October 2015

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Additional Debate on Thoroughfare Plan

Meridiana Announces Plans

Early voting begins: voters to decide on AISD bonds

Grocery Store on Horizon?

Council approves oil and gas well

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Additional debate on Thoroughfare Plan

October 7, 2015

 

Manvel city council continued debate on the Master Thoroughfare Plan at its recent meeting.  The Thoroughfare Plan will have significant implications on the city’s future as it attempts to proactively establish an integrated road network that supports and sustains viable long-term growth.  It appears the Plan is substantially endorsed by council though the first reading on its authorization was put off in order to allow the administration to change two parts of the Plan.  The location of a part of Cemetery Road where it would compromise a long-established cemetery should future development necessitate the implementation of the Plan will be realigned further to the west.  Another issue that was raised by Member Melody Hanson at a previous meeting regarded the provision for the use of drainage easements to establish an off-street trail system with bicycles being the primary expected user.  Hanson interpreted the verbiage to mean an owner of property along a watershed, be it a bayou or creek or tributary, would be subject to a public bike trail running through their property whether it was desired or not.  She favors the Plan as submitted except for the trails which she considers inappropriate as part of a Thoroughfare Plan which purpose is to plan for vehicular traffic.  She considers a more appropriate place for the off-street recreational trail system to be in the Master Parks Plan instead.

 

The first public hearing on the adoption of the Plan was conducted with not one member of the public voicing an opinion on the matter.  The plan was approved and submitted by PD&Z and provides for the establishment of 14 major corridors each providing 120 feet of ROW.  That width would allow six 12 foot traffic lanes (3 in each direction), a 16 foot median, and a 16 foot green space on either side to accommodate sidewalks, trails, and such.  Nine roadways are classified as arterials which “typically carry the highest amounts of traffic and also have the highest speeds depending on the context of the environment.”  Arterials would require 100 feet of ROW, typically providing four 12 foot traffic lanes with the remaining 52 feet used in some configuration of median and side green space for multi-purpose use.  Eight roads are considered collector streets which “focus on moving traffic between neighborhoods and different areas within the city.”  Collector streets would require an 80 foot ROW with the number of lanes varying from two to four “depending on the current and future demands and the potential development.”

 

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 corridor but it ends at the middle of DelBello Road (CR 90), another major corridor, and fails to continue east to Masters and even further east towards Pearland and Friendswood.  Bissel Road (CR 190) is shown as an arterial and could be another viable east-west route 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.

 

Developers of large scale projects generally consider the Plan as overreaching and oppose the mandating of so many wide road ways as further encumbering project margins.  Individual Land owners along the plans contemplated roadways that one day desire to sell their property would likewise be unhappy with the prospect of a loss of property value due to the amount of land essentially being given to the city in order to meet the right-of-way (ROW) mandates.  City Manager Kyle Jung more clearly elucidated the point saying the requirement to meet the subdivision ordinance, of which the MTP would be part of, would be necessary any time a property is subdivided.  The intention of that part of the Plan, as is the case with most of the Plan, is contemplated for larger scale developments containing many acres of individual lots; the expectation being that developers would fund the majority of the provisions of the Plan.  But member Lew Shuffler raised an issue at a previous meeting that apparently was not included in the deliberations by PD&Z when he reminded his fellow members that a Manvel landowner wishing to subdivide their property, if strict adherence to the Plan were followed, would necessarily be required to meet the conditions of the city’s subdivision ordinance.  He likened the requirement to a recent approval granted by council to an individual landowner who desired subdividing his few acres so that a portion could be given to a family member for the building of a private residence.  The Thoroughfare Plan as contemplated would necessitate that gift or assignment of land meet any applicable provision of the Plan.  While members took initial poise at that consequence and further considered the likely impairment to a transfer of property, no mention of addressing that concern was forthcoming.

 

The city’s subdivision ordinance clarifies the concern for individual property owners:  “Subdivider means any person who performs or participates in the performance of any act relating to the subdivision of land...   The terms "subdivider" and "developer" are synonymous and are used interchangeably…  Subdivision or subdivide means the division of any lot, tract or parcel of land by plat, map, or description into two or more parts, lots or sites for the purpose, whether immediate or future, of sale, rental or lease, or division of ownership.  Any dedication and the laying out (or realignment) of new streets, or other public or private access ways, with or without the creation of lots, is a subdivision.  An "addition" is a subdivision as defined herein.  The term "subdivision" or "subdivide" includes the division of land, whether by plat or by metes and bounds description, and, when appropriate to the context, shall relate to the process of subdividing or to the land subdivided.

 

City council is expected to again consider the Plan at its next scheduled meeting on October 12.  State law mandates two public hearings to allow citizens to express their opinions before the Plan can be wholly adopted.  Public input from citizens is always welcomed at council meetings and members encourage input from their constituents.

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Meridiana announces plans

October 14, 2015

 

With a plethora of local, county, and school officials on hand the developers of the Meridiana Project made public their plans for the master planned community at a VIP reveal event on the site of the first phase of construction.  Rise Communities, developers of the community, held an official groundbreaking last April but have remained reticent in revealing project details.  The 2,700 acre master-planned community will include property in both Iowa Colony and Manvel and reportedly will see more than 5,500 single family homes upon its completion.  The primary entrance to the community, and the locale of Phase 1 of the project, 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.  Both entrances are slated to see commercial development though plans for those sights have yet to be announced.

 

The reveal event showed the development’s attempt to appeal to a diversity of homebuyers as it announced eight prominent area builders that will construct single family homes on lot sizes ranging from 50 to 70 feet in width.  Additionally, private and gated communities are planned with 80 and 100 foot lot widths.  Price ranges for the homes has not been made public.  Of great emphasis at the event was the philosophy of Meridiana being an “engaging community focused on education and the wonders of the world around us.  At every turn you’ll notice an unprecedented commitment to education that informs every aspect of Meridiana, such as hands-on Learning Labs designed in conjunction with Alvin ISD, and a tunnel under Meridiana Parkway so children can walk safely to school.”  In support of that vision, the development will feature a “number of Learning Labs that will be located throughout the community.  Each will offer a unique opportunity for hands-on learning and experimentation for residents of all ages. Subjects will range from water and agriculture to solar to weather.”  Astronomy will have a prominent place in the community’s amenities.  A 60 foot tall “Meridian Tower” will serve as “both art and science as it intends to connect the earth with the sky.”  The tower will create a sun spot on the ground that will move along with the earth.  Another amenity, Galileo’s Lab, will include a planetarium, telescopes, a planetary solar system, a ships wheel and sextant, a whisper catcher, a fishing and observation deck, bird houses, a weather station, outdoor classrooms, slides and climbing pieces, a rocket landing site, benches and tables, and thematic planting.  Located in the center of the Amenity Village will be a “Skymap Lab” that, among other things, illustrates the apparent motion of the sun over the entire year....from horizon to horizon.”  Continuing the education theme, the project claims “wildlife habitats abound and provide invaluable opportunities to observe the area’s natural wonders.”  In summation of the education emphasis:  “Meridiana is not only a wholly unique community dedicated to education – it’s a living, breathing, specially designed home of curiosity and discovery.”

 

An Amenity Village will be constructed and envisioned as the “epicenter of activity and excitement in the community.”  It will be just adjacent to the Meridian Tower and the buildings of the Amenity Village are designed to “perfectly align with delineations for the summer and winter equinox and solstices.”  The Amenity Village will provide the Learning Labs, a lap pool and family pool, an amphitheater, outdoor café, and a fitness center.  An Event Area will allow for “all manner of community get-togethers and will make available a giant chess board, ping pong tables, washer toss, shuffleboard, and open spaces for running and playing.”  The project also boasts over 21 acres of lakes with “meandering waterways and inviting nature trails for hiking and biking.”  A fishing pier will encourage catch and release fishing and there is planned a “launch for kayaks, rafts, and paddleboards.”

 

Due to the size and scope of the development, Meridiana will provide significant contributions to the taxing jurisdictions of Manvel, Iowa Colony, and the Alvin Independent School District (AISD).  AISD has benefited from the projects generosity in the contribution of land to accommodate an elementary school that is currently under construction and slated to open for the 2016-2017 school year.  The school will serve not only Meridiana residents as it becomes populated but will also serve to relieve crowded conditions at nearby existing schools.  The reveal event announced the offer of land to AISD that would accommodate a district stadium that is contemplated in the current bond election that voters will decide in November.  AISD officials stress there is no definite agreement on the location until the School Board takes up the matter and ultimately approves it, but the location seems well suited to a reasonable level of convenient access from most areas of the district.

 

The primary road through the development will be named Meridiana Parkway.  It will work its way east through Iowa Colony to CR 786 and then meander in a northeasterly direction through Manvel eventually terminating at SH 6 where it meets McCoy Road across from Manvel High School.  Plans call for a bridge on McCoy that will cross over the railroad track that runs parallel to SH 6.

 

Meridiana has been percolating for years.  In November 2009 Manvel city council approved preliminary plats for the project which at that time was to be called Seven Oaks.  Developers then expected homes to be on the ground in Late 2010 or early 2011.  Public hearings were held on the creation of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) in April 2010 that would allow the city to realize infrastructure improvements with the developer fronting the costs.  Reimbursement for those costs would be paid through property tax and sales tax revenue earned on the increased property values resulting from the development.  City council ultimately approved the creation of the TIRZ in May 2010.  It was in December 2010 when city council granted the developer’s request to change the name to Meridiana.  A national economic recession filtered down locally and the project was put off.  Developers returned to city council to renew plats and development agreements according to requirements but not until last April did serious intent to break ground been forthcoming.

 

Infrastructure installation and construction is well underway and while an official timetable was not announced for home sales to begin it seems reasonable to expect availability in early 2016.

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Early voting begins: voters to decide on AISD bonds

October 21, 2015

 

Early voting for the November 3rd election began October 19 and remains available to voters through October 30.  Seven state-wide propositions occupy the ballot but the likely primary interest locally will be the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) bond issue.  The building program contemplated by the bond package anticipates total spending of $285 million.  Voters will be asked to approve $245 million in bonds with the district funding the balance with $28 million from the current operating budget and $12.6 million from previously authorized bonds.

 

The bond program will fund four new elementary schools as well as land for a fifth.  Campus locations in Shadow Creek Ranch and the new Pomona development have been confirmed; other locations have yet to be announced.  Costs for the elementary schools range from $24.5 million to $31.2 million.  Additional land is projected at $2.3 million.  A new Junior High will be constructed in Shadow Creek Ranch 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.  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.  Upgrades to the Alvin HS auditorium and stadium total nearly $19 million.  A new transportation center at $8.1 million will relieve the current facility that is over capacity and will provide long-term cost savings in fuel and maintenance by reducing bus transit times.  And a new district stadium will require $41.4 million.  The funds necessary for the stadium land acquisition were provided for in the previous bond issue.  The 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’s Board of Trustees recently approved the acquisition of 70 acres in the southern portion of the Meridiana development along SH 288 to house the new sports venue.

 

AISD experienced an influx of over 1500 new students this year.  It is expecting a five year growth at over 6000 students.  By the year 2020 enrollment is projected at more than 28,000 and by 2025 over 35,000.  According to statistics released by AISD, 10 of the 15 elementary schools in service at the beginning of the school year are over capacity.  It is predicted that elementary school campuses alone will add some 500 students each year for the foreseeable future.  Temporary and flex buildings are being used at many campuses to accommodate the excess capacity and some campuses have resorted to using rooms designed for other purposes as classrooms.  Overcrowded conditions also stress ancillary school services such as busing, cafeterias, and libraries.  Typical elementary school campuses in AISD are designed to accommodate 800 students.  Duke Elementary on CR 59 is serving more than 1000 students in its second year of operation.  Don Jeter Elementary at the intersection of CR 48 and CR 58 is the next most populated elementary campus at just under 1000 students.  All west side schools are experiencing similar facility pressures.  Meridiana Elementary will provide some relief next school year as it is expecting completion this coming summer.

 

Similar situations exist at secondary campuses.  AISD currently operates 6 junior high schools and 2 high schools.  This school year saw the opening of the new Manvel Junior High which provides relief to Rodeo Palms JH and Nolan Ryan JH, both serving the west side.  The current junior high design used by AISD accommodates 1000 students.  Nolan Ryan last school year saw their enrollment numbers at 1239 students, more than 23% over capacity.  Just as the case with elementary campuses, stress on ancillary services is present as well.  Two high schools serve the district presently.  Alvin HS is expected to be at capacity this school year at roughly 2600 students.  Manvel HS is projected to see enrollment at 3092, which is over 400 students above the designed capacity of 2685.  Next school year will see the opening of the new Shadow Creek High School campus in Pearland that will ease the situation at Manvel HS.  Like the elementary schools, secondary campuses experiencing overcrowding are having to utilize temporary buildings and flex space.  Strong growth is expected to persist at the secondary level as large elementary classes begin to matriculate through the district. 

 

The need for additional schools is seldom questioned, though the bond proposal as submitted does have detractors.  Some are unfailingly opposed to any form of tax increase.  East side residents may question their benefit in funding improvements that serve primarily the west side.  Needs have been most pressing on the west side and undeniably will continue to be so for the near term.  But recent AISD bond issues have been attentive to east side needs.  The 2009 bond allocated money for a complete rebuild of Mark Twain Elementary.  The 2013 bond supported a substantial expansion and renovation of Alvin JH and funded new construction of Bill Hasse Elementary to replace the previous Longfellow campus.  Both bond programs provided considerable funds for numerous upgrades and maintenance of other district facilities on the east side.  The current bond proposal will fund a total rebuild of Alvin Elementary and provide improvements to the Alvin HS auditorium and stadium.  The new Career and Technical Education Center in Manvel will provide invaluable career training opportunities for all district students.

 

Some feel the district is taking on too large a debt obligation and that the cost of the proposed buildings is excessive.  Recent reports from a private government watchdog group (www.watchdog.org) claims AISD is building the most expensive schools in the state.  Analyses of the data used to support that contention are based on 2013 construction costs compiled by the state’s comptroller (www.texastransparency.org).  The report acknowledges the data submitted was not “independently verified”, that districts “did not make it easy to acquire the data,” that submitted data was often changed prior to the reports completion, and that many districts “could not locate building records, making it difficult to accurately verify costs.”  AISD officials point out the comparison is flawed too in that the comptroller costs represent merely construction costs while AISD cost estimates include the total project - land acquisition, site preparation, engineering and design, associated roads and parking lots, furniture, fixtures, equipment, technology, library, labs, athletic and arts facilities, etc.  When comparing just construction costs, AISD consistently ranks below the national average and generally lands in the middle of regional costs according to a February report by the School Planning & Management organization (www.webspm.com).  It also is reasonable to note that construction costs have increased since 2013 in the range of 5% to 10% each year.  A more accurate evaluation of cost comparisons would require adjustment to numbers anticipated in 2016 and beyond.

