City considers land swap for EMS complex

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The Sealy City Council last week showed interest in moving forward with a land exchange that would allow Austin County to construct an emergency medical services facility on what is now city property and the city to build a neighborhood park on a tract currently owned by the county – but elected officials postponed a decision until the full council could weigh in.

Council members Chris Noack and Jennifer Sullivan did not attend the March 27 meeting, prompting the group to table the matter.

“In reviewing some of the engineering reports, I think we need a little more time to study the issue,” said City Manager Lloyd Merrell. “I’d like to table it to the next meeting.”

The next Sealy City Council meeting is set for April 10.

Austin County Judge Tim Lapham said that in the past few years the county’s EMS building committee has looked at several different properties but has been eyeing for years a site at Highway 90 and Rexville Road flanked by the city’s police station and fire department.

“They keep coming back to this as probably the best option for us,” he said, noting that they want to have all emergency services in one hub. “One of the issues that the committee has talked to the city about and maybe one of the reasons to table this is the access. When we first talked about this years ago when I was on the [Emergency Services District] when Sealy built a new fire station there was talk of a through road for access to go all the way through. It wasn’t going to be a public access road; it was just going to be for emergency services to go through.”

The location of the access road, cost estimates and which jurisdiction will pay for it are some of the matters that need to be discussed, the judge added. The county and EMS are in favor of proceeding with the land swap, Lapham said.

In response to a question from Councilman John Hinze, Lapham said there are some flood concerns about the property and no technical engineering surveys have been conducted.

“That piece of property in the middle is as high as the fire station is, and when we put the fire station in we looked at that,” Lapham said. “We do want to address some of those flooding concerns. We want to hit the ground running and make sure we’ve got that in front of us rather than have to tackle it afterward. What can we do ahead of time to make sure we get it done right? Obviously the road that goes through there is probably going to get flooded at some point. As long as we can get out on Highway 90 we’re OK. If we can’t get out on the police station side, we’re OK as long as we have one access point in and out.”

Lapham said he would like to engage an architect and continue with a railroad motif among the buildings in the area.

“It’s not something that we’re just going to piece together,” he said. “We’re going to do it right.”

Councilman Larry Koy asked about blueprints and was told that several exist. A request for proposals for an architect has not been issued because the county is waiting for the land exchange to be finalized.

“The police department is designed to expand as the city of Sealy grows and part of it was left off, which was a parking lot with a security fence around the cars,” Koy said. “I think it will be a great fix to have the EMS in between the two.”

Lapham agreed.

“They all work together, and I think it’s good for camaraderie to have them all there together,” he said. “If they eat together, work together and train together, it’s better for everybody in the community.”

Sealy Director of Planning and Community Development Warren Escovy said that although resolutions have been approved over the years, the particulars have not been worked out and the land swap has not ever been approved.

“I want to make sure we’re getting fair value for the property,” Escovy said. “There’s some issues before we get too far down the road that we need to look at. The resolution is one thing but that doesn’t mean we’ve agreed to how we split it.”

He added that the land probably should have been platted, which describes the mapping or planning of a specific plot of land.

“You shouldn’t just have three buildings on one lot without having them platted,” Escovy said. “I want a little more time to research this and make sure we’re doing this the proper way … Generally you’re not supposed to have two buildings with separate use on one property without separate plats.”

Mayor Janice Whitehead pointed out that the police station has flooded twice.

“I would almost be overly cautious with drainage plans, and I would want us to keep that in mind,” she said. “We definitely don’t want a repeat of that. But I think it’s a great idea to have those three units together if we can work it out.”

Lapham said the county is aware of the need for drainage and retention.

“I think we all agree that it makes sense to have public safety buildings lined up,” Merrell said. “The mayor’s point about drainage – that’s why we want to take a second look at it … We just want to do it right. We’re not saying we don’t want to do it.”

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