Marina, ferry landing?
City council members are bracing for round two with a 67-acre tract of land the city owns off the end of Port Street.
The council is scheduled to discuss the matter at a workshop set for 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20 - an hour before the regular council meeting.
The property, bought in 1992 from American Bank, has been in city hands since then. Every five years, a pre-existing marina permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been renewed.
Now, says City Engineer Jim Urban, the Corps of Engineers is becoming more reluctant to grant renewals more or less automatically. The Army agency is taking a longer, closer look at renewal applications when the property in question isn't being developed, he told the council earlier this year.
A plan for the acreage unveiled in 2004 by Corpus Christi developer Ralph Durden at the city's invitation drew citizen ire when it encroached on land reserved for the Charlie's Pasture Nature Preserve and proposed a multistory hotel and commercial marina. After several return visits by Durden to the council, during which the project - called "Charlie's Harbor" -- was scaled down each time, the plan was vetoed by council members.
Now, with an estimated three years remaining on the current marina permit, the council is again taking up the question of what should be done with the property. And this time, council members are determined to find out what residents want before a decision is made.
"I believe that the citizens of Port Aransas should have a major role in deciding what to do with this valuable asset and to seek as much input input as possible and to take that input to come up with a plan for this tract, rather than having a developer approach the city and try to decide what is best for property and the citizens," Councilman Mike Hall said in answer to a poll of city council members of their opinions. "If the decision is made to continue with the marina, then citizen input should play an important part in setting development parameters as we move forward."
Hall and Councilman Bubba Jensen are the only two incumbent council members who occupied council seats during the Charlie's Harbor debate.
However, councilmen who have taken seats since then seem to agree.
"We want to explore all our options and insure we do not allow the coveted Army Corps (of Engineers) Marina Permit to lapse in the event the city opts to utilize it. At previous meetings, it was clear that we want community input on the future of this tract," Councilman Keith McMullin said in response to the council poll.
Councilman Rick Pratt, the only other council member to respond, said he had been digging into the background of the property to learn more about it.
"I have been reading all the history files still extant on the property and trying to become educated on the matter before we take it up yet again only to table it once more," Pratt wrote in an e-mail. "No conclusions yet," he said.
Suggestions for the property have included building an additional city marina; adding landings to the Texas Department of Transportation's ferry system that crosses the Corpus Christi Ship Channel; and selling the property, using the money gained for other city projects.
Several people who opposed the Charlie's Harbor proposal told the council at the time that they favored marina development. However, it is clear that the city couldn't build a marina on its own because of the enormous cost involved. Instead, if the council decides to install a marina on the site, it would be done in partnership with a private developer. Whether the 67 acres could support a marina as well as other developments hasn't been decided, but Hall said he also understands the need to look for additional ferry landings.
"In the past there has been discussion that part of the 67 acres could be that site," he wrote. "Opponents argue that it is too close to the nature preserve and that it is not the best place for a ferry landing. Proponents say we already own the land and we need to address traffic control now. Both sides have great merit."
At the August city council meeting on Aug. 16, the council generally agreed that the city needs to get moving on the property quickly.
"I'd like to think that the city would have a plan in the next six to 12 months for the 67-acre tract," McMullin wrote in answering the council survey questions.