March 2015

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AISD works to meet facility needs; new bond in the offing?

City adopts Master Drainage Plan

Police seek edge on drug distribution

County opens new facility on CR 58

City considers updated Thoroughfare Plan

Drainage Plan narrowly approved on second reading

Residential development one step closer

 

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AISD works to meet facility needs; new bond in the offing?

March 4, 2015

 

Voters residing in the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) approved a $212,445,000 bond election in November 2013 to meet the infrastructure requirements for the rapidly growing district. AISD’s growth for the period 2007 through 2012 averaged 712 students each year for a total increase of 3,560 students. This year alone, Alvin ISD schools welcomed more than 1,000 new students, which places a strain on the already packed facilities. 18 out of 23 Alvin ISD campuses have reached permanent building capacity, which is the number of students that the facility was originally built for. 13 out of 23 campuses have exceeded not only the permanent building capacity, but have even surpassed the flex capacity. Flex capacity, also known as temporary capacity, is the additional space added to facilities by utilizing temporary buildings, or repurposing areas of the building not originally designed to be used as a classroom. A report provided by Templeton Demographics projects that by the year 2020 Alvin ISD will welcome more than 5,000 additional students, increasing total enrollment from the current 20,914, to nearly 26,000. For reference, a typical elementary school designed to AISD standards accommodates 800 students. In order to keep pace with that growth, the equivalent of more than one new elementary school will be required each year for the calculable future.

The total bond project costs were estimated at $252,600,000 with the balance of funding coming from other sources, including previously approved and unused bond funds, district fund balance, and the operations budget. Bond funds remained from previous issues due to favorable pricing of projects during the economic downturn experienced in the few years subsequent to 2008. The fund balance represents essentially a reserve account, the largest portion of which provides up to three months of available operating expenses in case of an economic hardship of some kind. Other recent uses of fund balance includes $14 million for the construction of Duke Elementary which opened this school year; nearly $4.5 million for pre-construction costs for the new high school to serve west Pearland and a junior high school in Manvel that is currently under construction on land north of Manvel High School. The pre-construction expenditures were required in order to meet the timetable for completion of the two schools; 2016 for the high school and 2015 for the junior high. A smaller portion of the other funding sources came from the operations budget.

The district reports the Shadow Creek High School construction to be 30% complete. It is scheduled to open in time for the 2016 school year and will serve the west side of the district, alleviating crowded conditions at Manvel High School. The campus will accommodate 2000 students and will comprise 531,400 square feet on 72 acres. Total construction cost is $90.2 million. The design will include five learning houses, modern instructional spaces for core content, fine arts, athletics, and career and technology training. There also will be a double level auditorium. Steel erection is ongoing and is expected to soon be complete. Rainy conditions in recent months has affected the site work progress mostly but some concrete pouring is occurring at the north parking lot and grading is underway for the primary drive from Broadway. The grading of athletic fields and perimeter fencing is in progress and plans call for the ball fields to all have sod in place before this summer so that time will allow it to take root and be robust come its opening the following year.

The new Manvel Junior High is furthest along of the current projects, estimated at 72% complete. The new campus will open this summer in time for the next school year. Its opening will relieve overcrowded conditions at both other junior highs serving the west side, Nolan Ryan in Shadow Creek Ranch, and Manvel JH at Rodeo Palms. The campus will accommodate 1200 students in a facility design used at other district junior high’s. It sets on 25 acres of land and has a construction budget of $28.7 million.

Meridiana Elementary School just began construction on 12 acres at CR 48 and CR 56 in Iowa Colony. It has a cost of $17.4 million and will serve to relieve crowded conditions at Don Jeter Elementary and Savannah Lakes Elementary. It is planned to open for the 2016 school year.

Also of interest to Manvel residents is the renovation of the old Manvel Junior High campus for a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center. Eventually it is projected the campus will house the districts centralized CTE programs and will serve students from all AISD High Schools. Currently under construction is Phase 1 of the project that includes an auto tech and auto collision training area. The $2.8 million cost will be covered from the maintenance and operations budget as was approved by the Board of Trustees. It is estimated the new auto program will commence in the summer of 2016. A Phase 2 will complete the program and is contingent on future bond funds.

A new Agricultural (Ag) facility was included in the 2013 bond and is slated to begin construction this May. The cost is not yet determined. The Ag facility will comprise 12 acres and will expand opportunities for instructional access, provide a closer location for many district students, and will include a show arena. It is expected to be complete in early 2016.

Other school construction either in progress or expected to soon break ground include an expansion and renovation of the current junior high in Alvin. The renovation currently working will expand capacity to 1000 students and includes significant upgrades to infrastructure systems and learning spaces. It is expected to be ready for the 2015-2016 school year.

Ground was broken recently on the Bill Hasse Elementary school in Alvin. It will cost $17.1 million and will replace Longfellow Elementary that previously sat on the site. The new campus will offer amenities consistent with other newer elementary campuses in the district. It is expected to accept students for the 2016-2017 school year.

Two other elementary schools were included in the 2013 bond package with construction costs and start dates not yet announced. The two schools are at Sterling Lakes in Iowa Colony on CR 48 and in the recently begun Pomona master planned community at CR 101 and Kirby.

It is likely the school district will put forth another bond election this November as district needs endure. A Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising a varied group of stakeholders was recently sanctioned by the District’s Board of Trustees. The CAC will provide direction to the District by conducting an in-depth analysis of district facilities and program needs and will develop formal recommendations for the Board to consider. Among the areas of study include new student enrollment, current campus capacity, future classroom capacity needs, aging facilities, instructional program needs, and career and technical education.

All CAC meetings are open to the public and community input is welcomed and encouraged. Six meetings are scheduled from March 2 through June 15. A final recommendation will be presented to the Board in July. Additional information on the process and a schedule of meeting times and dates is available on the AISD website.

 

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City adopts Master Drainage Plan

March 11, 2015

 

After months of presentations, discussions, and debates, Manvel city council finally approved a Master Drainage Plan to be made part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Council heard a final report from the plan’s author at its last meeting and this week heard from the city’s consulting civil engineer, Dan Johnson.

Johnson has favored the adoption of the Plan since its inception more than one year ago. He likens the Drainage Plan to the Thoroughfare Plan in that the city can work with developers to construct the portion of the road that runs through their project. “The city will have to, at some point in time, connect the dots” but the majority of the cost will be borne by developers coming into the city. Likewise, developers will allocate the required rights of way and construct the necessary improvements to meet the mandates of this just adopted drainage plan.

Johnson attempted to allay concerns expressed by some council members in not suggesting pro-actively meeting the plan, which he described as easily costing upwards of $130 million. Existing homeowners will see no adverse impact and trees will not be destroyed. As development happens the plan will be implemented. The current requirement that no improvement produce a negative impact on down-stream flooding will remain, so any development of any size must prove that sufficient retention is made part of their construction program before any building permits can be issued.

Council member Melody Hanson has been the most vocal skeptic of the plan. She considers it misdirected and favors too much developers and future growth and not enough for the people who live in the city now and are burdened by poor drainage. “It seems so imbalanced to me,” she asserted at a previous meeting. Johnson’s comments and enthusiastic endorsement of the Plan apparently failed to sufficiently remove her doubts as she was the lone dissenting vote on the Plan’s adoption.

The Plan was presented initially in early 2014 and cost the city $50,000. The underlying objective was to provide recommendations for drainage improvements in order to meet continued growth and future needs. It will provide direction on how much right-of-way a project will need to donate or provide as part of the drainage plan for their development.

Two scenarios were proposed in the Plan. The one favored by Dan Johnson as offering greater viability both practicably and politically basically entails a combination of strategies that includes individual on-site detention as the key portion. This scenario would require less land for common drainage flows through bayous, creeks, and reliefs. A second scenario provides for regional detention ponds that would be accessed from developments. This scenario would allow for a more attractive city in that each development would need not engineer a unique detention pond just to manage its impact. It also would allow developers greater flexibility in what and how they can design. Since the portion of the development that would have been required for detention would no longer be necessary more land would be available for the project. The downside to this scenario is that more community property would be required to house the regional detention ponds and the common drainage flows through bayous, creeks, and reliefs would need to be even larger that the first scenario.

 

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Police seek edge on drug distribution

March 11, 2015

 

Citing an increase in the use of synthetic marijuana and partially motivated by recent instances of deaths related to its use in Montgomery County, Manvel’s city council approved the first of two readings to authorize an amendment to the city’s Code of Ordinances that would grant local law enforcement greater latitude in efforts to enforce the prohibition of illicit synthetic substances.

Police Chief Keith Traylor told council that his department has seen an increase in synthetic narcotics and marijuana over the past few years, particularly among the high school population. He described it as a “very serious matter that we need to look at and try our best to do what we can to prevent it from getting into the hands of our young adults.” The chief went on to say that the state legislature is moving slowly on addressing the problem and that law enforcement is falling behind on efforts to curtail the distribution of the drugs.

Buttressing his case, the coordinator from the Brazoria County Coalition of the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol (BACODA), Danielle Meyer, said that police departments throughout the county are receiving phone calls every day on synthetic marijuana. She mentioned Lake Jackson last year having 65 suicides that were all linked to synthetic marijuana. She is “scared to death as a parent” of two high school students and related a recent incident of an Alvin High School student experiencing seizures after just one try of the substance. “One try of this drug and you can die,” she said.

Meyer told council that she has been involved in drug prevention efforts for 24 years and said these synthetic substances “scare me more than any other.” Complaining that law enforcement officers “hands are tied.” Many of the substances used in the compounds are not illegal. She says the “drug dealers are smarter than us and they change the chemical compound so that they become legal.” She described the current ordinance that council was considering as little more than a band-aid but is “something we can do for now until the legislature acts. We can at least get it out locally from the mom and pop stores; we can at least find them and make it hard for them to sell. It will put some pressure on the drug dealers that are killing our children.”

Meyer said the substances are marketed primarily to kids aged 12 to 18 and that the packaging is usually “cartoonish” in its design. She says they are breaking the law by not disclosing the contents of the package and that is “one of the ways we can get them.” Another challenge law enforcement has to deal with is that dealers are now keeping the substances behind their counters and respond to particular hand gestures by customers wanting the product. She encourages the public to report any instances of this type of activity that is noticed. She said its distribution is now moving to the streets and reported that the majority of car drivers being pulled over for suspicion of DUI are not drunk but are stoned on synthetics.

Chief Traylor acknowledges that no local stores are known to sell the drugs and he has not received any reports of it yet, but he feels confident that it will come. He visits stores regularly to “buy a drink or something like that and I peruse the countertops and just nonchalantly look around just to see what I might.” Mayor Martin said she has been told of local availability and the chief agreed that it is readily available everywhere. The mayor said the local EMS is worried too as many of their late night calls are now dealing with these substances.

Without the ordinance Chief Traylor said the holder of the substance could not be arrested until after the product was tested to verify its illegality. That process can take 30 to 45-days according to the chief. Then a warrant for their arrest must be issued and they must be found before they can actually be arrested. Many times the culprit will be long gone by that time. The ordinance will allow police to charge them with it “right then and there,” the chief said. This is a band-aid that will help us on the enforcement side and the awareness side until the legislature steps in and puts some hard fast laws out that will help us to enforce it.”

The popular vapor cigarettes are one way the synthetic drugs are being ingested. Meyer said the many stores you see selling vapor cigarette products are making money on more than just the e-cigarette device. “There are not 14 stores in our area because they are making money off e-cigarettes; they are selling other things for the vapor cigarettes. That is what we need to tackle next,” she said. As Chief Traylor succinctly stated, “individuals are going to find newer and better ways to find that ever loving high that they look for.”

 

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County opens new facility on CR 58

March 18, 2015

 

A host of county and local officials were on hand last week as a new county annex was opened on CR 58 in Manvel. The building is just west of SH 288 and comprises 13,238 square feet and cost $2.44 million. The Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace court will occupy the building full time and will share the structure with Adult Probation. The Commissioner for Precinct 4, David Linder, will maintain a satellite office at the building as well. Linder said the buildings establishment is a “testament to what Brazoria County is and how much we care about our growth and being able to serve the citizens.”

Former Precinct 4 commissioner Larry Stanley told the group that the building had been planned for years and that there were challenges in getting it done. “Finally we have a presence here on this end of Precinct 4. About ½ the people in Precinct 4 live north of SH 6. So we will be able to provide them with services that they deserve without having to drive down to the Brazoria area,” he said.

 

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City considers updated Thoroughfare Plan

March 18, 2015

 

In an effort to stay abreast of evolving development trends city council authorized a review of the city’s Major Thoroughfare Plan to better its proactive approach to impending growth. Some projections show Manvel having a population of 130,000 by 2035. Past growth trends showed population forecasts at 40,708. The 220% change in estimates reflects new development trends in recent years. Authors of the Plan used a third forecast of 108,000 by 2035. The number was based on projected commercial and residential development patterns and was vetted by city staff.

