By Joe Southern
Residents of the Hall Lake community along Brooks Street say they support construction of a bike path in front of their community, just not the location of it.
Several of them gathered March 31 at the entrance to their community with picket signs protesting the path they say is dangerous, harmful to their pecan trees and detrimental to their property values.
Grading for the path in front of the neighborhood began about three weeks ago but was halted when residents saw that the clearing for the sidewalk curved away from Brooks Street to a spot between the drainage ditch and the pecan trees the line the fence in front of Hall Lake. They said the path is too close to the trees and might harm them.
“It looks ridiculous,” said resident Leon Anhaiser, who has been leading the charge against the path.
He and other said they would like the city to continue the path straight along Brooks Street the way it is on both sides of their subdivision, complete with a storm sewer or culvert in place of the ditch that is there. He said the path cuts into their property and the aesthetics detract from their property values.
John Lucey, a resident and a professional engineer, said the current design is unsafe because of the curve in front of the ditch.
“As a professional engineer, if I had to put my seal on that … I wouldn’t put my seal on that. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Ralph Davis said the city shouldn’t be concerned about the cost of moving the path.
“It’s not going to cost the city anything; it’s in the bond issue,” he said, referring to the $10 million bond Sugar Land voters approved in 2013 to improve parks and trails.
The complaints of the community members have city officials stumped. City Engineer Chris Steubing said they stopped construction once the complaints were made and they are being carefully investigated.
“We’re taking a look at the issues to see how they may be rectified,” he said.
He said the city brought in an arborist to look at the trees and they agree that that path is too close. Steubing said engineers are currently reworking the plan, but he doubts it will make everyone happy.
He said it is safer to move the path away from the road to minimize contact between cyclists and pedestrians and automotive traffic. He said the path follows the road in places out of necessity. He also said moving it along the road where the drainage ditch is currently isn’t very practical. In addition to the expense of building a culvert or storm sewer, there is the expense of relocating utilities that run through there.
“We’re limited in what we have to work with there,” he said.
Councilman Steve Porter, who represents the neighborhood, said he was surprised to get a flurry of complaints about the project. He said it was planned with input from a citizens committee and that previous concerns had been addressed.
‘The city engineer agreed to go back to the design table and move the sidewalk away from the trees as much as they could without affecting safety,” he said.
Construction of the path along Brooks Street began March 10, but on March 24 he began getting a new group of complaints. He said he wants to be mindful of the people and their concerns and will address them the best he can.
“They’ve expressed a lot of different viewpoints and I’m trying to sort out what’s the message here,” he said.
He said he feels the pathway is safer the further away it is from the road. He also noted that in most cases, whenever a city makes improvements like this, property values go up, not down.
“We need to link the north trail with the south trail and people have been anxious for us to get to that for some time,” Porter said.
Porter, Steubing and other city officials said they want to meet with Anhaiser and other community members to address their concerns, but said there is only so much they can do.
“This is part of a regional trail system and there is more involved than this one subdivision,” Porter said.