Council tackles downtown parking, infrastructure, development

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Sealy City Council members gathered Saturday for a workshop to discuss downtown parking, capital improvement projects and impact fees – but perhaps the biggest news that came from the meeting is that Chicken Express is planning a restaurant in Sealy south of Whataburger.

Councilman John HInze did not attend due to a conflict with Little League opening ceremonies. City Manager Lloyd Merrell, Director of Planning and Community Development Warren Escovy, Finance Director Steven Kutra and City Secretary Dayl Cooksey joined the council and each contributed to the discussion.

The three-hour-plus meeting allowed officials to catch up on city finances and hold lengthy discussions in more of a retreat setting. The gathering does not replace the council’s general meetings held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.

Parking and streetscaping on Main Street

Merrell emphasized that he has some ideas but would like feedback from the council and their constituents before proceeding with a plan to add more parking and reconfigure the downtown design.

“One of the things I really wanted to do in Sealy over my tenure here was take a look at downtown and try to make it a more pleasant place to be,” he said. “This is not a plan. These are general thoughts I want to get across of things that we can do. The problem of parking in the middle of the street downtown is … there’s been a number of accidents caused by [drivers] not being able to see when they back out.”

He suggested adding off-street parking and said officials from Citizens State Bank have committed to helping fund the project. Wells Fargo also has offered a grant program.

“I’m trying to make it a public-private partnership as well as any grant money that we can come up with,” Merrell said. “We need to have a town hall meeting to involve the store owners and get their thoughts as well as the public. This can be changed or updated.”

The city manager, who was hired by the city council in February, said he also is looking into creating safer sidewalks in the downtown area.

“The beauty of this plan is, if we don’t want to do the whole thing at one time, we can stage it and do it over a two- or three-year period,” he said.

Councilman Chris Noack said there is a downtown business owner who is unhappy about people parking in front of his store during special events.

“As we grow downtown, the need for parking is going to continue to increase,” Noack said.

Councilwoman Dee Anne Lerma said there are others who are also concerned about losing their storefront parking spaces durng city-sponsored special events.

As the discussion turned to landscaping, Mayor Janice Whitehead suggested using local Blinn College students or master gardeners to assist with landscaping around City Hall. Councilwoman Jennifer Sullivan said high school students also may be able to contribute to landscaping projects.

Major projects

The following items are proposed as upcoming priorities for the Sealy City Council. No projects were approved and no votes were taken during Saturday’s workshop, but elected officials discussed priorities for the future. Projects in the pipeline include the following:

•Rexville Road storage tank rehab - $508,300

•Future well improvements - $3.29 million

•Ground storage tank at new school - $1.31 million

•Downtown water main upgrade - $1.67 million

•Utility extension along I-10 West - $3.6 million

•Utility extension along F.M. 3538 - $1.8 million

•Utility extension along Highway 36 South - $1.29 million

•Utility extension along Highway 36 North - $2.88 million

•Utility extension along F.M. 2187 - $746,175

•Main Street revitalization - $583,530

TOTAL = $17, 673,645

New development

Director of Planning and Community Development Warren Escovy, who served for several months as Sealy’s interim city manager, announced during the workshop that Chicken Express has filed plans to open a restaurant in Sealy south of Whataburger. The announcement was met with a lively discussion about the restaurant’s popular chicken, sweet tea and corn nuggets. An opening date has not been designated but Escovy said it will be this year, and it is one of several establishments in talks with the city.

“The plans are in; basically they’re ready to go,” Escovy said of Chicken Express.

Discussion ensued about infrastructure needed to develop a Home Depot, Lowe’s or Target store in the area.

Escovy added that at least one developer is planning a single-family home development in Sealy.

Moving forward

City officials also discussed the possibility of implementing impact fees, which are essentially taxes on new construction that are paid by the developer.

Mayor Whitehead pointed out that decisions on future development, infrastructure and budgeting are being called for at a time when two council members are up for re-election. The city election in which incumbents Jennifer Sullivan and Larry Koy are opposed is scheduled for May 5.

“You guys would like to see a 24-month plan from council but can we see a 24-month plan from staff?” Whitehead asked. “Can you guys give us some guidance on priorities, what you think we need to do? You have information that we don’t. We can give you what we think, but I think it’s going to be valuable to hear from you guys and see what you guys think.”

Escovy said staff would prepare a document of staff projects ranked by priority at the council’s April 24 meeting.

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