Manvel is comprised of 15,000 acres within its limits and 10,000 acres in its Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). The vast majority of that land is vacant and primed for development. The city’s small town character, proximity to Houston, and adequate access to SH 6 and SH 288 make it an appealing place to live. Because it is largely undeveloped the city has the flexibility to make proactive decisions on its transportation infrastructure that more developed communities are unable to do.

The Thoroughfare Plan offers a long-term integrated strategy for vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle, and capital projects planning. Among the key principles of the plan is providing convenient internal circulation between neighborhoods and community assets. To preserve neighborhood integrity, through traffic should be minimized to specific facilities designed to accommodate non-local and regional traffic. A safe pedestrian/bikeway system should provide connectivity between neighborhoods, community facilities, and retail areas. The basis of the Plan provides for the integration of surrounding areas where connectivity is equally important in an effort to ensure accurate and efficient regional connectivity. The Plan considers it critical to coordinate transportation policies and decisions among its regional neighbors.

The Plan is envisioned to comprise a range of transportation choices, described as multi-modal, which will offer opportunities to drive, bike, and walk. A focus on mobility choice, the Plan authors posit, will ensure a vibrant community and support strong neighborhoods, employment centers, and activity centers.

SH 288 and SH 6 are the two major thoroughfares within the community and set the foundation for overall network development as they are the key focal points for future residential and commercial development. Current traffic counts on each of those roadways are typically in excess of 20,000 vehicles each day. A limiting factor the Plan contends with is the lack of contiguous connectivity through the city limits and its ETJ. Croix Road (CR 58) is projected as a major east-west arterial roadway but it ends at the middle of DelBello Road (CR 90) and fails to continue east to Masters and even further east towards Pearland and Friendswood. Bissel Road (CR 190) could be another viable east-west arterial to relieve SH 6 traffic but it is not contiguous throughout the city limits. The growing number of master-planned communities presents the challenge of adding critical linkages in order to prevent system congestion.

The Plan considers it important to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle activity and includes a non-motorized network including both on-street and off-street bike facilities and the inclusion of sidewalks and pedestrian amenities along a number of corridors within the city. These areas will provide access to schools, shopping, and transit stops, and will provide public spaces for people to enjoy recreational activities. Along with the use of wider rights-of way and open space along drainage corridors, bayous, and undeveloped areas, the bicycle and pedestrian amenities will serve to better balance the city’s traditional rural character with future development.

Boulevard corridors will help incorporate the desired small town feel as they provide wider medians and/or on-street parking to give a more spacious feel and will have offer sufficient right-of-way to accommodate bike lanes, multi-purpose pathways, and potential equestrian trails. Medians are encouraged to provide aesthetics such as landscaping, lighting, and urban design features. Medians also serve to significantly increase safety crash rates reduced by over 50%.

Significant roadway changes that will transform the area include a projected expansion of SH 288 to four lanes from downtown Houston to SH 6 and the addition of toll lanes south of SH 6 by 2035. The Grand Parkway (SH 99) is a proposed 180+ mile circumferential highway traversing seven counties that encircle the Greater Houston region. A 28-mile segment is projected from IH 45 to SH 288, generally near CR 60 which is a mile or two north of FM 1462 in Rosharon. The current plan is a 4-lane tollway with 2-lane frontage roads with an expected completion in 2022.

Most of the plan will be implemented and paid for as growth occurs in and around the city in coming years. Developers will fund the bulk of the implementation but some city funds will be required to provide linkage among the various communities. Currently the city has just two road projects in its Capital Improvement Plan, both listed as 2016 possible start dates. One will include an inventory and evaluation of all city managed streets that could provide the foundation for the major roadway system overhaul that will be needed to accommodate the expected population growth. The other is a major reconstruction of Masters Road (FM 1128) that will retrofit the roadway with concrete, curbs, and gutters and will span from SH 6 to CR 100.

Plan authors suggest the Plan be reviewed on an annual basis and revised according to changing conditions and population trends. With the level of development in process and intended, it is likely the city will see significant changes to its transportation system in coming years.

 

 

 

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Drainage Plan narrowly approved on second reading

March 25, 2015

 

By a close 4-3 vote Manvel city council approved the second reading of a controversial Master Drainage Plan that will be made part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.  Member Melody Hanson was the lone dissenting vote at the first reading but was joined this time by members Maureen DelBello and John Cox.
 
