August 2015

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EZ-Line expansion nears completion

City to gain international company

Council encouraged to maintain lot size requirements

MEDC selects new president

AISD to seek bond approval

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EZ-Line expansion nears completion

August 5, 2015

 

E-Z Line, a Manvel company established in 1952, is nearing completion of a new industrial building which will increase its manufacturing capacity on its 14-acre campus located at 21340 State Hwy 6 in Manvel.  City council is considering an amendment to a previously authorized Special Use Permit (SUP) that would allow the company a waiver of a façade requirement that provides for masonry or stucco coverage on the front and fifty percent of each side with no requirement on the rear.  The so called “Overlay District” that encompasses the area along Hwy 6 typically mandates a masonry or stucco façade on all four sides of a structure.  EZ Line has returned to council desiring the removal of that amended condition.  Another change to the SUP as requested by EZ Line is for the construction of a guard shack at the plant’s main entrance.  Manvel’s Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) recommended council deny the façade waiver request and accept the proposal for the guard shack construction.
 
Mayor Delores Martin commended PD&Z on their thoughtful deliberation on the request crediting the group with considering the Comprehensive Plan and how hard we worked to “get the Overlay District in place to make sure that we are proud of the way our city looks.”  The mayor did express concern with the request saying the “building in back looks wonderful and the building that’s up front, that I can throw a rock at, is not as pleasing.”  She referenced the expected expansion of the Shu-Chem plant, which was recently acquired by a German company, just east on SH 6 that could use the precedent established with EZ Line to expect similar relaxation of the ordinance.  “I don’t think this is the message the city wants to send out to its residents.  We want a city that we can be proud of.”  Member Melody Hanson took issue with a precedent being established in saying an SUP grants council the opportunity to consider each request on an individual basis.  Mayor Martin responded that human nature will drive future requestors to expect similar consideration.
 
The contractor for EZ Line explained the plan for a 42 inch stone façade topped by stucco.  He described drawbacks to the planned stucco as not holding up well in an industrial setting as it tends to discolor and demands maintenance above a typical installation.  He defended the request of a complete waiver in reminding council that a special siding was installed that he says looks better without the stucco.  He went on to say that the sign and landscaping that will be installed will make the new building “look great and it will stay that way forever.”  He claims the money is not the issue saying the people who own it like just the 42 inch stone façade along with the steel siding.
 
The decision was tabled by council which requested the contractor return to the next meeting with alternate options for council to consider.
 
E-Z Line designs, produces, and builds products and structural steel fabrication that is supplied to all major Oil & Gas companies from its Manvel location with 155 full-time employees.  The EZ Line campus includes structures dedicated to catalog products, pipe support and pipe lining facilities, structural steel fabrication, and shipping. Also located on the property is over 100,000 square feet of outdoor storage space used for raw materials and completed product stock.  E-Z Line serves the petro-chemical, pipeline, and construction industries with various pipe support clamps and bases along with a wide variety of structural steel products including platforms, stair assemblies, ladders, handrails, and structural steel pipe racks. The company website boasts “if it’s made from steel, we can design and fabricate it.” The company enjoys a copyrighted design on their pipe support products that allow for an adjustment of some 2 inches in either an up or down direction. Adjustable pipe capabilities are highly valued in the industry because it allows for smoother installation as they provide adaption capability to existing foundation and elevation errors. Pipe line maintenance and inspections for corrosion and abrasion are far more easily facilitated with the greater accessibility the adjustable supports provide.
 
The company also leads the industry in its pipe lining products and Teflon slide plates. Their thermal plastic liner is designed for minimum contact with a pipe’s surface; the benefit being an ability to adapt to thermal expansion, and a liberal circulation of air around the pipe which enables the drying of any collected moisture and condensation. Teflon slide plates help to minimize vibration. Both products minimize any compromise to a pipes integrity decreasing the likelihood of leakage, reducing maintenance efforts, and minimizing potential environmental impact. The pipe liners provide great compressive strength designed to withstand a 10,000 pound load and are able to withstand extreme temperatures from -100 degrees to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to standard size offerings of supports and liners, custom assemblies can be produced by E-Z Line as they work closely with customers to develop adapted design standards for precise applications for existing pipelines and retrofit supports.
 
From raw materials off-loaded and processed, E-Z Line products are then cut, bent, burned, and shaped as necessary. After a thorough clean-up and quality control inspection process, completed pieces are loaded on trucks for shipping to a galvanizing plant in north Houston. Galvanizing prevents rust and helps ensure quality and longevity in the field. The galvanized products are then returned to Manvel where they are processed for distribution.