 

AISD administrators boast good stewardship in prior bond spending programs.  Taxpayers enjoyed lower tax rate increases than anticipated in each of the prior two bond programs in 2009 ($70,095,000) and 2013 ($252,600,000).  The 2009 package anticipated an increase in the tax rate of 9 cents and resulted in an actual 4 cent increase.  The 2013 bond package anticipated an increase in the tax rate of 11.39 cents though taxpayers have experienced an actual increase in 8.79 cents.  In order to service the 2015 bond funds, district officials claim taxpayers will see an increase in their tax burden not to exceed 8.3 cents per $100 valuation.  That translates to a higher yearly tax bill of $80.30 per $100,000 of taxable home value, or $6.92 each month.  AISD comprises 252 square miles with considerable new development in progress.  The need for infrastructure to accommodate the growth necessarily portends tax increases for citizens.  A steady increase in new home construction and the associated commercial development will serve over time to moderate the burden on taxpayers as it will be shared by a larger number of contributors. 

 

Another reason posited for opposition is the inclusion of an athletic complex that some consider unnecessary and extravagant.  The percentage of the bond program dedicated to the new district stadium ($41.4 million) represents 14.5% of the total package.  With the new Shadow Creek High School coming to operation next year, three programs will require athletic facilities in which to compete.  Add to that the expectation of a fourth high school opening by 2021 and a possible six high schools ultimately serving the district.  Originally constructed in 1945 proponents claim the current Alvin stadium is not up to present-day standards to sufficiently accommodate the teams or the fans.  It is described as old, land locked and unable to be expanded, and offers inadequate parking.  Several games in recent years saw fans being refused admission due to its lack of capacity.  The $41.4 million budgeted for the stadium compares to Katy ISD funding a 12,000 seat structure at $58 million approved by voters in 2014 and Clear Creek ISD funding a 9,500 seat structure at $39.1 million approved by voters in 2013.

 

Early voting runs through October 30th.  Brazoria County will continue the policy of allowing voters to cast a ballot at any county polling location during both the early voting period and on Election Day.  Additionally, voting will be available at most AISD campuses on a rolling schedule.  School locations and dates as well as information to help taxpayers make an informed decision on whether or not the bond merits support is available on the AISD website (www.alvinisd.net).

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Grocery store on horizon?

October 28, 2015

 

Owners of the property located on the northwest corner of SH 6 and SH 288 presented to city council a plan to move forward with phase one of the Manvel Town Center development.  The first 44 acres to be developed will occupy the corner tract.  Subsequent phases will develop land to the north along the southbound side of 288.  Negotiations for a large Kroger store, some 120,000 square feet according to the presentation, are all but committed.  The corner tract provides favorable ingress and egress for shoppers exiting 288 with an ultimate destination north - south along 288 or east - west along SH 6.

 

Manvel residents and others living in the area could see the store open for business as early as the summer of 2017.  The timetable for a groundbreaking will depend on negotiations the developer has underway with Municipal Utility District (MUD) 61 and the City of Manvel to provide interim water and wastewater services.  The proposal calls for interim utility services until such time the MUD servicing the development (MUD 42) is able to complete their construction of required utility infrastructure.  MUD 61 services the Lakeland development and recently reached an agreement with the city to construct additional capacity in their wastewater plant to accommodate the continuing growth of the community.  Manvel Town Center developers are working with MUD 61 to increase the capacity of the planned treatment plant so that sufficient volume will be available to service the project on an interim basis. 

 

The City of Manvel is requested to provide water for the development.  The city’s Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has proactively taken steps to prepare the city to handle the request.  MEDC has begun the process of alerting the public of its intention to provide funds to improve the city’s water plant on School Road through the installation of booster pumps and the installation of a ground storage tank and additional pumping capacity at the facility located on Corporate Drive.  An infrastructure improvement funded by MEDC and completed earlier this year will provide the piping required to carry both the water from the city’s plant and the wastewater from the Lakeland plant.  MEDC could agree to the funding as soon as its next scheduled meeting in November.  The Town Center developers will be required to continue the installation of the lines across 288 in order to service the project.

