PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 19, 2013

Wheelhouse up for a vote; some oppose riverfront zoning change

Mary Meaux
The Port Arthur News

PORT NECHES — A group of Port Neches residents is questioning the goings on behind a proposed waterfront restaurant.

Alicia Ramsey is one of six residents who live within 200-feet of the proposed Port Neches Wheel House Restaurant. She, and the citizens action group, are protesting the planned rezoning of the property located at 720 Lee Street.

The city’s planning and zoning commission recommended the property be rezoned from industrial-light to medium-business and City Council will consider the recommendation during a meeting at 4:20 p.m. Thursday at city hall, 1005 Merriman St. The rezoning is the last hurdle in the issue.

Ramsey made an open records request to the city for correspondence regarding the Wheel House and has been sorting through nearly 1,000 pages of information including e-mails. She believes there may be a conflict of interest and said she has notified the FBI and the Attorney General’s Office.

Pete Steele of McPherson, Hughes, Bradley, Wimberly, Steele and Chatelain attorneys at law is the city’s legal counsel while Lance Bradley, a member of the same firm, has sat in for Steele periodically. Bradley is also one of nine local business persons who are investors in the restaurant venture.

Ramsey has shared with the Port Arthur News some of the documents she received via her open records requests which include correspondence between Bradley and City Manager Andrè Wimer. In the e-mail dated April 10, Bradley talks about two men who are interested in the “possibility of a restaurant on the property next to the boat launch/parking lot at Port Neches Riverfront Park” and “they would want the land donated for lack of a better term.”

Bradley also serves on the Port Neches Riverfront Development Authority which is the group who initially heard the pitch for the restaurant from Bert Lamson in May. Lamson, who is one of the investors, gave a run-down of the proposed project during that meeting. Bradley abstained from all discussion and vote during the meeting as he was involved in the project as was noted in the May 16 edition of The News.

In a separate e-mail from Bradley to Wimer dated July 11, Bradley noted that some council members suggested he attend the July 11 meeting to which he told Wimer he was trying to stay on the sidelines regarding the issue and “unless you think otherwise, I will attend as counsel today and then stay out of executive session.”

Bradley has been present as counsel but not in executive session. He also disclosed his involvement with the project and not participated in executive sessions or public hearings regarding the issue. Local attorney Jesse Branick stepped in to represent the city’s interest during negotiations in the issue.

Wimer elaborated on Bradley’s statement saying that “at no point was he involved in conversations city council had regarding the project and recused himself from the beginning.”

Ramsey and her group also worry about a valuable piece of real estate along the waterfront being sold for $1. In August, the city conveyed the property to the Port Neches Economic Development Corporation as per government code then sold the 2.5 acres of land for $1 to the investment group.

Originally the investors asked for 3.75 acres of land but now they are looking at 2.5 acres. In June, Bishop Real Estate Appraisers Inc. appraised the 3.75 acres of land at $820,000 and a 1.0 acre option as $220,000 thus bringing the worth of the 2.5 acres at about $550,000.

Ramsey also worries that if the restaurant doesn’t work out then she’ll be stuck with a view of a closed down eatery.

“I’m not against (riverfront) development and in a perfect world I’d like for there to be nothing there,” she said. “Personally, I’d like to see the boat ramp extended. Keep it recreational.”

Ramsey plans to attend Thursday’s meeting where she and others will let council know how they feel, she said.

“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the city and I’ll have 1,000 pages in hand and a speech to go,” she said.

E-mail: mmeaux@panews.com

Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews