A controversial request for the abandonment of several dozen rights of way at Porretto Beach will go to the Galveston City Council on Thursday for what could be the last time.

Randy Williams, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee trying to sell the beach front property, has been stuck in a holding pattern as the council has debated and deferred variations of the abandonments for almost a year.

Williams has said he doesn’t have faith the rights of way will be abandoned, however. But abandonment is key to completing a $6 million deal to sell the beach. And if the city council’s vote is unfavorable to his position, Williams’ next steps are unclear, he said.

“At this point, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Williams said. “Anything’s possible right now.”

Williams could potentially put the beach on the auction block, or the property could go through foreclosure, he said.

Williams also has threatened to sue the city over the ownership of 10 of the rights of way. Although the city council voted to turn them over to the Porretto family in 1978, the city hasn’t found any proof the legal documentation was filed to make the transaction official.

All of those are still options, said Williams, who has no order to sell the property by a certain date.

The Porretto Beach abandonments have been the subject of heated public debate. Although the beach is privately owned, opponents have criticized abandoning the city rights of way because it would give away the city’s last claim to the beach.

Many opponents are unhappy about developer WRCB L.P.’s pending $6 million purchase, which could make way for a planned multiuse boardwalk development on the beach front. Opponents of such development worry about blocked views and the proposed development’s vulnerability to hurricanes. There’s also a large contingent of islanders who oppose any development on beaches.

It’s not very often buyers have a chance to purchase a private beach — at least not in Texas, where public access for the most part is protected by law.

The 9.75 acres of beach between Sixth and 10th streets — dubbed Porretto Beach Classic — has long been an unusual piece of property and subject of two decades of disputes between owners and Texas General Land Office, which oversees public beaches. In July 2015, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the land office didn’t own the property, making it more attractive to potential buyers. Most of Galveston’s beaches are owned by the state and managed by the Park Board of Trustees.

The Porretto family has owned the beach since the 1950s. Sonya Porretto, the current owner, in 2009 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows companies to reorganize. Two years later, a judge ordered her case be changed to Chapter 7, so that her assets, including the beach land, could be liquidated and the proceeds used to pay creditors.

Like Williams, Michael Gaertner, the architect planning the boardwalk development, doesn’t know what to expect from city council’s pending vote about abandonments.

“No one can predict what they’re going to do,” Gaertner said.

If the beach were to be auctioned, Williams said he’s unsure whether it would be sold for more than a few hundred thousand dollars.

“Nobody’s going to pay $6 million for it,” he said.

The court wouldn’t likely approve a sale below $1 million, given that Rosemary Porretto has successfully claimed to the court she’s owed at least that amount for the beach, Williams said.

The city owns the rights of way but has never intended to use them. The city’s position that it has no intention to use the rights away is usually enough reason to agree to abandon them, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

Galveston Planning Commission on Jan. 9 recommended not to approve the abandonment of dozens of rights of way on Porretto Beach, between Sixth and 10th Streets. The commission’s vote is solely a recommendation and has no bearing on whether the abandonments occur, city planning officials have said.

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter at @sam_kett



(11) comments

Kelly Naschke

If the council members remove all personal bias and follow the law, this decision will make itself. This has turned into an issue of emotion and opinion. Simple solution.....follow the law.

Ellen Morrison

Then that would be voting to retain the easements, based upon the 2-prong methodology exposed by the City Attorney, Mr. Don Glywalsky (apologies if I misspelled his name).

Bill Cochrane

Terrilyn Tarlton,
Please vote to abandon the city right of ways of on the Perrotto beach issue.
Fact is, the city gave up the right of ways many years ago, they just "can't find" the paperwork.
And, the city administrators admit there is absolutely no reason the city
will ever need the rights of way.
Some say that it is the citizen’s property and should not be given away. WRONG. The property is NOT public. It is owned by the Perrotto family.
This is not a right of way issue. It is not about the “VIEW”.
It is about development. Since this vote is probably the most important you will make in your last term, please vote your conscience and vote to allow development is this otherwise pitiful area of the seawall, both north and south.

Ron Binkley

"Opponents of such development worry about blocked views"........This is a weak excuse that everybody in every city and town uses and it is rarely valid. If I built a 30 story condo with a great view you can be sure another bigger condo building will eventually be built blocking my great view. I've seen dozens of times on the West End a beach house is built right in front of another beach house blocking it's view. It has to d with land rights. The right thing for the city to do is officially abandoned the right of away and let the developer built something that will hopefully make Galveston proud and bring in a lot of tax money that we all will benefit from. If the abandonment goes through, will someone PLEASE make duplicate copies and save them in the cloud, safety deposit box or in an old mayonnaise jar under the Mayor's house so we never have this issue again?

Bill Broussard

If the abandonment goes through you can safely bet we will have the very same issue again. Every developer who could care less about surge protection and Seawall integrity will be in front of council demanding abandonment as their right by precedent or they’ll sue

I have a very difficult time understanding how the acoe would even consider permitting this construction just as congress is about to sign away billions in flood mitigation for Galveston to the Corps. Seems totally outrageous to permit construction just in front of a Seawall that’s going to get billions more to finish it out. This is not just a bunch of plywood like the bamboo hut and subject to a quick wash over

Bill Cochrane

Bill, Since you have been made privy of the developers plans, would you mind sharing where I could take a look? I may change my mind?

Lisa Blair

Bill, look at the Planning Commission agenda section on the city’s website. January 9th. The staff report contains a preview of the plans for the project.

Bill Cochrane

Lisa, I found the information. Broussard is correct in that it "is not a bunch of plywood like the Bamboo Hut". But that's a GOOD thing. This is going to be a world class boardwalk and development. Worth millions in property tax revenue and sales tax and hotel tax going to the City of Galveston. It is crazy that even the sight police are against it. It's going to be beautiful.

Lisa Blair

I think so too. 😊

Don Schlessinger

Bill, if that's what you think you probably need to replace the tobacco in your pipe. IMHO. That's a joke ladies.

Bill Broussard

I think we have much more important concerns than “sight police” by a very big margin and to say it’s sight police is simply a very poor attempt to demean and minimize. That’s like if I said “ that’s what GALVESTON needs, one more dollar store” as a rediculous way to demean a much broader development plan. It’s certianly much more than a dollar store and construction in front of the Seawall is much more than “sight police” just how much more money does this town need before we’ve mortgaged the quality of living here for traffic and storm jeopardy? Seems to me we are doing very well compared to the seventy years I’ve lived here before. More taxes? All I see in Bonn’s debt and huge salaries for an overstuffed city hall. Sorry but sight police is pure bs

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