May 2016

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Council holds special meeting

Voters go to polls this week

Local studio produces "functional art"

Voters show discontent with status quo

City halts Lakeland utility installation

EDC takes criticism

New council members sworn in

Business burdened by city rules

City promotes motorcycle awareness campaign

 

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Council holds special meeting

May 4, 2016

 

Manvel council member Adrian Gaspar requested a special meeting this week to revisit an expenditure that was unanimously approved by council at its last meeting.  In order for a special meeting to be called, at least four members must agree and it must be posted 72-hours in advance so that the public has notice.  The other members agreeing to the meeting were John Cox, Larry Akery, and Lorraine Hehn.  At issue was the authorization of $5,000 to compensate a meeting facilitator and to consider a different date for a planned council retreat.  Gaspar felt the expenditure a “waste of taxpayer money” and thought the date should be re-set to after this weekend’s elections so that the new members would be able to participate.  He also admitted to paying insufficient attention when the vote was called as he voted yea and apparently did not realize he had done so.

 

The meeting facilitator at issue is Cristoff Spieler, a noted authority on urban planning.  Spieler has already made two presentations to the council leading member Larry Akery to wonder aloud what new could he have to share.  Others on council shared the sentiment but when the vote was called all seven members unanimously authorized the disbursement.  This time the vote saw John Cox and Larry Akery join Gaspar in voting against the authorization.  Member Melody Hanson chastised Gaspar and those agreeing with his vote that it is not at all professional and would cast a bad light on the city should they vote to rescind the vote just 24 hours prior to the meeting date.  In the end the authorization was upheld by a 4-3 vote and the meeting proceeded as originally planned.

 

At his prior presentations, Spieler emphasized that lot sizes alone should not be the driving force for planning and advocated a development plan that attempts a balance with the city’s desires and the developer’s needs.  Essentially he stressed the importance of flexibility and cited the desires expressed by council for high-end retail, walkable environments, arts and music venues, and large amounts of parks and green spaces as requiring a series of trade-offs.  He explained that there is an “inverse relationship between the amount of retail you get and lot sizes.  The larger your lots are the fewer people you have and the fewer businesses they will support.  Generally you can get one or the other but you can’t get both.”  He went on to explain how ultimately tax revenue is related to commercial activity which too is related to lot size.  “As lots get larger the tax collected per acre tends to go down which means the public revenues do not support the desires.  He explained how walkability and density are totally related and that generally walkable neighborhoods require smaller lots.  “Maintaining a walkable environment with large lots doesn’t work well together,” he declared.

 

Spieler emphasized the importance of the city being able to sustain itself in the longer term.  A less dense community will likely struggle to maintain its ability to provide basic services.  “Often times, decisions that look really good in the short term turn out to be really bad in the long term.  You end up building too much infrastructure to support.  The reality is that most cities use commercial development to pay for residential; that your typical suburban subdivision does not actually make enough tax revenue to support itself.  Which is why a strong commercial tax base is so important.  If you are a purely residential city it is pretty hard to make the numbers add up.”  Spieler went on to emphasize the importance of striking a balance in negotiations with developers.  He said it should not be just about lot sizes but about all the other things that are available and how they relate to each other.  Spieler advocates negotiating from a position of what is wanted rather than emphatically stating what is not.  Efforts to get what the city wants while exhibiting consideration of what the developer requires will likely return far better results than merely focusing on lot sizes.  He acknowledged lot sizes as being part of the equation but “using that as the only determinant for what quality is probably is not enough.”  Ultimately, he says, there are two parties involved, the city and the developers, and both demand mutual consideration.  “It is much more useful in making the city a desirable place that will grow to actually have a positive vision, to say this is what we want to be and getting a developer excited about being a part of that.  And be open to their answers to how to meet those goals.” 

 

The council retreat was motivated in part in response to recent discord expressed by local business and land owners as well as developers that Manvel policies and attitudes serve mostly to discourage economic development in the city.  Some 200 petitions were submitted to city council in March expressing unhappiness: “The reality of minimal commercial development over the past many years is testament to the contention that the city is currently, and has in the past, grossly mismanaged its economic development opportunities.  While year after year Manvel remains mired in inactivity, neighboring communities continue to see exciting development projects that improve their quality of life, provide local employment opportunities, diversify their tax base, and provide relief to their current taxpayers.”  Developers too often complain of the difficulties in getting things done in Manvel.  The recent intent expressed by the Manvel Town Center to establish a major grocery store on SH 288 at SH 6 exposed another failure to boost the cities commercial viability.  A plan that would have allowed the store to open in 2017 seemed to have everything in place to move forward.  But without a clear explanation, the deal is in limbo and once again Manvel citizens are left without and sizeable tax revenue will remain uncollected.