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City to gain international company

August 12, 2015

 

A multi-national manufacturing group based in Hamburg, Germany will establish its United States headquarters in Manvel.  Halteman Carless Solutions (HCS Group) recently purchased the local Shu-Chem Holdings chemical company located at 22102 State Hwy 6 for an undisclosed amount.  Along with the on-going expansion of the nearby E-Z Line plant, the recently upgraded Fagioli facility, and the Pro-Build lumber yard, Manvel will enjoy an enviable collection of notable corporate citizens on its east side along SH 6. 

 

Sue Schwartz, owner and CEO of Shu-Chem, and the CEO of HCS Group, Uwe Nickel, attended this week’s city council meeting to explain the acquisition and to lay out the company’s plan for the Manvel plant.  The existing plant utilizes approximately 10 acres from a 100 acre parcel.  The company will be requesting of council a zoning change that would categorize the entire site as heavy-commercial so that improvements and expansion to the plant can be undertaken in the years to come.  Nickel believes the current operation can be made more productive and projects a doubling of its output through more efficient processes.  Additional capacity will be added to the site with a new state of the art plant utilizing another 20 or so acres.  Plans presented to council include an initial investment of more than $15 million through 2018 “into significant beautification of the Manvel site and an upgrade of its safety and security measures.”  All current employees will retain their positions and plans call for the hiring of additional skilled workers with a realization of “more than a 50% increase of employees within two years.”

 

Renderings of the planned improvements show the removal of the current support structures to be replaced with a new building that will house the various administrative and support functions.  A row of trees and landscaping is envisaged along the SH 6 frontage as well as new fencing and gates.  An attractive sign is planned for one of the entrance gates that will identify the Manvel plant.  Longer term, Nickel envisions the offering of appropriate infrastructure on the remaining 60-70 acres that would support a chemical park; the intention being to attract additional investors to establish operations on the site.  Manvel would see increased employment opportunities and improved tax receipts.

 

 

Nickel describes the timeline to begin the initial beautification and improvements as “yesterday.”  Council is expected to take up the request for a zoning change and special use permit at its next scheduled meeting on August 24.  The process will require public hearings to allow citizen input on the plan.  It is likely to be late September before all the legalities are finalized

 

HCS Group is one of the world’s oldest and leading global providers of solutions for high-value specialty hydrocarbons and sells to more than 90 countries worldwide.  The current company evolved from two German companies formed in the mid to late 1800’s.  One of those companies is credited with the creation of a petroleum distillate named “petrol” which established the fuel as a generic name still used today in European countries.  Each of the two companies were eventually acquired by multi-national corporations in the early 2000’s, one by Repsol Group and one by Dow Chemical.  The two companies ultimately morphed into the current HCS Group in 2011.

 

HCS Group boasts a diverse portfolio of more than 400 products and blends in seven business lines and utilizes a business model based on high flexibility.  That diversity helps the company realize steady earnings that are resistant to economic cycles.  Included in their product lines are oil and gas products used for chemical processing, heating oil, and kerosene; middle distillates used in mining and drilling, and the process and offset printing industries; special aromatics and performance solvents used in electronics, and agro-chemical and pharmaceutical applications; automotive products such as brake fluids, anti-freeze, and fuel additives; performance fuels used in automobile racing and aerospace applications; and pentanes used in the production of various types of building insulation products, refrigeration, and cosmetics.  HCS Group also offers a line of renewable products that serve to reduce the CO2 footprint and to fulfill the increasing expectations of sustainability.

 

HCS Group prides itself on its safety record.  Each of their facilities are fully ISO certified and the company is committed to the safety and health of its workers and a minimal environmental impact on the communities in which they operate.  The company claims no incidents at any of its sites for more than two years and boasts one of its plants has been accident free for more than seven years.  Their accident history is described as “way below the chemical company average.”

 

The company currently operates five plants in Europe and employs 420 workers.  Sales offices are located in Germany, the UK, Belgium, and in South Carolina.  The South Carolina sales and operations staff will be relocated to Manvel once the merging of the two companies is complete.  Sales in 2014 were more than $670 million.

 

Shu-Chem holdings was established in Manvel in 1983.  The plant currently produces alcohols and ester products used in the pharmaceutical and printing industries.  CEO Schwartz expects the integration of her company into the HCS Group to “secure the company’s competitiveness and future viability (and) will enable us to create the conditions for further growth and innovation.”