Hanson has been the primary skeptic of the Plan since it was first submitted in early 2014.  She considers the Plan misdirected and imbalanced in favor of developers and future growth over current residents who are burdened by poor drainage.  She told council that she has received “quite a few comments from residents after the last meeting” that express a common concern that their private property may be appropriated to accommodate not only the land deemed a “repetitive loss” by flood control authorities but also what is described as “opportunities for land acquisition” as stated in the document.  Hanson reiterated an issue she has raised previously that the price of $10,000 per acre that is defined in the Plan as compensation for any condemned property as grossly inadequate, saying it “doesn’t even recuperate them for their taxes.  I think it is just the beginning of some changes that some of the long-term residents are not going to be pleased with,” she said.
 
At the first reading previously approved, the city’s consulting civil engineer, Dan Johnson, attempted to allay concerns by reiterating the current requirement that no improvement produce a negative impact on down-stream flooding will remain, so any development of any size must prove that sufficient retention is made part of their construction program before any building permits can be issued.  He also emphasized that the Plan does not suggest pro-actively meeting the recommended improvements, which he described as easily costing upwards of $130 million.  He told council that existing homeowners would see no adverse impact and trees will not be destroyed.
 
Authors of the Plan stress that it serves only as a guide to provide recommendations for drainage improvements to the city in order to meet continued growth and future needs.  Suggestions in the Plan are not unchangeable; it is described as a flexible document that can be altered as circumstances and current happenings dictate.  It simply provides a model for needed drainage improvements as developers come forward with proposed projects so they will have direction on how much right-of-way will need to dedicate as part of their drainage plan for their development.
 
The original Plan presented two scenarios of drainage control.  The one agreed to by council is seen as providing greater viability both practicably and politically as it entails a combination of strategies that includes individual on-site detention as the key portion.  This scenario requires less land for common drainage flows through bayous, creeks, and reliefs and would offer less intrusion on current property owners.

 

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Residential development one step closer

March 25, 2015

 

Manvel city council held the first of two public hearings and authorized approval for a proposed change to the zoning classification of 73.65 acres located at the south east corner of CR 48 and CR 58.  The city’s Planning, Development & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) favorably recommended the change which moves one step closer the development of NewPort Lake Estates, a “fairly high-end lake front community of about two hundred homes” as described by its developer, Joe Watson.
 
NewPort Lake Estates is designed as a natural waterfront community encouraging neighbors to build bonds with each other and to interact and enjoy the lakes, trails, athletic facilities, and many neighborhood parks.  The development is within easy walking distance to AISD schools: Don Jeter Elementary and Manvel Junior High School at Rodeo Palms.  As previously described to council late last year, forty-four percent of the lots will offer premium lakefront views at over 10,000 square feet with sizes of 70 x 150.  The balance of the off-water lots will be 60 x 110.  Home sizes are expected between the low 2000 to high 3000 square foot range and prices are projected at $350,000 to $450,000.  Gehan Homes and Chesmar Homes are the selected builders for the project. 
 
The primary entrance will be from CR 58 and the design calls for scenic views of lake and park areas as residents and guest come and go from the development.  The lakes to be excavated for the project will differ than the customary water detention areas seen in most developments in that the edge of the waterline will front directly the back yard property lines of the lake lots.  There are three lakes spanning 10 acres.  Envisioned by the developer are boat docks and piers so that property owners can access their own water crafts and float around to visit friends and neighbors or the community amenities.  The lakes will be stocked with edible fish though there will be a catch and release program.
 
There are several parks planned throughout the development and a main Community Center will be available for public gatherings and a play area for kids and will include a small marina for visitors to launch and /or tie up their various water crafts.  Also planned is an area designed more for middle school and high school aged children and adults.  It will be set up with nearly one mile of trails with individual exercise stations, a regulation sand lot volley ball court, and a badminton/croquet court.
 
Smaller “pocket parks” will be spread around the development providing different themes.  One will contain a regulation junior soccer field with bleachers.  Others include a hummingbird theme, one appealing to various bird species, and a butterfly park will be located near the west entrance on CR 48 which is expected to be used for easy access to the nearby elementary and junior high schools.  The planned parks do not meet the city’s current park ordinance but as the preliminary plat for the project was approved previously under different rules the development plan enjoys grandfather status.
 
Clearing and grubbing of the property has commenced and excavation and filling will likely begin soon after the second public hearing is held and approved at the next city council meeting in April.  The developer expects lots will be available for builders later this year.

 

 

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