 

Council does deserve credit for the recent establishment of more development friendly policies in the old Manvel Town Site.  The area generally a couple of blocks north and south of SH 6 and generally from McCoy to Cemetery does relax some of the burdensome requirements placed on new businesses wanting to locate in the area.  Those actions are generally in response to the plight of the Manvel Seafood Restaurant which had acquired acreage to build a new restaurant to replace their current location that does not allow for expansion.  The costs for mandated utility and road infrastructure made untenable any plan to expand.  A failure on the part of council to intercede and authorize a relaxation of certain requirements very likely would have forced the restaurant to relocate to another city.  As it is, it does appear the relocation will occur.  Council also recently received with some openness a proposed 380 agreement that would serve to encourage development of nearly 1400 acres of prime city property in the area north and east of the intersection of SH 6 and SH 288.   These examples of flexibility in public/private partnerships would seem to vindicate Spieller’s counsel.  Whether or not hearing more of the same would be helpful, those favoring stronger attitudes and a more pro-active approach toward economic development would likely consider the investment well spent.

 

Another goal of the council retreat was to help produce a more unified approach to the city’s development and a more civil discourse in council chambers.  Numerous instances in recent meetings have demonstrated a lack thereof and based on the interaction at the special meeting it is clear some work needs to be done in that regard.  Time will determine the value of the retreat session.

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Voters go to polls this week

May 4, 2016

 

Manvel voters on Saturday, May 7, will choose two representatives for city council positions, three regents for the Alvin Community College (ACC), and decide whether or not to bear a tax increase to support an $88.5 million bond to fund improvements to the ACC campus and to build a new campus to serve the west side of the college’s taxing district.

 

For Manvel city council, incumbent Lew Shuffler is being contested by Jerome Hudson for the Place 6 seat.  Shuffler has been on council for six years and says he feels like “we are right in the middle of this and I am not ready to walk away with unfinished business which is the reason I have decided to run for another term of office.  I'm looking forward to putting in the time and effort to do what's right for the city and citizens of Manvel.”  Along with member John Cox, Shuffler would be the longest serving member on council if re-elected.  Hudson currently serves on the city’s Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) and on various other city committees and boards.  In promoting his efforts for the position, Hudson says, “Being a resident of Manvel and former business owner, I desire to see continuous growth, economic development, and prosperity within our city boundaries.  We need to have experienced leadership on City Council who will work to develop policies to sensibly manage our continuous growth.  As a city council member, I will champion policies, strategies, and implementations that allow for our residents to raise families in a safe and prosperous community; provide an environment where responsible businesses can thrive and grow; and maintain our open space lifestyle.”

 

The Place 4 seat on Manvel city council is being contested by former council member and current EDC member Maureen DelBello and a newcomer to the city’s political scene, Melissa Sifuentes.  Sifuentes explains her decision to run: “I have had the opportunity to watch Manvel develop and am excited about the future as this is the place my family and I call home.  If elected, I will be dedicated to serving our community and will work hard for what our city deserves.  If elected, my responsibility to the citizens of Manvel require my diligence and dedication to listen and address your wants and needs in the community.  My plan is to be your voice and deliver results.”  DelBello has held a council position before and lost in an election last year to Lorraine Hehn.  After the defeat she maintained involvement with the city in serving on the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).  In announcing her candidacy for council, she said, “I've decided to run for city council because I feel my years of experience on council and my knowledge of the operations of the city will benefit the citizens of Manvel.”  She continued, “Manvel is in the middle of a growth stage.  We must maintain good stable growth for our city and work together to do what is best for the citizens.”

 

Three seats on the ACC Board of Regents and a bond referendum have created increased attention on the part of district voters this election.  Little in the way of differences are espoused by the candidates as most all favor improving the quality of education and increasing student opportunities, most especially in vocational training.  All six candidates have deep roots in the Alvin community.  The key difference in each contest that will likely sway voters opinions more than anything else is their stance on support of the $88.5 million bond that the college has submitted to voters.  Each seat sees one candidate strongly favoring the bond and one strongly opposing the bond.  Just one incumbent is seeking re-election, Karlis Ercums, who is being contested by former Alvin city council member Roger Stuksa for the Position 9 seat.  Ercums has served twelve years as a regent and “feels now is a critical time for the future of the college.  He says the college “is in critical need of technical/facility maintenance upgrades” for campus buildings that are more than 50 years old.  He “emphatically” supports a west side campus and considers the argument put forth by the opposition that just the current campus be improved and “everyone on the west side can just drive to Alvin” as “uninformed and shortsighted.”  He goes on to say that “taxpayers on the west side deserve an accessible college facility that is convenient and is one that meets their needs.  It’s just the right thing to do.”  Stuksa opposes the bond but says he does support vocational training and full-time teachers.  He says the bond includes a lot of money that will take 25-years to pay off and expresses a belief that the college will most certainly ask for still more money some time during that 25-year payback period.

