By ABBEY KUNKLE
Special to the PRESS
January 29, 2015
Since 2002, the City of South Padre Island has had a concrete vision and plan in place for future development to beautify the Island and to improve economic development. Last Thursday, the City Council along with members of the Design Standards Review Task Force (DSRTF) and the Planning and Zoning Committee (P&Z) hosted a workshop with Gateway Planning, the creators of the City’s current Form-Based Code, to discuss the code and its implications on the vision for the future. The code was constructed to serve as the implementation of the City’s long term vision, but primarily due to a lack of funding, the vision has seemed to cause deferment of regular maintenance in the name of sticking to the plan.
During the meeting, participants discussed their vision, which included medians on Padre Boulevard, widened sidewalks, parking improvements, and even a boardwalk to extend the length of the bay. This original vision assumed initial infrastructure investments in the range of at least $30 to $50 million, but with a lack of funding, or lack of tenacity to get it, the vision has changed while simultaneously causing basic maintenance issues throughout the city.
On the positive side, the Form-Based Code workshop was very helpful in identifying the beneficial projects that have been done as well as the shortfalls along the way that have brought specifically Padre Boulevard to its current state. A Draft Transportation Plan has been in the works to create a multiple mode plan that included not just cars, but also public transportation, bike lanes, and sidewalks for pedestrian traffic. Although only a draft, the Wave has been a major success story, and in the past few months, many other improvements have been made including designation of bicycle lanes on Padre Boulevard and some sidewalk repairs. Parking on the Island continues to be a popular and unresolved topic of discussion. At the meeting, Members of the council, DSRTF, and P&Z discussed the previous vision at length as well as ways to update and modify that vision to be in line with the financial resources that are currently available.
The City has about $5 million in reserves, and Council Member Julee LaMure asked what can be done now to beautify the Island. Sidewalk improvements were discussed as well as parking options such as angled or parallel parking on the boulevard. Council Member Alex Avalos said, “We’re not going to be able to do most of what is here so we need to identify what we can do and make a serious commitment in and back it up with a commitment of money.” The decision came down to two options, and after much discussion, Scott Polikov, CEO Gateway Planning, said, “So, you all have teed up two opportunities. One is a complete demonstration cross section for a couple of blocks and one is getting continuous safe interim sidewalks up and down the entire stretch of Padre.”
With the addition of SpaceX and the Medical School, Mayor Barry Patel stressed the importance of making the sidewalk improvements to have a presentable product for visitors in the next few years, saying that Padre Boulevard cannot continue in its current state. He said, “I think that waiting period is over. The people that visit South Padre Island, the residents that live here, and families that live here, they need a sidewalk to walk on that’s decent.” He added, “We ought to get in the habit of maintaining our streets, our sidewalks, our parks and our landscaping on a continuous basis. Let’s learn to walk first, and then we’ll think about these grand designs that cost a $100 million, because this is the most fundamental and basic thing of a city. A government’s job is to maintain existing structures in a pristine condition all the time. Not some of the time.”
A majority of the participants agreed with the mayor, and Polikov reminded committee members that the City is not in a bad place considering that they have not spent a lot of money and that there is still a committed group of people that are willing to put in the work that it is going to take to ultimately complete their long term goals. He added that sidewalk improvements and the vision for the future are not mutually exclusive, and that if sidewalk improvements are what is needed, then the City should do that while continuing to look forward. The committee members decided that sidewalk improvements are the way to go and committed to look for funding immediately to make the investment in the future of South Padre Island.
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