Council Approves Street Closure Keeping Prince Hall Renovations On Track

By Will Johnson
MESSENGER

Prince Hall Renovations - ICON Builders

Chris Akbari of the Itex Group and Tracy Watson of Medina Consulting address the Crockett City Council regarding the necessity of closing Young Street in order to proceed with proposed renovations to Price Hall Manor.

CROCKETT – The proposed renovations of Prince Hall Manor are back on track and appear to be headed to fruition after Monday’s regular Crockett City Council meeting.

The proposal to renovate Prince Hall Manor was broached nearly two years ago. Through a federal grant, the property developer had proposed the complete overhaul and renovation of the property. In a clerical snafu, the developer, Itex Group, LLC, was unable to get the necessary funding to begin this project.

In a February 2011 council meeting, Chris Akbari, the vice president and COO of the Itex Group explained, “We started working on this project a little over a year ago. Unfortunately, we had a glitch in our application process. I take full responsibility for that. I didn’t upload a file correctly and because of that the residents of Crockett and the residents of Prince Hall Manor didn’t receive the funding.”

After re-submitting the corrected paperwork, the Itex Group gained federal and city approval and began the renovation process. Because it is a federal grant, there were several stipulations attached. One of these involved an environmental study that looked at noise levels created by the train that runs at the back of Prince Hall. The study, conducted by Medina Consulting Environmental Scientist Tracy Watson, was used to determine what the current noise level was. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would not fund or support a project where the noise levels exceeded a certain decibel level. In a community meeting held last December, City Administrator Ron Duncan said, “In this case, the target number is 65. When they studied Prince Hall they found the decibel levels at 77.”

As a result of the findings, a new plan was developed. This involved the proposed closing of Young Street and creating a “quiet zone.” In the December meeting, Duncan explained the railroad that runs in the back of Prince Hall was the cause of the noise and Union Pacific officials had been notified regarding this. He said several options had been discussed to help alleviate the noise from the trains. Establishing a “quiet zone,” where the train whistle was not sounded, was proposed and then shot down because of the proximity of three railroad crossings at Austin, Bell and Young streets. However, another study was conducted which determined the least used crossing was at Young Street. With the removal of the railroad crossing, a quiet zone could be established and the Prince Hall Renovation project could move forward. Without establishing the quiet zone, the federal money used to help fund the renovation project would evaporate and according to Duncan, the project would no longer be feasible.

Monday evening, a public hearing was held to determine the fate of the Young Street crossing. Andrew Hudanish, Manager of Industry and Public Projects for Union Pacific Railroad addressed the council and said, “We’re here to present our case to close Young Street, in conjunction with the HUD project. We would like to offer our services to close that crossing for you to meet the noise abatement standards that are required for the grant money. At the same time, Union Pacific would like to offer up $20,000, in a lump sum payment, for the actual closing of the crossing. With that money, y’all can do what you need to do to remove the road, signage and that kind of stuff. Union Pacific will take care of all of the crossings on the main and side tracks. We’ll take down the lights and the gates.”

Chris Akbari, with the Itex Group, was also present and said, “I was thinking back the other day, two years ago we started working on this project. It has been a very tumultuous and difficult road. Each time we’ve turned around there has been a new difficulty that has presented itself. I’m here today to speak for the closing, because it is the only true way to make the renovation happen. With this closing, we will be able to perform the renovation and provide $3.2 million in hard costs to rehab the property which will substantially change the way of life for the residents in this area of Crockett.”

Crockett Mayor Wayne Mask informed council members that he had spoken with the Rev. Harry Fred Scott.

“The Rev. Scott said he couldn’t be here tonight, said he wouldn’t be here tonight, but he wanted me to express his concerns about the crossing,” Mask said. “He felt that the numbers, the traffic count were something to question and basically wanted the public to know he was against the closing.”

Tracy Watson, with Medina Consulting, also addressed the council and explained when all factors were taken into account, the train was the largest factor in the noise generation. Continuing, she said that they had looked at barrier walls but the costs were excessive, and the noise abatement was minimal. Watson said establishing a quiet zone where the trains were required not to blow the warning horns appeared to be the most viable option. By removing the Young Street crossing, “…the horn option has been diminished and the noise level are diminished and the project can move forward. That’s where we stand now. That’s what I put in my study and that’s what has been approved by HUD.”

After several more minutes of discussion by the guests and council members, and with no further public comments, Mask adjourned the public hearing concerning the closure of Young Street and removal of the railroad crossing. It was motioned, seconded and unanimously approved to close the Young Street roadway and to permanently remove the railroad crossing. The Prince Hall renovation project may now move forward.

Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com