 

The Position 7 seat sees Kam Marvel contesting Patricia Hertenberger.  Marvel says he is running for a regent position because his family has benefited so much from ACC.  He strongly supports the bond and believes that all the needs of district taxpayers should be met.  He wants to provide a strong foundation for the college and a balance of the needs for fiscal responsibility while meeting the needs of students on both the east and west sides of the district.  “The funding from the bond will allow families almost 30 minutes away who already pay taxes to ACC a more reasonable option for services.  It will also expand effective programs at the current campus and make much needed improvements.”  Hertenberger spent 32 years in the classroom and 19 years as an administrator serving as ACC’s Dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Development.  She claims to “maintain a passion for the college and would work to ensure the college remains focused on student success and instruction.”  Hertenberger concedes the need for some elements in the proposed bond, such as the Technical Training Facility, but she is not in favor of supporting it at this time.  She realizes the west side of the district is seeing rapid growth and does favor the college expanding access to the area.  But she believes better access can be accomplished without building another campus, at least at this point in time.  She favors teaming with AISD to offer college courses at the new Shadow Creek High School in the afternoons, evenings and on weekends.  “This would be one way to provide access to the taxpayers in that area while also finding out how much interest there really is before investing money in another campus,” she says.

 

The Position 8 seat pits former ACC Chief of Police Andy Tacquard against Pearland attorney Monica Morgan.  Tacquard served as the campus’ Chief of Police for 30 years, retiring in 2014.  He does not support the bond for several reasons.  He claims the buildings cited in the proposal as requiring infrastructure improvements “were remodeled after Hurricane Ike in 2009.”  He also does not support the demolition of a key building “where the heart of instruction is accomplished just to give the campus a more open look and improve the flow of pedestrian traffic.”  He does not think now is the time for the west side campus “due to the fact Houston Community College shut down a campus for lack of student enrollment less than 10 miles away from the new proposed campus site.  He does support the acquisition of property along the 288 corridor for future expansion, but favors holding off on a new stand-alone facility until “we know for sure that there is student demand that justifies building a new campus.”  He believes a more prudent approach would be the renting of a vacant space and perhaps operating a store front campus like many other colleges do to see if student demand exists.  Morgan supports the bond saying “the funds are needed to upgrade and enhance the Main Campus in Alvin, as well as, establish a west side location to provide greater access and convenience to the rapidly growing population of Manvel, Pearland, Rosharon and Iowa Colony.”  She is optimistic that “voters in the ACC district will see the value of investment in higher education for our community.  This is a critical time and preparation for the future needs to begin now.  The growth, improvement and expansion of ACC will have a long term positive impact on our local economy and on families that reside within the district.

 

The bond proposal calls for $88.5 million with approximately 60% of that amount to fund a new Technical Education building and a variety of improvements and upgrades to the current Alvin campus.  The remaining 40% of bond funds would go to the acquisition of property and the construction of a building to serve the west side of the college district.  Proponents of the bond feel the current campus in Alvin is past due for modernization to a more efficient, flexible, and engaging learning environment that better meets current student expectations.  The west side of the district provides significant constituent population that will grow still larger in the coming years.  A campus on the west side would better serve that constituency and allow the college to better meet the future needs of its district.  The Board of Regents have proven responsible with college finances and have been conservative in its operation.  Eight of its nine members voted in support of the bond proposal.

 

Opposition to the bond is centered generally on two issues: the west side investment and the effect on property taxes.  Some consider the commitment to the west side as premature and not justified given the poor utilization of the current campus facilities.  Another argument against a west side campus is that the planned programs would mostly duplicate current course offerings such as the current High School dual credit program, on line courses, and those offered in the classrooms on the Alvin Campus.  Approval of the bond will burden taxpayers an additional 2 to 2.5% depending on which taxing jurisdictions they reside in.  An average county home value of $175,000 would see an increase in their tax bill of $10.20 each month or $122.45 on an annual basis.

 

Election Day is Saturday, May 7.  District voters can now vote in any county precinct location on Election Day.

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Local studio produces "functional art"

May 11, 2016

 

Manvel is home to a special partnership that creates one-of-a-kind furniture and items that deliver both form and function.  Owners Joe Adams and Erich Elfeldt met in the 7th grade and have been best friends for forty years.  They describe their work at TimberFire Studio as “functional art” and the most gratifying they have ever done.  “We put our heart and soul into everything we make along with the very best materials we can find and long hours of craftsmanship.  We view the products that come out of our studio as our legacy and want them to be family heirlooms that end up on Antiques Roadshow in another 100 years,” they exclaim.  They each consider their current endeavor as the “third act of their professional lives and believe everything that’s happened previously has prepared (them) for this moment.”

 

Both Joe and Erich grew up with a strong appreciation for the craftsmanship of working artisans.  Joe’s grandfather was a certified forester & sawyer while his great grandfather was a master blacksmith.  Erich’s father apprenticed with German cabinetmakers and his grandfather was an accomplished designer of European woodworking machinery.  “We started working with our hands at an early age alongside our respective fathers in whatever pursuit they were involved with at the time.  Growing up it seemed like our hands were covered in either grease or sawdust and the sawdust was much easier to clean off.”  The fathers of both boys wanted more for their sons and after high school each attend the University of Houston.  Erich went on to pursue a lifelong dream to serve in the military and traded the classroom for a four year stint in the Army.  He fought in Iraq serving in a scout platoon for the 101st Airborne during Desert Storm.  Joe completed his business degree and went to work overseeing financial reporting for a big insurance company in downtown Houston.

 

Ensuing years saw their paths diverge though a close friendship remained.  When both attended a national builder’s convention in 1998 they decided to join forces and start their own construction company.  With a motto of “Quality Built on Integrity,” they developed a reputation for high quality and professionalism, explaining, “We were never the low bidder because like so many things in life you get what you pay for.  That’s something else we learned from our fathers - take your time and do it right because fast, shoddy work is worthless.”  In 2002 they established in Manvel wanting a “permanent place to call home with some room to grow and build a second house if one of us got married.  We love the peace and quiet that still exists here along with the convenience of having all the modern amenities close but not too close.”  In addition to great neighbors, Joe’s mom lives across the road.  “She said she wanted to live closer to her sons and liked the idea of being able to look out her kitchen window to keep an eye on us,” they say. 

 

The friends always enjoyed woodworking in their free time and the decision to pursue life as full-time artists was motivated to some degree by customers encouraging them to design and build furniture.  One of their mantras is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  They describe their furniture design as minimalist and visually compelling with clean lines and the judicious use of negative space.  “We’re not interested in building traditional forms and replicating established designs from centuries past.  Instead, we’re trying to create new designs that are unique and beautiful and built to stand the test of time.”  With a deep appreciation for the outdoor environment, the men “put a lot of effort into curating the finest specimens of figured wood that Mother Nature has to offer.”  They consider Texas mesquite one of their “all-time favorite woods” but acquire other woods that are “responsibly harvested from sources known to be eco-friendly.”  They import their preferred wood finish from Europe “because it not only provides a lustrous durable surface but is engineered from plant oils and natural waxes that make it both food safe and lollipop kid safe.”  They love working with varied media explaining it gives their pieces a “modern elegance.”  As an example, they may use a pop of color from inlaid gem quality turquoise that they feel is the final touch to a table top.  “Much of our furniture combines rustic elements like upcycled machine bases with gnarled natural edge wood slabs.”  They describe their design composition and refined styling as elevating their work to an art form.  “That’s what we’re striving for – Functional Art.”

 

Ribbons were earned last fall for two of their original tables at a prestigious statewide competition that brings national attention to “one-of-a-kind handmade works of art.”  It was the first time the team entered the annual contest which attracts the best custom furniture makers in the state.  Only 50 to 60 pieces are chosen for exhibition each year and “we were honored just to be there and overwhelmed with the recognition of our work by the expert panel of judges.”

 

Much of their furniture and lighting pieces are featured at “The Restored Home” on Highway 3 near FM 2351 in Webster.  They also have on display a reclaimed ship’s grate table and some Galveston nautical chart prints that can be seen at the Manvel Barber Shop.  John Cox, the shops owner, has been a big supporter and offered the space to showcase their work.  “We’re proud to be in a local venue where folks can admire our efforts while they get a great haircut,” they say.  Commissions are accepted “from clients looking for that perfect table or floor lamp or whatever custom item we can provide.  Everyone loves to have a unique conversation piece that perfectly fits their space.  Obviously you can find something cheaper off the shelf but our patrons tend to be very discerning individuals who value the kind of quality that only comes from attention to detail.”

