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Meeting notes - Sept. 28, 2009

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PUBLIC MEETING NOTES

City Council Transportation, Infrastructure, and Aviation Committee
September 14, 2009, 2:00 pm

Houston Tomorrow publishes notes from public meetings to help local governments in their mission to provide transparency and to allow a greater pool of citizens to participate in important policy discussions.  These notes are not official meeting minutes, nor do they necessarily record every agenda item.

The Transportation, Infrastructure & Aviation Committee discussed METRO’s plans to build a transit center at Palm Center, and several people said the process had not been transparent and that both the City and METRO had to provide more information. However, City Council members and another speaker were quick to say that most people in the area are excited by the prospect and that community and civic organizations are very supportive of the project.

Palm Center is a 25-acre city-owned property that houses several local businesses. The City will be selling 1.2 acres of the parking lot to METRO for use in a three-bay bus terminal, including a new Quickline route, and receiving compensation for an additional 0.3 acres of right-of-way to widen the street in preparation for the Southeast light rail line, which will terminate at Palm Center. Contrary to several rumors, Chairwoman Sue Lovell said, “Palm Center is not being sold.” She reiterated that the only part of the property being affected is a small portion of the parking lot.

According to a consultant and a METRO engineer, the transit center would generate 1,000 boardings per day, jumping to 2,850 once the light rail is completed. One of the bus bays would be for a new Quickline service, while the other two would be for local buses. There would be approximately 289 bus trips every day. Lovell touted all the transportation options, noting that residents would have access to local buses, Quickline service, and light rail.

A representative of the Houston Small Business Development Center spoke in favor of the transaction, saying that 80 percent of the proceeds would be used to pay off debt at the Palm Center. The rest of the money would be used for deferred maintenance projects such as sidewalk repair and new lighting. He noted that any ensuing transit-oriented development - and particularly transit-oriented retail shops - would enhance the area. “We view the transit center, the library, the new YMCA, the new developments as all being positive,” he said.

Lovell said she had letters of support from State Senator Rodney Ellis and State House Representative Garnet Coleman, and that a letter of support was on its way from US Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee. However, Council Member Jolanda Jones objected to the process, saying that the specific plans had not been publicly discussed. Former City Council Member Ana Edwards said that there had been several public meetings beginning in June 2005, and no objections had been raised specifically about the Palm Center transit center. However, Jones said that the details of the plan were not available at that point, which is why there was no specific opposition. She said that she supports rail, but that the community needs to see the detailed plans.

The president of the Old Spanish Trail Community Partnership spoke in favor of the project, saying, “We want and must have Quickline. We want and deserve transit in the Southeast Corridor.” She said that light rail will serve as a catalyst in the area, encouraging businesses to revitalize the community.

Minister Robert Muhammad said that he as much as METRO is responsible for the Palm Center transit project, but that he was concerned that the process was not transparent. Several other speakers also said that the public must approve the plans before the land deal goes forward. One speaker was still concerned that the entire Palm Center would be sold, saying she had never seen land sold in portions. Another said that the transit center would increase crime by bringing in people from outside the community. Lovell strongly disagreed with that notion and said that while the process could not be unanimous, the vast majority of area residents want the transit center. She said the public concerns about transparency would all be addressed at a public meeting that evening. One speaker asked Lovell if the land deal would go forward regardless of what happened at the meeting, and Lovell said yes, because the project has already received strong support from the community.

METRO plans for Palm Center (pdf, 4.9 mb, taken from page 25 of Volume II of the Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement)

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