Majority of council favors De Leon Street closure
By BY MELISSA CROWE - MCROWE@VICAD.COM
Feb. 5, 2013 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 5, 2013 at 8:06 p.m.
De Leon Street is about to be one block shorter.
In a 5-2 vote, Victoria City Council approved the first of three ordinance readings that would close one block of the street fronting St. Joseph High School located at 110 E. Red River St.
However, two council members who have opposed the closure since the beginning, Josephine Soliz and Emett Alvarez, maintain that more research and transparency needs to occur before the road is ripped up.
"Who is going to represent the people who are out there asking us to listen to them?" Soliz said. "That's why I'm voting against this. St. Joe is not the problem, it's the way this thing was handled."
The closure would give the school room to expand east with a gymnasium that will also double as an emergency shelter, ample parking and a safe crossing for students.
However, College Park residents say the closure would force more of the school's traffic into the neighborhoods and block access.
Jack Mullins, who resides on Ridgewood Drive, said the safety issue St. Joseph's administrators touted was deceitful.
"This is a completely specious issue on safety," he said. "These are not little 8-, 9-, 10-year-old kids. We've got to expect more of these kids in terms of maturity."
He said he does not think there is anything to justify blocking off the street from a safety standpoint.
"It's wrong to put the convenience of the big institution automatically over that of the people in the neighborhood," Mullins said.
St. Joseph High School Principal and President Bill McArdle Jr. said for the protection of the students, it is important to have a contiguous campus.
"We've been a tremendous asset to the community for the last 144 years," McArdle said. "There does come a time in any school's history where it's time to move forward and position itself for the future. That's where we are today."
Alvarez will meet with City Manager Charmelle Garrett to outline specific points for a traffic study in the College Park neighborhood.
Councilman Joe Truman and Alvarez suggested installing a traffic signal from the neighborhood onto Navarro Street at Warren Avenue.
Planning Services Director Jared Mayfield said College Park is likely one of the most studied neighborhoods in the city.
It includes 100 homes and has nine entrances and exits. Closing the block of De Leon Street would reduce it to eight entrances and exits.
"There are impacts to having a light at Warren and Navarro," Mayfield said. "It could push a lot of traffic onto that one intersection, which potentially could make it difficult for people on that block to get in and out."
Mayfield said there are other city intersections that have a greater need for a stop light. He said there is a need today for a light at Houston Highway and Zac Lentz Parkway. That intersection has already been studied and approved by Texas Department of Transportation.
"It already warrants the light. We just need the money," he said.
Councilman Paul Polasek said the cost of a light on Warren Avenue at Navarro Street, which could range from $250,000 to $400,000, would be too prohibitive.
Polasek said his neighborhood is about twice as large and only has three entrances and exits.
"We've forgotten one very important fact: We need right of way on Red River," he said. "We need that right of way. It's a win-win for everyone."
In the agreement, St. Joseph High School would pay the city $11,700, offer a quarter of an acre of right of way along Red River Street and up to $25,000 for utility relocation under De Leon Street.
Mayor Will Armstrong recalled that the city has closed streets for both hospitals.
"We've crossed this bridge before," he said. "There's nothing wrong with selling a street if there's a need."
Armstrong said the majority of council is behind the school's reinvention.
"We could study this to death," Armstrong said. "We're at the point where we need to move forward."
The City Council will consider the issue again at its Feb. 19 meeting.