 

Additional information and photos of their work can be found on their website at www.TimberFire.com and on FaceBook.

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Voters show discontent with status quo

May 11, 2016

 

Consistent with the national political mood and in an apparent rebuke of present circumstances, Manvel voters took to the polls in early voting and on Election Day last week to put in place two new members on city council and three new members on the Alvin Community College Board of Regents.  Voters also soundly rejected a college proposal for an $88.5 million bond plan.

 

Manvel will see two new council members taking the seats of one long-term incumbent and one former member with a name of some recognition in the community.  Lew Shuffler, who along with John Cox, would have been the longest serving council members with the decision of Melody Hanson to not seek reelection, was defeated by Jerome Hudson with nearly 58% of the vote.  Hudson has been active on city boards and volunteer positions having served on the Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) for many years.  Hudson saw perseverance pay off as he has run for a position on council numerous times in prior years.  Maureen DelBello was hoping to regain a seat on council after being beaten last year by Lorraine Hehn but a newcomer to the local political scene, Melissa Sifuentes, defeated her with 55% of the vote.  The results will put three members from outside of “old Manvel” on council for the first time as the two victors along with Lorraine Hehn each reside in the Rodeo Palms subdivision.

 

Results in the election for three Alvin Community College (ACC) Board of Regents saw each of the victors having run strongly opposed to a controversial bond proposal that would have burdened tax payers with a 2.5% to 3% increase in their annual tax bill.  Supporters of the bond seemed to fight an uphill struggle almost from its initial announcement as misleading information was spread on billboards and flyers that taxpayers would see a 34% increase in their tax bill.  Another hurdle burdening the effort was a strong rejection of support for a west side campus on the part of those residing on the older and more established east side of the ACC taxing district.  Efforts to clarify the actual tax impact and to emphasize the amount of the bond (60%) that would have gone to improving the Alvin campus failed to gain traction with voters.  The bond was rejected with nearly 69% voting against.

 

Current ACC Board members had suggested another attempt will be made for a future bond but with three new members bringing strong feelings opposed to at least a west side presence, it would appear unlikely ACC will be seeing a new campus to serve the fast-growing areas along 288.  With each passing year land becomes ever more expensive and at some point the cost alone will likely preclude another opportunity to expand to a satellite west side campus.  A more likely scenario to anticipate in the future would be a more modest bond proposal dealing only with the needs of the Alvin campus.  A west side campus, if it had been approved by the voters, stood a good chance of being located within the City of Manvel, thereby producing a positive stimulus to economic development in the community.  A college campus would deliver workers and visitors that surely would have spurred business activity in the city, something of late that has been often accused of undersupply. 

 

Registered voters in the City of Manvel and in the ACC taxing district once again saw dismal numbers honor their privilege to vote.  Less than 9% participated in the election despite recent policies that have made it increasingly convenient to cast a ballot.  Voters can take advantage of a roughly ten day early voting period as well as Election Day and can vote at any county polling location.  The poor participation rate means that Manvel citizens totaling six thousand people, more or less, are allowing 520 voters to determine the course of their city and community college. 

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City halts Lakeland utility installation

May 11, 2016

 

New home sales and construction in progress in the Lakeland development was stopped by city officials on April 26 due to CenterPoint Energy failing to renew a franchise agreement with the city.  At Monday’s council meeting authorization was given for a 180-day time period for negotiations to take place, thereby lifting the two-week stoppage so that work can begin again.  At issue was the status of an expired franchise agreement.  As explained by the city manager, Kyle Jung, “utility companies (electric, gas, cable, and phone) require a franchise agreement to install and maintain their facilities (mainly poles and wires) in the City's rights-of-ways (ROWs).  These franchise agreements are necessary for the city to control the public property and to collect payments for the rental of this public property, just like a private landowner would control use and receive rental payments for the use of their own property.” 

 

CenterPoint’s franchise agreement expired in 2011.  Jung says that “prior to the expiration date and since, the City has been trying to negotiate new agreements with CenterPoint without success.”  In the interim the company has continued to install utilities without an agreement in place and without specific consent from the city.  In 2014 utility installation to Lakeland was halted for a short period of time until city council authorized the continuation of the work.  In January of this year the company installed facilities to service the Stripes store under construction at SH 6 and FM 1128 without authorization.  And in February the company again installed facilities to service the new AISD building under construction at Lewis Lane and FM 1128 without city consent to do so.  When the company began installing service to the new Lakeland Section 3 a few weeks back, again without authorization to do so, Jung authorized the permit officer to stop the work, presumably thinking CenterPoint had been given ample opportunity to fulfill their responsibility to negotiate a new franchise agreement with the city.

