Local

Quiet zone stirs up issues in The Heights

Monday, April 26, 2010

No one wants to hear trains blowing their horns in their neighborhood, which is why quiet zones are so popular.

But the creation of a quiet zone in The Heights is creating a major problem for two businesses that say the move to silence trains is destroying their livelihoods.

"It's really bad," business owner Smith Patel said. "There's no business."

The stretch of rail line in The Heights is turning into a quiet zone. The process includes closing off turnarounds near rail crossings. One of those used to sit in front of Patel's convenience store on Heights Boulevard.

"If you want to go straight across the tracks and turn around, it takes like 7 to 10 minutes," Patel said. "Nobody has that kind of a time."

Patel and an antiques shop owner across the street say closing the turnaround is killing their business. They want the city to open another turnaround.

But the city's hands are tied.

"The guidelines we are bound by don't really fit into the criteria that they're asking us to do," Houston Public Works Department Spokesman Alvin Wright said. "So we're gonna move forward with the project."

A coalition of neighborhoods, who pushed for the quiet zone, says the majority of neighbors and business owners support the plan. It points out that in another part of the area, the city's shut down an entire street and those residents seem to be dealing just fine with that roadblock.

"The people who live in these neighborhoods are inconvenienced in that they have to travel blocks to cross the railroad tracks," said Jane West, a member of the neighborhoods coalition. "People going to the businesses have to travel an extra few feet."

But that's no comfort to Patel, who says she now gets about one customer every half hour.

"I'm very upset because you know my whole future, my kids' future depends on this," Patel said.

The city leaders say they discussed the quiet zone plans with the community for more than 19 months. They say they understand the business owners concerns and are looking for ways to alleviate the problem.

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