 

The City of Manvel stands to realize significant benefit from the arrangement.  The installation of the lines across 288 will make city water services available on the west side of the city with the cost being borne by the Town Center project.  Additional wastewater capacity from MUD 61, also to be funded by the Town Center project, would at some point revert to the city thereby providing wastewater capacity to additional future development.  If both negotiations return satisfactory resolutions, Town Center developers believe their project can begin in mid-2016.  A year of construction is estimated so that the project could see completion by mid-2017.  An inability to reach an accord with either the city or MUD 61 would likely delay the project by one year as MUD 42 would need to complete their infrastructure construction before the project could begin.  Manvel city council responded favorably to the presentation and will likely approve the MEDC plan once it is submitted at a future meeting.  Negotiations between the Town Center and MUD 61 are reported to be progressing favorably but as they are private and not inclusive of city input, a more substantive assessment is unable to be reported.

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Council approves oil and gas well

October 28, 2015

 

Manvel city council unanimously approved an application for an oil and gas drilling permit that will allow a well be established on property south of the Chevron station located on SH 6 just west of SH 288.  The formal approval was required after council essentially authorized the well move forward a few weeks ago.  The permit request required amendment to read its location as in the City of Manvel rather than Iowa Colony as the prior application read.  The property sets right on the border of the two cities and it was necessary the application read Manvel as it is the controlling jurisdiction.  The drilling activity is expected to consist of approximately 25 days followed by a short evaluation period and then a few days to set production pipe.  According to the operator, “Rig time actively would be 30 days probably at max, and then they are gone.”  Remaining would be a “tree with some valves on it” that would be essentially unseen from public roads and neighboring properties.

 

The application approved by council was not the first by the well’s operator.  A prior application requested authorization to drill on land just west of the Lakeland development about two years ago.  The city denied that application for various reasons, but primarily due to its violation of a city requirement that no structure be within 2000 feet of an operating well.  The company began work on this project in 2007 and has earned the necessary permits to establish a well.  The City of Manvel remained the lone hurdle to begin.  A company representative explained that the current proposed site meets the 2000 foot minimum with the exception of the Chevron station which executed a waiver of the 2000 foot requirement.  There is a house within 200 feet but is located in Iowa Colony and “not applicable as far as Manvel city council is concerned.”  Commercial structures across 288 do fall within 2000 feet but the drill operator claims the highway overpass provides sufficient separation from the well site so as to not be a concern.  Admitting the application was their “only hope” in moving the process forward, the spokesman explained, “We feel like any kind of detrimental or negative connotation to us drilling on the previously applied tract was unwarranted.”  He claimed the noise levels in today’s rigs are far quieter than previously and cited state law that puts underground mineral rights above surface rights.  The operator intimated at the time that city efforts to stifle the drilling activity could result in some form of legal proceeding. 

 

In September council heard comments from both supporters of the well and those opposed.  One landowner, a 45-year resident of the city, spoke of a desire to realize the financial benefit of the minerals underneath his property, making a case that Manvel and Brazoria County would see financial benefit from the taxes that would be levied on the production resulting from the well’s activities.  He expressed the drill site as not being a bother to anybody as it would be erected some distance south of the Chevron on land with little else around than vegetation. 

 

A realtor representing the owners of a neighboring 250-acre tract on both the northwest and southwest sides of the 288/Hwy 6 intersection expressed opposition to the well.  He described his tracts as the “gateway property of Manvel” and expressed “real concerns” on the effect drilling activity would have on a proposed development and the associated MUD and 380-agreements that have been negotiated with the city.  Describing their property as being a “beautiful pristine piece of land” and offering significant long-term development potential for the city, he explained his group as excited about the momentum going on in the area and fears the drilling activity could have a “real negative impact.”

 

In the end council agreed the activity would have little impact on citizens as the immediate area is sparsely occupied and the drilling activity will be for only a short period of time.  Vegetation and trees along with the Chevron station will essentially make the well unseen from SH 6 the SH 288 overpass provides an effective buffer for those east of the drilling site.

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