 

Unfortunately for the Lakeland project it was left to suffer the consequences of the impasse.  Lakeland’s staff expressed frustration and anger with the delay claiming four new home closings required cancellation and subsequent closings had been pushed back.  Construction ceased not only on the utility installations but also for a good amount of other work as utilities are necessary before a house can be completed and made ready for closing.  The utility work stopped in progress left significant excavations that filled with water and numerous pieces of equipment and supplies strewn about the project.  The situation posed a safety hazard, was unsightly, and may have damaged the materials that were left unprotected in the weather.

 

While the action to stop the construction was legal and perhaps justified, it remains unclear why after five years of tacit acceptance the city abruptly decided to take a hard line.  Particularly when a CenterPoint Service Area Manager described their relationship with the city as good and cooperative.  It appears little thought, or possibly mere indifference, was given to how the stoppage would affect the overall project and the cost in money, time, and inconvenience left in its wake.  It also serves to reinforce the pesky perception that Manvel is difficult to do business with.  The city manager took exception to that reference in responding, “Or perhaps, for once, this has absolutely nothing to do with a developer and only about the City being able to control the citizens’ property to ensure a company that uses it, follows state law.  Perception can be a fickle thing that is frequently incorrect.”

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EDC takes criticism

May 18, 2016

 

In recent months Manvel city council member Adrian Gaspar has made clear he is not a fan of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, or at least of the effort and results of the members that populate the group.  Contentious exchanges in recent council and EDC meetings have brought hard feelings to the surface for all the public to see.  Petty arguments and disagreements over varied points of view have become all but commonplace in council meetings of late leading many citizens to conclude the council in its current makeup is a dysfunctional group that focuses too much on personal animus rather than doing the peoples work.  That level of discord appears to be leaching down to the EDC as well. 

 

Gaspar is the center of much of the discord as he has openly called for the replacement of several long-time EDC members.  Board president Karen Kinlaw and members Melody Hanson and Janice DelBello receive the bulk of his ire.  Gaspar does not back down from the disapproval he receives.  He feels the group is mired in the past, that they are slow in their actions, and that they are loathe to accept advice from others.   He says “they cannot take criticism and they get their feelings hurt.”

 

 At the recent EDC meeting, the group heard from the Executive Director of the Brazoria County Economic Alliance, Sean Stockard, on a variety of topics aimed at positioning the group to expand its efforts.  A guiding document known as a strategic plan is the traditional manner in which an EDC codifies its mission, vision, goals, and objectives from which they base their efforts and quantify their success.  To be effective, the plan must be a collaboration between the EDC and the city council.  Subsequent collaboration with the citizenry is required as well so that there is common buy-in from the community on the EDC’s use of taxpayer dollars.

 

Stockard, likely sensing the discord in evidence at the meeting, emphasized the importance of a unified approach to economic development from the city council and the EDC itself.  He says there is little chance for success if stability and consistency of purpose is nonexistent.  Recognizing the need for better cohesion among the groups, it was suggested a joint workshop be held with members of city council and the EDC in attendance.  The aim of the workshop would be to find common ground and to achieve some unity on the content of a strategic plan.  To aid the process, discussion was had on the hiring of a meeting facilitator to guide the discussion to a meaningful conclusion.  Gaspar sees that as yet another example of the EDC’s inability to leave behind distraction and get work done.  He asserts the facilitator is only to “help them deal with Councilman Gaspar who criticized them.” 

 

Kinlaw and Hanson are most vocal in refuting Gaspar’s contentions.  Kinlaw feels the EDC has been good stewards of tax dollars in spending them on vital infrastructure projects that are required if and when development comes to Manvel.  Early 2015 saw the completion of water and sewer lines down the north side of SH 6 making available utilities to SH 288.  Recent projects authorized but not yet begun include a wastewater line serving Large Street, a water plant improvement that will see new pumps and an underground storage tank, and the installation of water and sewer capacity to serve the planned new construction for the Manvel Seafood Restaurant.  The group is also considering funding some of the cost for a water line extension to service the Shu-Chem plant expansion on the south side of SH 6 just west of CR 99.  A previous project saw the EDC fund the installation of utility capacity to serve the ProBuild site on SH 6 which has proven to be a very successful project as the business contributes ad valorem taxes and considerable and consistent sales tax revenue to the city.

