In January, city officials announced a notice of intention to take on $8 million in debt to pay part of the cost of relocating water and sewer lines along the highway, Jersey Village City Manager Mike Castro said. The Texas Department of Transportation is overseeing the highway expansion and has agreed to reimburse the city for construction costs, but city officials have found themselves footing the bill for land acquisition.
"That is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit with TxDOT," Castro said. "We were granted summary judgment, but TxDOT appealed that lawsuit, and the final resolution may be several years away. In the meantime, we need to keep the utility relocation moving forward."
Construction has also created a challenging environment for business owners along the highway, several of whom opted to relocate. A handful of businesses moved out of Jersey Village city limits, causing property and sales tax revenue losses for the city.
Loss of financial base due to the Hwy. 290 expansion was identified as the most immediate threat to the city in ongoing comprehensive planning discussions.
"Strategies to attract new business to the area have been central to planning discussions over the past few months," Jersey Village Mayor Rod Erskine said. "We recognize the necessity of expanding Hwy. 290 and the future benefits for our city, but construction has been an obstacle for us to overcome."
With no clear answer on whether the city will be reimbursed for land acquisition from TxDOT, Castro said it is still imperative to move forward with utility relocation. Following a vote at the Jan. 19 City Council meeting, Jersey Village published notice of intent to take on $8 million in certificates of obligation to fund land acquisition. The council plans to review bids and make a final decision at the March 16 meeting.
With engineering plans and appraisals largely completed, the next step involves condemnation for the parcels of land, Castro said. Letters will be sent to property owners with a condemnation notice and monetary offer for the land.
"I think we have gone as long as we can go before we start to acquire properties," Castro said. "It is my belief that a percentage of these property owners will settle with the city fairly [quickly]. I'd like to be prepared at the time to be able to respond favorably. This will be taxing for the city, so it would be great if we could do this responsibly and quickly to get it taken care of as soon as possible."
Several Jersey Village residents expressed concerns about the debt and the TxDOT reimbursement at the Jan. 19 meeting.
"The two main concerns are the amount of money and making sure a reimbursement from TxDOT isn't diverted to other city expenses, such as a new city hall or the extension of Jersey Meadows Drive," resident Jim Pulliam said.
Castro said his staff is committed to getting a fair reimbursement for the project.
"TxDOT, in its willingness to get the project moving, has settled quickly and expensively for lots along Hwy. 290," he said. "Timely reimbursement from TxDOT is a top priority for this city and my staff for this coming year."
Some businesses on Hwy. 290 that moved out of city limits because of the highway expansion include Wendy's, McDonald's, Jack's Carpet and Chevron, accounting for a $40,000 loss of property tax revenue for the city.
Additional losses in sales tax revenue have been even more pronounced. Throughout budget talks leading into the 2014–15 fiscal year, Castro maintained the city was seeing about $20,000–$30,000 less in sales tax revenue each month compared to the previous year.
"Fortunately, we have the reserves to get through this Hwy. 290 scenario."
-City Manager Mike Castro
"Going into this year, those numbers are going to get squeezed down a little tighter," he said. "Fortunately, we have the reserves to get through this Hwy. 290 scenario."
Although some businesses have closed or relocated, others have found ways to stay afloat. Owners of the Harris County Smokehouse plan to demolish their location north of Jersey Village at Hwy. 290 and FM 1960, but hope to open their new location in the same area this spring. In the meantime, they continue to welcome customers at their original location.
"We've been at the [Hwy. 290/FM 1960] corner for more than 20 years, and the community has been good to us," owner Harry Chambers said. "The highway expansion has been challenging, but we think once it's done, business is only going to get better."
In spite of the challenges posed by the Hwy. 290 expansion, city officials in Jersey Village remain dedicated to bringing more business and entertainment venues into city limits through projects such as Jersey Crossing, a proposed city center around Jones Road south of Hwy. 290.
Plans for land use at Jersey Crossing are consistent with the master plan adopted in 2010. In recent surveys, residents have called for more restaurants, medical offices, entertainment and performing arts venues.
Plans to move forward with development stalled due to lack of developer interest, some of which is fueled by Hwy. 290 complications, Erskine said.
"We recently had a workshop with a proposed development plan for one tract that includes warehouses, but council is not in favor of warehouses," Erskine said. "The challenge is that there are a lot of land owners down there. Getting them to come together with a bigger proposal is challenging, especially with Hwy. 290 construction affecting the business climate."
Such efforts are critical not only for residential quality of life, but for the city's tax base, Erskine said. However, he said doing the project right will take time. The existing master plan does not call for the first phase to be complete until 2019.