“It is hard to sell a $400,000 house in between two houses that are falling down,” Zahn said.

But this is just a problem that’s just part of being in Galveston, he said.

“We’re such an idiosyncratic little town,” Zahn said.

The city will have to develop a plan to encourage people to finish building projects, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“This is getting to be too much and I’m getting inundated with complaints,” Maxwell said. “Once the building permit’s gone, it becomes a code enforcement issue and we can go after them.”

Galveston might need to develop some new policies in order to address these concerns, Tietjens said.

“Not a lot of cities are doing much about this,” Tietjens said. “I think we might be setting some policy that others may be able to use.”

City staff could bring a proposed new set of rules to city council for consideration as early as April.


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Viva Mardi Gras

Revelers and participants alike celebrated Hispanic culture and heritage Sunday during the 3rd annual Fiesta Gras Day at Mardi Gras in Galveston. Mardi Gras continues next weekend with more parades, parties and beads.


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Sea turtle population on the rebound, researchers say

GALVESTON

There might be some good news for sea turtles with a study released last week that shows numbers across some U.S. populations are increasing anywhere from 13 percent to 284 percent a year.

The study, published by the nonprofit Public Library of Science, shows that the Texas population of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which was counted at less than 50 in 1980, had increased to about 200 turtles by 2010, according to the study.

That’s great news, said Joanie Steinhas, program director of the Gulf Coast Turtle Island Restoration Network. But there’s still a lot to be done before the Texas state sea turtle should be taken off the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list, she said.

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is endangered and was listed in 1970, according to the federal list.

“They’re still the most critically endangered sea turtle,” Steinhaus said. “The work needs to continue.”

Researchers Abel Valdivia, Shaye Wolf and Kieran Suckling began working on the study in 2015 when all three worked at the Center for Biological Diversity, Valdivia said.

Valdivia now works with Rare, an international conservation nonprofit.

The researchers looked at five species of sea turtles in eight different geographic populations. Of the eight populations, six showed significant increases in abundance, Valdivia said.

“Most of the threat that these sea turtles and marine mammals have in the open ocean is big fisheries,” Valdivia said. “It is a major threat in this population.”

The study also looked at 23 marine mammal populations, of which 18 showed significant increases, according to the study.

Regulations provided under the Endangered Species Act require people to use certain gear that allows sea turtles to escape, Valdivia said.

Annual numbers for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles fluctuate year over year because the turtles don’t nest every year, Steinhaus said.

In 2009, there were 49 registered nests in Texas, while in 2015, there were 171 nests, according to restoration network data.

But there’s still a huge number of factors preventing sea turtle population from fully rebounding, Steinhaus said.

Cold stunning, which refers to the hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to prolonged cold water temperatures, along with decreased seaweed can effect a population on a yearly basis, she said.

“They need to find a place in the seaweed to nest, to hide, food,” Steinhaus said.

Many Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nests also are found in Mexico, where drug activities can make it difficult for scientists to do their work, Steinhaus said.

In 2015, researchers registered more than 14,000 nests at the Rancho Nuevo nesting site in Mexico.

Educating the public also is critical to ensuring the populations survive, said Ben Higgins, sea turtle program manager at the Galveston National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office.

Because the numbers are increasing, people will be seeing turtles more often, he said.

“There’s lot of people that don’t even know there’s sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico,” Higgins said.

Public sentiment toward sustainable fishing practices also have helped push industries to be more conscious of the long-term effects of their techniques and equipment, Higgins said.

“You can get your gear checked before it goes out to make sure it’s tuned properly,” Higgins said. “People want to know that what they’re eating is caught sustainably.”

The study shows that sea turtle and other marine mammal populations can rebound significantly if given proper protections, Valdivia said.

But keeping these species on the endangered list will be critical to ensuring they get the protections needed to fully recover, he said.