The city of Tomball continues to focus on improvements to Old Town Tomball. Construction began in June on the FM 2920 overlay project, and the city proposed several downtown improvements in its five-year plan adopted in mid-May.
In addition to dressing up downtown, the city’s five-point strategic plan for 2016-21 includes expanding community life, improving accessibility, creating a service-oriented culture, making the city financially sustainable and building Tomball’s economy. Tomball City Manager George Shackelford said he has assigned parts of the strategic plan to each city department.
“[The departments] are in the process of writing up an implementation plan for each of the line items [in the plan],” Shackelford said. “It’s a five-year plan. We can’t do it all in one day.”
Tomball has worked for the past five years to make its downtown area a destination, in line with the Livable Centers Study conducted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council in 2009, Tomball Community Development Director Craig Meyers said.
“We’ve done a lot of [suggestions from the study],” Meyers said. “We’re looking to do more. We just haven’t funded it yet.”
Overlaying FM 2920
The next leg of downtown improvements began in mid-June with the start of the FM 2920 overlay project from Business 249 to Howard Street. The overlay project, which is the initial stage of the Texas Department of Transportation’s $30 million rebuild of FM 2920, is expected to be completed by this fall.
The overlay serves as a short-term fix until TxDOT can add raised medians and other more permanent improvements in the next three to five years, Meyers said.
“[In the short term], there will be a designated left-turn lane [from Elm to Pine streets] and left-turn signal so that cars are not stopping in the center lane, which you know if you’ve been around Tomball enough, it’s a problem,” he said.
However, the addition of a turn lane to improve mobility will eliminate parallel parking on Main Street, Tomball Economic Development Director Kelly Violette said.
At the time the Livable Centers Study was conducted, Violette worked as Tomball’s city planner. As storefronts limited the right of way to widen the road, eliminating on-street parallel parking was the most feasible option to make room for a turn lane, Violette said.
“That was not received well in the beginning because businesses have gotten used to the fact that they have on-street parking,” she said.
Seven years later, some businesses are still not happy with the proposal. In addition to losing customer parking, the on-street parking also serves as unloading and loading zones for downtown businesses.
“Loading and unloading is going to be a challenge,” said Mike Brockwell, owner of Otto’s Emporium at 410 W. Main St. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but I’m not very happy about it.”
Brockwell, who has owned the business for two years, said he believes his concerns are echoed by other local business owners along Main Street.
The city has created public parking lots to counter the expected loss of parking on Main Street. City officials said the downtown streets and alleys continue to be evaluated for meeting additional parking needs. However, Brockwell said if the new parking situation does not work well for his business, he is not afraid to move.
“I’m going to take an open mind to it,” Brockwell said. “Losing the parking is going to be a big change for us. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll go somewhere else.”
Shackelford said he hopes TxDOT completes its rebuild of FM 2920 in 2018, ahead of schedule, but TxDOT has not released a final completion date for construction. Tomball City Council has set aside $1.5 million in fiscal year 2016-17 for the surveying, engineering and possible right of way acquisition to move the additional FM 2920 improvements along. As for the aesthetic improvements suggested by H-GAC, Shackelford said TxDOT will only provide basic roadway improvements.
“If we want a metal pole, we’ve got to pay for the upgrade. If we want the mast arms [traffic signal poles] instead of all the wires, we got to pay for that,” he said. “We’ve got some money set aside for the overages.”
The city has budgeted for several downtown area improvement projects in FY 2016-17, which begins Oct. 1. Shackelford said the city plans to extend utilities to Broussard Park and begin work on the $20.22 million Medical Complex Drive extension from South Persimmon Street to Hufsmith-Kohrville Road in FY 2016-17.
Meyers said these additions will benefit the city in the long term.
“[The projects are] going to open up that corridor [along Zion and Hufsmith roads] for development since there [are] not a lot of utility services out there,” he said. “You should see more activity in areas where the services will come.”
Making Tomball more pedestrian friendly tops the list of planned long-term improvements. One of the goals of the Livable Centers Study was to maintain a high level of pedestrian accessibility in downtown Tomball to preserve its small-town atmosphere, said Meredith Dang, livable centers project manager for H-GAC.
“All of our studies in the Livable Centers Program look at how to create walkable, mixed-use places where people can live, work and play with less reliance on their cars,” she said. “You could now park once and walk to multiple places.”
Shackelford said the city’s network of sidewalks now connects the hospital, Tomball High School and neighborhoods to Main Street.
“We’ve done [sidewalk] projects every single year. That’s a big thing the council wanted to see,” he said. “We’ve tried to close up kind of a spider web.”
The city’s FY 2016-17 budget includes $609,375 for sidewalks on Quinn Road from Rudel Road to FM 2920 and on Holderrieth Boulevard from Graham Drive to FM 2920 to be completed in 2017.
“You’ll be able to go all the way from Hwy. 249 [on Zion] all the way down to Main Street,” Shackelford said.
In the 2009 Livable Centers Study conducted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the city of Tomball and H-GAC focused on making downtown Tomball a destination. The city has since worked to improve the Tomball Historic Depot Plaza and the sights on Main Street as funding allows. Additional improvements are planned for the next five years.[/caption]
With mobility improvements underway, Tomball is also looking to invest in city amenities, such as Broussard Community Park, the Wayne Stovall Sports Complex and the Tomball Historic Depot Plaza.
“It’s one of the [council’s] higher priorities to get those funded and built, because the demand from the public is there,” said Tomball Public Works Director David Esquivel. “We did a survey that showed what the public wanted in amenities, and the parks [are] the main thing.”
The city purchased property in early July at 114 Fannin St. to expand the size of the depot area. Although a construction start date has not been announced, Shackelford said The Texas Railroading Heritage Museum at Tomball is still actively working to relocate its museum to the depot as well.
The council allotted $200,000 in FY 2015-16 for renovations to the baseball fields, lighting and bathrooms at Stovall Sports Complex. Following last year’s improvements to the park, the council agreed to budget another $180,000 in FY 2016-17 for a new concession stand and storage barn at the park.
For the city’s newest park—Broussard Community Park—Shackelford said the city still needs about $2 million to $3 million to develop the land donated by the Broussard family. In addition to the existing playground, the plans include adding soccer fields, nature trails, restrooms and a parking area. The city has included $800,000 in its 2016-17 budget to provide water to the park and the surrounding area and another $300,000 for developing the park.
“We’re trying to squeeze as much in to the land that we have left,” Shackelford said. “We may see something moving this year. I’m anxious to get it started.”