 

A productive and effective EDC should do more than the important installation of infrastructure, however.  And while some would say Gaspar lacks somewhat in tact and discretion, his intentions of extending the scope of the EDC does deserve consideration.  As Pearland and Alvin enjoy evident economic development success, Manvel remains mired in inactivity.  As local business leaders pointed out last month in their plea to city council to improve their business development initiatives, meaningful additions to the city’s productive commercial tax base have been negligible at best over the past decade.  Gaspar hinted that with a more liberal use of 380 agreements to assist and encourage development, the city could determine the EDC as unnecessary if all it does is install infrastructure.  Earned sales tax revenue could instead be focused on other areas of the budget.

 

Gaspar’s hint fails to recognize the many benefits an effective EDC can deliver to its city beyond infrastructure installation, however.  Ample case studies would easily support the argument that the EDC should take the lead in an independent endeavor toward economic development.  It requires a dedicated leader and board who are not distracted with the many responsibilities a city government endures.  The EDC should serve as the initial point of contact when a prospective business inquires of opportunity in the city.  A welcoming, encouraging, and motivating attitude is most important to set a positive tone from the outset.  A follow-up program should be carried out so that every potential is exhausted before a prospect decides to go elsewhere.  An effective website should be established that is informative and easily navigable.  Marketing materials and information should be readily available to distribute to interested parties.  An effective outreach program to establish relationships with current land owners is important in preparing an inventory of potential properties along with their strengths and limitations so that an effort can be made to link a prospect with possible locations.  Relationships should be established too with local businesses operating in the city with an aim to encourage, motivate, and assist them in their retention and expansion goals.  And active networking, marketing, and solicitation of potential business development opportunities should be undertaken and consistently pursued; locally, regionally, state-wide, and even nationally.

 

In addition to the council and EDC board requiring reconciliation, on a more macro level the city as a whole needs to determine what level of economic development it desires.  As years have passed with so little activity, and future prospects appear underwhelming, city policies and attitudes continually discourage business development.  Perhaps Councilman Gaspar’s criticisms will motivate council and the EDC to truly determine what degree of business development is even wanted.

 

It is expected come budget negotiations this summer that discussion will be had on the hiring of an executive director for the EDC in the next budget year, beginning October 1.  Leadership in that capacity would create an expectation of a positive step forward.  But any new director would very likely experience considerable challenges in making a success of things if the current EDC board and council are not able to work through their differences and put aside personality conflicts.  A workable and productive relationship, a unified resolve to promote economic development, and a viable strategic plan must be established if the Manvel EDC is to provide a positive stimulus to the city.

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New council members sworn in

May 18, 2016

 

Manvel city council convened a special meeting this week to canvas the May 7 election results and to swear in its two new council members.  Mayor Delores Martin did the honors as Jerome Hudson will be taking the Place 6 seat from Lew Shuffler and Melissa Sifuentes beat out Maureen DelBello for the Place 4 seat.  Both new members will be seated at the council table at the next scheduled meeting on Monday, May 23.

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Business burdened by city rules

May 25, 2016

 

Efforts to rent a 30 x 40 foot shop on Dogwood Street in Manvel has been difficult for the property’s owners, Mr. Randy Boff and his sister.  Mr. Boff approached council this week to request intervention in an effort to move the process forward.  He claims to have had eight prospects for the property and that all have been denied by the city.  A current prospect he is working with wants to open a motorcycle shop but were told that it would take up to ninety days to get approval to rent the building.  Mr. Boff told council that “I need something done to expedite that, to get an answer one way or the other.  They already paid for their permit and they need to move in there and start their business.  And I need the rental income.  The taxes on that property are over $5000 a year.  That’s why I am here, to try and get something done to speed up that process so they can either be told no or move in there and start work.”

 

By way of explanation, the city manager explained to council that the “property is zoned light-commercial.  For auto repair it would need to be in either heavy-commercial or a Special Use Permit (SUP), and right now we are working with them on the conditions for the SUP.  As soon as that gets ready it will go to PD&Z and then to council for approval.”

 

Mr. Boff’s frustration with the difficulties and challenges of dealing with the city and its myriad hurdles to business creation is but the latest effort made public that feeds the unceasing perception that Manvel is a difficult place to do business.  What influence will be returned by council remains to be seen.  If the reaction is consistent with the response council showed hundreds of petitioners last month in their call for the city to be more encouraging toward business development, it is likely nothing will be done.  Mr. Boff and his renter will have to go through the usual onerous process that costs time and money with only a scant hope that their request will ultimately be approved by council. 

