Bellaire mayor reflects: Looking back on 2017, looking forward as we rebuild
By Mayor Andrew Friedberg
Looking back on 2017 in Bellaire, it’s impossible to define the year by anything other than Hurricane Harvey. For many of us, it will linger as the demarcation between our lives as they were and the fresh start it forced upon us. We will continue to find ourselves referring to nearly everything as “pre-Harvey” and “post-Harvey.” But as the experiences of other communities following similar disasters have shown, things will get back to normal—albeit a new normal—and sooner than it may seem. Indeed, they already are.
On the bright side, 2017 also showed us what we’re made of. The enormity and severity of Harvey’s devastation brought out the best in all of us, and brought us closer together. We helped our neighbors get through the worst of the storm, and have continued to support each other in the recovery. Our first responders and city staff from all departments stepped up to the task, without regard to their own Harvey problems at home.
We showed our appreciation for these “Bellaire Brave” with an impressive grassroots effort that raised more than $100,000 in a matter of weeks to help them get back on their feet. Working together, we’ve overcome immense challenges and it has only made us stronger.
Of course, as we enter 2018 that work continues. No doubt our current situation is one of great uncertainty, but we’re well-prepared to deal with that through our ongoing focus on strategic planning. We’ll remain conservative in our assumptions and fiscal forecasting, and cautious about a variety of unknowns. We’re already planning ahead for some key decisions we’ll need to make in the coming year. Just as there are still more challenges to come, there are also many opportunities.
Several exciting improvements that were already underway when Harvey hit have taken on new importance as we rebound. A variety of redevelopment projects are bringing positive change to our commercial areas, and we’ve signaled to the marketplace our vision for future land use on the Chevron property. We’ll finally get a new Bellaire High School after approving a very workable site plan that had eluded us for years, which will include relocating the baseball field to the former Gordon Elementary/Mandarin Chinese school property once it’s freed up from its temporary use post-Harvey. Our own municipal campus at Bellaire Town Square is starting to take shape, and is on track for the new City Hall/Civic Center to open in August and the Police/Courts building the following April. Other development highlights from 2017 include the grand opening of Evelyn’s Park and major renovations at the Nature Discovery Center in Russ Pitman Park.
The Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 infrastructure program is in full swing, with the first phases on schedule to begin construction early in the new year and subsequent phases lined up right behind them. Relatedly, we took a big step forward in our relationship with TxDOT in jointly funding much-needed drainage improvements to the 610 system in connection with the impending interchange project. Just outside our boundaries but of obvious critical importance to us, Project Brays has now reached the segment closest to Bellaire and is anticipated to take most of the City out of the 100-year floodplain by 2021. Our flood control policies—local, regulatory and regional—are currently under review by the Flood Hazard Mitigation Task Force, which will present its recommendations to the City Council in the spring.
The fact that Harvey overshadowed pretty much everything else this year doesn’t diminish the significance of what we’ve accomplished. It has caused us to reprioritize some things going forward, but fundamentally we’re still Bellaire. We know who we are and we’ve shown what it means to be a community. We take pride in that, now more than ever, and look forward to an even better future as we rebuild.