HOUSTON-The commercial real estate community has been anticipating a bonanza along the route of the proposed light rail corridor in Houston, but somebody just pulled the emergency stop cord.

Light rail opponents have plunked down a petition with 1,100 signatures on city council’s table asking for a citizen referendum on whether to let the Metropolitan Transit Authority – Metro – use Houston streets. Now the controversy swirls around whether a city charter clause requiring only 500 signatures to trigger a vote is applicable. City attorneys say 20,000 signatures are required. Paul Bibler, assistant city attorney, says the 500-signature requirement applies only to franchise agreements, but councilman Rob Todd interprets the 500-signature clause to apply to the light-rail proposal.

This is not exactly a Christmas present for Metro, which had scheduled groundbreaking for January, and sees a costly delay even if it doesn’t have to wait on balloting. There’s also the prospect of having to acquire rights-of-way on S. Main, Fannin and Jacinto streets via condemnation for its 7.5-mile, $300-million rail line.

Metro has resolved to ignore the threat. “We are going forward,” says Metro’s Julie Gilbert. Let the attorneys work out the problem.

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