Council passes golf course project, moves forward with railroad quiet zones

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The grass will get a little greener at Riverside Golf Course thanks to Victoria City Council's 6-1 vote Tuesday night on a $37,500 budget transfer.

The transfer from the general fund to the parks department will replace nearly 50-year-old greens on nine holes at the city-owned golf course.

Councilwoman Denise Rangel said because the course is owned by the city, it is their job to take care of it.

"We've had several floods and several droughts," Rangel said. "The weather has taken its toll on the grass."

However, what might seem like a quick vote for a leisurely sport drew criticism from several council members, including Councilman Gabriel Soliz, who voted against the ordinance.

Soliz said the golf course should foot the bill, not the city. When the issue was first brought to council's attention, Soliz called the project "maintenance" not "capital improvement."

Other council members urged the nonprofit committee that runs the golf course to begin planning ahead for large future expenses.

"Put money aside for those objectives," Councilman David Hagan said. "Plan far enough in advance so you don't have to put yourself in so much of a hole."

Councilman Joe Truman said the course's fees and memberships should be adjusted so the committee does not need to come back to the council for financial support.

"Fees are meant to cover operating and management expenses," Truman said. "Please come up with other ways to fund it."

Robert DeLeon, who chairs the nonprofit committee, said if they raise fees, some users, particularly junior and senior golfers, "would suffer."

"Looking at what it would cost to break even, some people wouldn't be able to play, and that's not our goal," DeLeon said. "There's no doubt we could raise fees to where we bring in the money ... We want to keep the course affordable so anyone in the city can play."

Regular annual dues, for golfers age 19-65, cost $600. Junior golfers, age 5-18, pay $200 annually while golfers older than 65 pay $550 annually. Daily fees range from $18 during weekdays and $20 on weekends, according to the course's website.

Mayor Will Armstrong welcomed the golf course committee back to the council when they need another 9-holes refurbished. He said he would "seriously entertain" another request.

"I like the fact that the golf course is open to so many people," he said. "This is one of our most treasured aspects in this community."

In other news, the council agreed to move forward on a report from the planning services department to install a railroad quiet zone near an apartment development on Ben Wilson Street.

Assistant City Manager John Kaminski, the former planning services director, said the complex's developer agreed to split the $55,000 cost with the city.

Kaminski said the project would not affect University of Houston-Victoria's future dormitory plans. In fact, the university expressed an interest in partnering with the city to include the Ben Jordan crossing in the quiet zone.

That crossing would not meet the federal quiet zone guidelines because nearby driveways and intersections make it "physically impossible," Kaminski said.

However, he said the quiet zone could be extended nearly three miles, compared to a half-mile zone for Ben Wilson crossing alone.

If the quiet zone is expanded to include Delmar Drive and John Stockbauer Drive, the city's total cost would be about $82,500, with the apartment developers picking up $27,500.

Hagan said the project would cause "a lot of benefit for a lot of people."

"It's not often that amount of money can impact that amount of people," he said.

Halepaska agreed.

"If we never start and never attempt it, then nothing will ever be done," Halepaska said. "This will make a large one at a relatively small cost, and it's the first time we've ever had a business wanting to partner and pay half the cost."

He said that was important to note because it would not be funded entirely with taxpayer dollars.

"I think we ought to take advantage of that," he said.

Councilman Paul Polasek noted the positive effect a quiet zone could have on surrounding property values.