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Council encouraged to maintain lot size requirements

August 19, 2015

 

In response to recent requests by developers for Manvel city council to consider smaller lot sizes, long time council member and mayor pro-tem Melody Hanson took to a PowerPoint presentation to encourage her fellow members to stand firm in the lot size requirements as provided in city ordinances.
 
Developers favor smaller lots for a variety of reasons.  Recent years have seen a continual increase in the costs of subdivision development that challenges home affordability.  Manvel is seen as a particularly formidable market due to the many requirements the city expects from new development.  Costly infrastructure installations such as roads, utilities, parks and green spaces, and homeowner amenities like community recreation centers increasingly stress project margins.  Smaller lot sizes allow a greater distribution of those costs.  Developers also claim from market evidence that evolving demographics among home buyers has made smaller lots in demand from millennials and older baby boomers who desire a lifestyle requiring less maintenance demands. 
 
Despite the on-going lament of developer anxiety, Hanson remains steadfast and consistent with most in city leadership in affording little regard to their concerns.  She believes the city “must not lower the current standard (60 foot width).  We’ve got to consider the long-term ramifications of the decisions that we are making today.  While a developer concentrates on a single parcel of land, we as council members must look at the impact on our community as a whole.”  Hanson made clear her opposition to undersized lots goes beyond a personal preference and aesthetics.  She believes higher density of development produces negative consequences for the city.  Promoting development that favors grass and greenery over concrete would provide space to better facilitate drainage, require less demand on city services, less stress on school facilities, less traffic on roadways, fewer parking challenges, and less light and sound pollution. 
 
Hanson went on to express the benefits of a lawn that is maintained in a responsible and sustainable manner.  “Lawns are host to many beneficial organisms and microbes that beak down chemicals into harmless material.”  Turf grass, such as grown in most front yards, “serves as one of the best defenses against soil erosion.”  Hanson cited a claim that “six billion tons of soil wash or blow away each and every year.”  Because of its extensive root system, “grass binds the soil more effectively than any other plant and sustains our little earthworms.”  Hanson earned smiles from fellow council members as she confessed to being a “worm saver,” explaining that she actually saves the earthworms deposited on her walkways after a rain by putting them back on the lawn.
 
She went on to describe a major water problem as attributed to the runoff of contaminants from hard surfaces such as concrete.  Increasing lot sizes reduces the harmful runoff by providing additional green space that allows the water to soak through.  She described turf grass as “an ideal medium for the breakdown of all sorts of environmental contamination.  Healthy dense lawns absorb rainfall and prevent runoff and erosion of our precious topsoil.  Turf grass, because of its root system, purifies the water that leaches through it and down into our underground aquifers.”  Hanson explained that as important to many in Manvel who depend on private wells for their water.  She also attributed cleaner air to turf grass, saying dirt, dust, and smoke are trapped and washed in the soil system.  “Grassy areas significantly lower the level of atmospheric dust and pollutants.”  Particulate matter is left behind from trucks and vehicles traversing SH 288 and “lawns actually act as natural filters taking up that dust, pollutants, and particulate matter from the air and in our water.”
 
Turf grass also helps moderate temperatures, according to Hanson.  “You know that nice cool feeling when you take off your shoes and you put them on your grass?  That is the significant role that turf grass plays in regulating our climate.  It actually lowers the temperature at the ground level by absorbing the sun during the day and slowly releasing it during the evening.  The cooling properties of turf are so effective that temperatures over a turf area on a sunny summer day will be 10 to 14 degrees cooler than over concrete or asphalt.”  Hanson encouraged fellow council members “to think about that as you reduce those yard sizes, you are getting more concrete and less grass.”  Turf grass also reduces traffic noise, as Hanson claimed, “lawns significantly reduce noise pollution, particularly in an urban area.”
 
Her presentation was concluded with a reminder that council decisions must “consider the broad range of our collective decisions.  We have to think long term.  I urge you all to consider the facts and not be pressured to make rash decisions.  Be impervious to those who ask you to alter our ordinance.  We must not cower.  We’ve been given a very important task to help shape our community and public health and safety must always come first.  All the ordinances and procedures we have drafted do not matter if our residents here in Manvel can’t have fresh water and clean air.  God created this incredible planet and I feel personally that it is our responsibility to be good stewards of it.  And we can do our part here in Manvel by maintaining reasonable lot sizes and not squeezing even more residents into our city than our finite resources can handle.” 
 
