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If Victoria undergoes mini-boom, where will growth go?

By Gabe Semenza
Oct. 23, 2010 at 5:23 a.m.


FEASIBILITY STUDY DETAILSThe 2009 aimed to determine where a new campus site would be most feasible.

To determine the best location for a new campus, : socio-political, physical, operational, environmental and economic. Based on findings, and considering the Victoria Regional Airport property and the adjacent private property, the study suggests the best new campus site is in the city's northeast or east quadrants.

WHO COMMISSIONED THE STUDY? Victoria County and the University of Houston-Victoria.

WHO PERFORMED THE STUDY? Clough, Harbour & Associates.

HOW MUCH DID THE STUDY COST? The county paid $44,000, said Judy McAdams, Victoria County auditor. Jason Milewski, a former project manager with Clough, Harbour & Associates, said the county and university split the costs of the study, and portions of the study overlapped with services required to update the airport's master plan. The study, then, served multiple purposes. For its part of the study, UHV paid $23,200.

Mounting evidence continues to suggest Victoria is on the verge of notable growth.

The state, on Friday, accepted the city as a provisional member of its Main Street program. Caterpillar, a Fortune 100 company, just held a ceremonial groundbreaking. The University of Houston-Victoria, now a four-year university, eyes further expansion.

Many business and municipal leaders say they have not witnessed this level of momentum in decades.

If Victoria undergoes a mini-boom, where would the city's growth flow?

Traditionally, growth in many U.S. cities extends north. Because founders developed many of the country's metropolitan areas along rivers, geography often dictates this push.

"It has primarily to do with drainage," said John Kaminski, Victoria's director of development services. "Most rivers generally flow to the south. In a lot of communities, growth goes upstream. Runoff and drainage issues are complicated downstream."

A 2009 feasibility study, however, suggests growth to Victoria's north and northwest is less feasible long-term than elsewhere.

The county and university commissioned the study, which was performed by Clough, Harbour & Associates. The study reports:

n Growth to the south and southwest is hampered by the Guadalupe River and its widespread floodplain.

n The river and floodplain also hamper growth to the west and will eventually limit expansion in the northwestern part of the city.

n Development to the north is becoming limited by a natural highpoint in the terrain, which increases infrastructure costs for water and sewage.

The city's east and northeast quadrants, the report concludes, offer the most viable directions for expansion. City infrastructure, which is needed to accommodate future growth there, is already in place near Loop 463.

"It was a surprise to me, but it makes sense," said Victoria County Commissioner Gary Burns. "There's so much available land in the east and northeast, too. That seems to be the cheapest direction to grow."

Randy Vivian, president of the Greater Victoria Area Chamber of Commerce, said retail growth north along North Navarro Street already nears its limit.

"Retail will likely have to move from Home Depot east," Vivian said. "You already have a traffic corridor with Loop 463, and that's usually where retail goes."

Torin Bales, a Victoria fine jeweler, moved his store two years ago from Navarro Street to the city's northeast quadrant. He now does business just off Loop 463, next door to Kamin Furniture.

"Before moving, I did my own feasibility studies," Bales said. "I decided to move even before we knew about UHV's downward expansion, before the new high schools were built, before Caterpillar's announcement and before the Main Street program. I felt like the northeast, near the Loop, is the place to be."

During his first year on the Loop, yearly sales increased by 30 percent, he said - and that was during a recession.

However, Kaminski, the city's director of development services, said he does not fully agree with the study's findings - but he wouldn't say the study is erroneous.

"There are limitations and difficulty no matter which way you grow," Kaminski said. To explain, Kaminski described quirks in each of the city's quadrants.

SOUTH, WEST, SOUTHWEST, SOUTHEAST

To the south, southwest and west, Kaminski agrees, the river and floodplain greatly limit growth - and much development to the southeast remains industrial.

NORTHWEST

The northwest is limited because of the river and the floodplain, but not as much as the feasibility study suggests, Kaminski said.

Along U.S. Highway 87, near the new West High School, the city has the infrastructure capacity for much more growth. Growth could easily extend several thousand feet north and northwest of the new high school, Kaminski said.

NORTH

Problems exist to the north. A natural highpoint, or terrain basin break, runs perpendicular to both sides of U.S. Highway 77 about two miles north of Sam's Club. This highpoint pushes runoff to the east.

Once, or if, growth reaches this point, new development would require multiple sewage lift stations - which work when gravity flow doesn't. Sewage lift stations are expensive to maintain and build. Construction costs can range from $1 million to several million dollars.

"Sewer to the north becomes a real issue," Kaminski said. "At some point, you have to ask if it makes sense for the city to put in that much for infrastructure when other areas work, too."

Still, the city encourages growth to the north and northwest - in areas unaffected by natural limitations. The city in 2007 and 2009 annexed about 1,500 acres of developable land in these areas.

"Even with the limitations to the northwest and north, we have a great deal of potential and capacity to grow in those directions before we hit significant obstacles," Kaminski said. "We can even grow in the sectors between U.S. Highways 87 and 77."

NORTHEAST AND EAST

Outside the loop in the northeast and east - the 2009 feasibility study's area of focus - Kaminski notes drainage problems. Much of that flat land was once used as rice fields.

Stormwater detention ponds are needed to further develop this area. These ponds, however, are less costly than sewer lift stations and the excavated dirt could be used to backfill development sites.

"Those drainage issues can be overcome," Kaminski said.

This particular area is largely undeveloped and owned by multiple private landowners, many of whom seem willing to sell.

Considering the county owns an airport in this area, high-end residential development likely is limited.

"That's why I say there are challenges in every direction. They're just different," Kaminski said. "Feasibility all depends on what you're going to develop, the availability of the land and its cost."

Even so, he said Victoria is nicely primed for a mini-boom. Much of the infrastructure, momentum and land availability is in place to accommodate growth, he said.

"I think we're going to see a different kind of growth that I haven't seen in the 23 years I've been here," Kaminski said. "During the last 10 years, we had retail and related traffic growth, but stagnant residential growth. Now, I think we will see retail and residential growth."

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