Members of the Natalia City Council balked at Natalia ISD’s request to vacate a portion of 8th St. made during the Regular Council meeting held on May 20.
Nick Van Delist, principle engineer with May Tarin Ramirez Engineers, LLC, presented the school district’s request to vacate 355 feet of 8th St. between Pearson St. and Kearney St. as part of the upcoming construction from the $10.7 million bond voters approved in November 2018.
Councilman Darin Frazier said that the information Van Delist presented differed from the district’s initial plans.
“The building’s been moved back,” Frazier said. “It no longer entails closing Pearson St.”
NISD Superintendent Dr. Hensley Cone said the district had looked at multiple options during the course of a traffic study of the area undertaken by MTR Engineers.
“We have now refined our design, completed the survey of the site, a traffic study of the area, and been able to now determine where this building can sit reasonably on the site and maximize the queuing lengths and our proposed building location,” Van Delist said.
He added that the district was still in the design phase of both the new building and improvements to surrounding roadways, and was requesting permission to continue.
“What we would petition to do in closing down 8th St. is allowing us to do these improvements that are going to work and better the schools’ queuing, stacking, safety, security in this area,” Van Delist said. “We have students right now that are crossing the street there, and it’s hard for them to control. There’s right-of-way improvements that need to be made in there, and the school district can’t take those on without the ownership of the property, or without some kind of consent agreement between the two entities.”
Frazier expressed concern about the flow of traffic if the requested portion of 8th St. was closed. Councilman Sam Smith pointed out that it would only be closed during construction.
“Once the property is conveyed, it’s their property,” City Administrator Lisa Hernandez said.
Councilman Mike Fernandez said contract conveying the portion of 8th St. to the district would have to stipulate that it could never be permanently closed.
“Because [Hernandez] is right,” Fernandez said. “With our luck, it’d be a basketball court in the middle of the street.”
Frazier said that 8th St. initially became a one-way street because of construction.
“We put a temporary one-way, and the next thing you know, the next school year ‘Oh, this worked so great the last three months, let’s just continue this one-way’,” Frazier said. “And we inherited it with problems.”
Frazier added that he wanted to work with the district on street and traffic issues, but didn’t understand why it couldn’t be through an interlocal agreement. He also expressed concern that any signage or sidewalk issues would remain a City responsibility.
“If this street was to be vacated and became part of the school property, the maintenance requirements for that would be added to the school district’s,” Van Delist said, adding that traffic in the area was predominantly associated with the school. “But they can’t pull that in, technically, to their maintenance program because it’s not their land. By doing this, they are then able to add it as part of their maintenance program – come in and repave, make sure the signage and striping are maintained in that area. It’s kind of a no-man’s land right now.”
Frazier then questioned the scope of the district’s traffic study of the area, and how traffic might be affected in the future.
“[The traffic study] only pertains to what affects the school district,” Frazier said. “It has nothing to do with the City, how we’re going to route traffic, if [8th St.] is closed in two years or twenty years.”
Van Delist said the traffic study showed that the majority of the traffic on 8th St. was for accessing the schools and that there was relatively little traffic outside of peak hours.
“Earlier, I got to see the blueprints that we have now,” Councilman Sam Bluemel said. “Once this is all completed, [8th St.] is going to be a two-way and no longer closed.”
When Frazier continued to express concerns over the specter of possible traffic concerns, Van Delist acknowledged that the district and City can work together on that issue in the area.
“But that is not what this application is,” Van Delist said. “At this time, the school district, as with the City, is already working off of a very limited amount of funding. To be able to go forward and solve these other outside problems is outside of the current volume scope.”
“All of a sudden we’re having a conversation about every street in town,” Cone added.
Fernandez then raised the issue of water lines beneath 8th St.
“Our civic engineer has actually offered to look into these applications, petitions, and into the engineering traffic study,” Hernandez said. “But at whose cost?”
Frazier said the issue was a school district matter and that the City should not incur any cost.
“We have done nothing except discuss this issue,” Frazier said. “We’ve had no engineer, we’ve had no drainage, we’ve had nobody look at our pipeline underground, we’ve had no work on traffic control. We have done zero except discuss this. It’s time that we had a study done at [the district’s] cost.”
Van Delist said that if the requested portion of 8th St. was vacated and turned over to the school that utility purveyors would have free access to maintain and repair utilities, and that surface features would be the school’s responsibility.
When pressed by Frazier and Fernandez on how the district planned to address the issue of outdated steel or asbestos water pipes that needed to be replaced or abandoned, Van Delist said NISD’s contractor would supervise, and that things would be done to the San Antonio Water System’s standards, including the planned installation of backflow prevention.
“We just need to get our engineering people involved in this thing to make decisions based on knowledge, and what we need to look at in the future, too,” Frazier said.
Frazier made a motion to table the district’s requests and contact the City’s engineers and architects to have a study done on 8th St.
“We’ve fulfilled all the obligations that we were asked to bring forward,” Cone said. “And this is just stacking engineering on top of other engineering that has already been stamped and signed off on.”
Bluemel seconded Frazier’s motion, with the amendment that it only apply to NISD’s request regarding 8th St. The amended motion passed unanimously, with Fernandez, Smith, and Councilwoman Selica Vera all voting aye.
A Smith-Fernandez motion to approve the district’s other requests – asking the City to vacate 895 unpaved feet of 9th St. between Kearney St. and Miller St.; 410 feet of unpaved alleyway between 8th St. and 9th St. and Pearson St. and Kearney St.; and 1,235 feet of partially paved portions of 9th St. from 8th St. to MCAD Property ID 53232 – also passed 5-0.
The next Regular Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 17 at 7:00 pm. According to the agenda for the May 20 meeting, a Public Hearing on NISD’s street requests will also be held on that date.
By Marly Davis