Manvel sets at the precipice of significant changes to its character.  The rural small town atmosphere that attracted property owners in past years is being challenged by large land acquisitions that threaten the country lifestyle.  The city has invested large sums of taxpayer money and relied on many hours of citizen volunteers to develop plans for growth.  Some feel those plans have overreached with an idealism that is incompatible with the economic reality of development.  Hanson well represents most on council and involved citizens who disagree, feeling Manvel’s location offers too great an appeal and that developers will find a way to make the economics work.  A member of the city’s Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z), Brian Wilmer, expounds that prevailing view: “This land WILL be developed, and soon.  It is in too strategic a place not to be.  There is oodles of money to be made by the property owners if they develop the land and none if they do not.”

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MEDC selects new president

August 26, 2015

 

Members of the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) selected a new President and Vice President at its recent monthly meeting.  Karen Kinlaw was voted President and Janice DelBello was voted Vice President.  Both officers have been longtime members of the Corporation.  Bradley Gardner had served as President but stepped down due to family and professional obligations.
 
Kinlaw said she is very proud of the steps MEDC is taking and promises caution in picking projects that benefit the city while remaining within the scope of what MEDC is charged to do.  Another longtime member, and the longest tenured city council member, Melody Hanson, likes the choice of Kinlaw to lead the group.   While acknowledging that Brad Gardner’s’ dedication and professionalism will be missed she feels Kinlaw’s years of experience will be an asset to the board.  Hanson went on to say that the group is “looking forward to the projects we can finance once our funding levels are restored in October 2015.”
 
Hanson is referring to Manvel voters’ approval last May to return the full 1/4% sales tax allocation to MEDC.  One half of that allocation had been temporarily assigned to the city’s road department to meet what was, at the time, a more pressing need of the city.  Last May voters agreed that the city would be better served long-term with full funding of the MEDC, particularly in light of the city’s vastly improved financial condition as realized in recent years. 
 
Current budget discussions show projected income in the next fiscal year (Oct 1 through Sep 31) to exceed $650,000.  That is more than double what was budgeted and realized in the current fiscal year.  Operating expenditures are conservatively projected at $44,750 and an annual debt service payment on the SH 6 infrastructure project will require approximately $90,500.  The group enjoys a current fund balance approximating $1 million.  With the additional funding anticipated, MEDC members debated future projects to help stimulate economic development in the city.  Two projects were unanimously at the top of each members “wish list.”  One was an upgrade to the city’s water plant and the other was the extension of water/wastewater infrastructure down the south side of SH 6.  The water plant upgrade earned the top priority.  With a projected $250,000 expenditure the city would realize an improvement to the plant’s capacity by replacing current pumps with larger more efficient “booster” units and will see the establishment of a water storage tank.  The increased capacity will put the city in better position to service new development, including the hoped for retail and commercial potential along SH 6.  The extension of the just completed water/sewer line along the south side of SH 6 would cost approximately $285,000 and would extend the infrastructure some 900 feet to the west, again opening up potential retail/commercial development.
 
Other projects remain in consideration.  One is an extension of a sewer line east along Large Street from FM 1128 to its termination at Oleander.  The preliminary projected cost is $160,000.  MEDC will be sending letters to property owners on the street to solicit their input on the idea and to bring forward potential development that may be under consideration.  A primary goal of the MEDC is to promote economic development.  As it considers expenditures of taxpayer contributions, an important consideration is the return the city is likely to see on the investment.  With limited funds available, the group strives to maximize the potential for job creation, infrastructure improvements, and increases in the tax base. 
 
Two projects with considerably higher capital costs remain on the MEDC “wish list.”  One is the extension of water infrastructure on the east side from the ProBuild site on SH 6 to the city limits at CR 99.  With the recent acquisition of the chemical plant on the far east side and the plans announced for expansion and new development, that improvement could prove critical to realize that potential.  Preliminary cost estimates for that project exceed $625,000.  Another critical infrastructure need that will require a cost in excess of $1 million is an expansion or new construction of city waste water capacity.  Current capacity limits the city’s ability to provide service to a large development, be it residential or retail/commercial.  A small increase in capacity will be forthcoming to the city within a year resulting from the expansion of the city’s current plant to meet the demand for additional construction in the Lakeland subdivision.  The MUD servicing the Lakeland project is funding those costs but it will likely be necessary for the city to finance additional costs to increase the city’s waste water capacity beyond what will be provided by the Lakeland MUD.  MEDC would likely be called upon to help that effort, thereby decreasing the burden on city taxpayers.
 