 

Business development persists as a challenge for Manvel.  While lip service is continual that business is wanted and encouraged, the actions of the city continue to contradict that claim.

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City promotes motorcycle awareness campaign

May 25, 2016

 

In recognition of May being designated as Motorcycle Awareness Month, the city of Manvel joined states and municipalities from around the nation to educate motorists on recognizing motorcycles on the road and to encourage riders to be more careful while riding.  Mayor Delores Martin read a proclamation at a recent city council meeting to bring attention to the perils of riding a motorcycle along with a desire to promote a more positive image of motorcyclists among the public.

 

According to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) there were 8.5 million motorcycles on the road in 2012.  More current information is difficult to obtain.  A DOT report explains the inherent risks involved in riding a motorcycle: “Motorcycles are by their nature far less crashworthy than closed vehicles. They are also less visible to other drivers and pedestrians and less stable than four-wheel vehicles. Operating a motorcycle requires a different combination of physical and mental skills than those used in driving four-wheel vehicles. Motorcyclists and their passengers are more vulnerable to the hazards of weather and road conditions than drivers in closed vehicles.”  The DOT goes on to report that in 2013 motorcyclists accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities.

 

Injuries and fatal crashes as a percent of registered motorcycles has declined in recent years though 2012 still saw 4,957 deaths and 93,000 injuries.  “Older motorcyclists account for more than half of all motorcyclist fatalities. NHTSA data show that in 2012, 56.0 percent of motorcyclists killed in crashes were age 40 or over, compared with 46.0 percent in 2003. The number of motorcyclists age 40 and over killed in crashes increased by 63 percent from 2003 to 2012. In contrast, fatalities among young motorcyclists have declined, relative to other age groups.  NHTSA says that the average age of motorcycle riders killed in crashes was 43 in 2012, compared with 38 in 2003.”  A research report put out by Brown University cited “declines in vision and reaction time, along with the larger-sized bikes that older riders favor, which tend to roll over more often, and the increased fragility among older people” as the primary reason older bikers are more likely to be killed or injured.  The report added that “while injury rates were rising for all age groups, the steepest rise occurred in the 60 and over group, who were two and a half times more likely to have serious injuries than the youngest group.  They were three times more likely to be admitted to the hospital.”

 

Alcohol and speed are primary reasons a motorcycle crashes.  In 2012, 29 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle riders had a Blood Alcohol Content above the legal limit in most states.  Another 8 percent had alcohol levels below the legal limit.  Fatally injured motorcycle riders between the ages of 40 to 44 had the highest rates of alcohol involvement.  In 2012, 34 percent of all motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared with 22 percent for drivers of passenger cars, 18 percent for light truck drivers and 8 percent for large truck drivers, according to NHTSA.  Speeding and driver error are bigger factors among the sport bike category.  The most recent year’s statistics indicate speed was the primary cause in 57 percent of sport bike fatal crashes.  Sport bikes are favored by the youngest riders with the average age being 27 years old.  By contrast, speed was a factor in 27 percent of fatal crashes among riders of cruisers and standard style motorcycles, which sees an average age of 44 years old.  The largest bikes, known as touring models and generally favored by the oldest riders, saw speed causing 22 percent of fatal crashes.

 

In 2012 motorcycle helmets saved 1,699 lives, according to the NHTSA.  Their findings report that if all motorcyclists had worn helmets, 781 more lives would have been saved.  Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries for motorcycle riders (operators) and 41 percent effective for motorcycle passengers.  Helmet use reached 64 percent in June 2014.  Texas mandates helmet use only for riders under 21 years old.  Riders 21 years old or over are exempt if they either 1) can show proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training and safety course or 2) can show proof of having a medical insurance policy.

 

The publicity generated through various motorcycle awareness month activities will hopefully bring greater attention to motorcyclists among the general public, thereby encouraging greater awareness of motorcycles on the road and inspiring car drivers to “always look twice” before passing through an intersection, making a turn, or changing a lane.  Riders too can be more aware of what is occurring in traffic around them and take a more proactive approach to their own safety.  Participation in a motorcycle safety course is perhaps the best way for riders to learn effective techniques that help manage and minimize the risks faced by riders on the road.  The course is required in order to earn a license to ride in Texas.  Alvin Community College offers a two-day course most every weekend and usually on weekdays at least once each month.  Additional information on the course and instructions for registration can be found on the course website:   www.mscourse.net.

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