Varied opinions expressed during public hearing

April 15, 2013

A considerable amount of input was heard during a public hearing that took place at the April meeting of the Sweetwater City Commission.
The agenda stated that the public hearing would be for the consideration of a request to abandon and close a right-of-way located on East 5th Street, between Elm and Fowler Streets. The area is 80 feet wide and 180 feet long.
The closure was requested by the 4th and Elm Church of Christ and prior to the hearing, letters were sent to neighboring houses. And while a response was received by the city and AT&T due to utilities located in the area, no other letters were sent back to the city.
During the public input portion, a spokesperson for the church stated that across the campus on 5th Street, the church has a warehouse that is also used by the Cornerstone Christian School and the community for various events. During the week, the preschool students cross the street to use the building.
Some motorists on the street who drive at excessive speeds are posing a concern during the week as well as during church functions, which led to the request of the closure. No plans are in place to build on the area, but only to make it a safer area for both members of the church and the community.
A representative from Atmos Energy then spoke, stating that the company has four-inch gas lines on the area. If the closure was granted and maintenance on the lines was necessary at a later date, a dedicated easement would be needed.
On the other hand, two residents on the 300 block of East 5th spoke out against the closure.
A resident who recently purchased a house in the area said that the particular street was the main entry to get to his house. He acknowledged that some cars drive fast down the street, but suggested that signs be positioned or a temporary closure be established instead of a closure.
The other homeowner also suggested that other options be considered like placing signs, yet commented that the church was fully aware that their members would need to cross the street. If parking was a concern, then nearby spacing was available and the church could make that purchase.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Dr. Jerod Peek asked if there were critical times for closure, in which the church spokesman responded on Wednesday nights, Sunday afternoons and in the instance the warehouse was used by the community.
Ricky Castro, Precinct 3 Commission, suggested putting in speed bumps on the street, but City Manager Eddie Brown and Chief of Police Brian Frieda said that the idea would not be effective. Brown also noted that consideration has also taken place on moving the crosswalk.
When Peek asked if the area could be made into a school zone due to the establishment of Cornerstone Christian School, Brown stated that TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) would need to get involved as they set up those type of zones.
Chief Frieda then posed the idea of a temporary closure but during certain hours--which would possibly involve the establishment of an ordinance, which would then hold the entity responsible for setting up and tearing down street cones.
The church spokesperson reiterated that the primary concern is safety, in which a closure would bring awareness to drivers. The ideas presented were a good step forward, but one of the residents stated that in the instance of a temporary closure with various times, the times would probably occur on a frequent basis.
The public hearing was then closed, allowing the commissioners to re-enter regular session and consider the right-of-way's abandonment and closure.
Peek said he understood the concern of the church, but felt that any type of action could set a precedent for closures by other groups and more submitted requests. He recommended that city staff be consulted for the presented options of establishing either a school zone or temporary closure.
Sweetwater Mayor Greg Wortham stressed that fact that other local churches have to cross the street for parking purposes, while Precinct 1 Commissioner Larry May liked the idea of the temporary closure with different times. Wortham added that the different times for different events need to be determined as well.
Commissioner Peek went on to say that discussion should be held with TxDOT on a possible school zone to establish speed limits and signs. However, City Manager Eddie Brown said Elm Street is considered a state highway, which would require TxDOT's involvement if a lower speed limit was set up on Elm Street.
Due to the fact that a closure was not granted during the meeting, the commissioners were not able to take action on the recommendation a no build/no encroachment easement for the entire area due to the utilities present in the area.

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