The MEDC budget is expected to be finally approved at the September meeting.  Projects contemplated by MEDC are not strictly determined until a public notice is put forth and public comments are solicited.  The public is always invited to attend MEDC meetings which are held the second Wednesday of each month at 7PM.  Concerned and involved citizens wanting to impact the city’s growth are encouraged to consider becoming a member of the Corporation.  There currently is a vacant seat with the resignation of former President Bradley Gardner.  Contacting the City Secretary at Manvel City Hall will provide the necessary information for interested persons.

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AISD to seek bond approval

August 26, 2015

 

As expected, the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) authorized the administration to produce a bond referendum to voters this November.  The district continues to expand at about one thousand students each year, a number greater than the enrollment of one elementary school campus.  Current elementary school designs used by the district accommodate 800 students.
 
The bond proposal as recommended is an all-inclusive proposition that totals $245 million.  Additional district funds will be contributed to reduce the overall impact to tax payers.  $28 million will be paid from maintenance and operations funding sources and $12.6 million from previously authorized bond funds.  Total project costs are projected to be just upwards of $285 million.  In a press release announcing the bond election, the district describes a maximum tax burden to taxpayers of 8.03 cents per $100 valuation, equating to a tax increase of $80.30 per $100,000 of taxable value.
 
Four new elementary schools will be funded as well as land for still another.  Costs for the elementary schools range from a low $24.5 million to a high of $31.2 million.  The additional land is projected at $2.3 million.  A new Junior High is provided for at a cost of $42.2 million and land for another is included at $3.3 million.  Land for a fourth High School is included at a cost of $10.5 million.  Shadow Creek High School was funded by the district’s 2013 bond and is scheduled to begin operation in the 2016-2017 school year.
 
Other expenditures of note include a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center in Manvel at a cost of $45.3 million.  The structure will replace the old Manvel JH which will be demolished and replaced with a new 135,000 square foot structure accommodating 800 students in various programs as driven by student interests and the job market.  Expected areas of study include Veterinary Science, Health Science, Cosmetology, Information Technology, Criminal Justice, Construction Management, HVAC, Culinary Arts, Oil & Gas, Ag Welding, and Auto Tech/Auto Collision.  Upgrades to the Alvin HS auditorium and stadium total nearly $19 million.  A new transportation center will relieve the current facility that is over capacity and will require $8.1 million.  And a new district stadium will require $41.4 million.  The funds necessary for the land acquisition were provided for in the previous bond issue.  The new stadium is contemplated for 10,000 seats and will be constructed of a masonry façade covering a concrete, steel, and aluminum structure.  It will feature a two-story press box, a field house with community room, and a state of the art scoreboard and sound system.  The district has not made public potential sites for the new stadium.
 
A Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) was appointed by the School Board last January to study the districts “needs and timing for both new and renovated district facilities, infrastructure, and supporting assets to assure educational success.”  The committee was comprised of not less than 50 “stakeholders from all sectors of AISD - parents, local business owners, civic leaders and AISD staff.”  Among the groups parameters were to “prioritize accommodating increasing enrollment with new campuses, land purchase for future growth, CTE programs, renovating existing campuses and technology,” and that the “bond issue shall be fiscally conservative with understanding of continued growth, future long range needs and legislated tax caps.”  All committee gatherings were open to the public who were invited to participate in the meetings.  All presentations were posted online to the AISD website for community review.
 
Driving the need for increased infrastructure is fast-paced residential development, particularly in the far west side of the district.  The CAC reported 799 annual closings of homes, 382 under construction, and 515 in current inventory.  Additionally, there presently exists 1,146 vacant developed lots with a projected 15,132 future lots.  They also reported an expected 1,297 possible multifamily housing units (apartments).  Two new large master-planned communities are under construction that will carry on the growth as Shadow Creek Ranch nears maturity.  Pamona is located in Manvel west of SH 288 and is accessed from CR 101.  The development consists of 1,000 acres and is projected to include 2,100 single family homes and some multi-family projects.  Model homes are just about available for use and construction is underway.
 
The Meridiana project is seeing model homes being made ready as well.  Meridiana is a 2,700 acre master-planned community that will include property in both Manvel and Iowa Colony and reportedly will see more than 5,500 single family homes upon its completion.  The primary entrance to the community will be in Iowa Colony off SH 288 near the current intersection with CR 56.  A secondary major entrance will eventually be constructed in Manvel where McCoy intersects with SH 6.  Myriad other smaller developments will add to the stress on district infrastructure that this bond election hopes to address.

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