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COH to 77006 "Your land is too expensive to "give" you a park


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Price tag, location raise questions about Montrose park plan
$1.2 million price tag and location on Westheimer spur council debate

By Mike Morris

November 11, 2014 | Updated: November 12, 2014 11:13am

The crumbly, potholed parking lot at the corner of Westheimer and Whitney looks neither like a park nor a piece of pricy real estate.

But it could soon be both under a Houston Parks and Recreation Department plan that has some members of the City Council questioning the wisdom of a park along a busy commercial corridor - and whether it is worth the $1.2 million price tag.



Price tag, location raise questions about Montrose park plan
"It could be argued that it's a lovely place for a park, and then one might argue that it would be the perfect place for another business," said Councilman David Robinson. "I need to be convinced that its highest and best use is truly in providing green space along lower West-heimer when one thinks about the revenue that might spin off in the tax base."

The proposed purchase is the latest - and most expensive - under the city's open space ordinance, a 2007 measure aimed at adding green space to the city's parks inventory. The City Council will consider it on Wednesday.

Parks department officials say the site, currently used as off-site parking for a restaurant, is the best option that complies with the open space ordinance.

That law divided Houston into 21 park sectors and levied fees on residential developers who did not set aside green space. The fees generated within a sector must be spent in the same sector within three years, and can be used only for parks.

As of last fall, the program had generated more than $11 million citywide, but no land had been purchased. Parks officials, noting that five tracts totaling 1.3 acres have been purchased in the last year, said it simply took time for some of the sectors to accumulate funds after the recession.

'Behind the curve'

Two of the recently purchased tracts, as well as the proposed Westheimer site, are located in the city's busiest park sector, the western portion of the Inner Loop between Interstate 10 and U.S. 59.

Parks Director Joe Turner said his philosophy in using the fund is to buy land, not necessarily to stretch each dollar as far as possible. Conserving green space amid the march of townhomes, he said, often means paying a premium.

"Even though it generates a lot of funding, we're behind the curve because we're buying after stuff is hot, so the price has already gone up," Turner said. "That's the way it is. Density is here and it's not going to stop. Do we want to fill everything in? I say no."

Turner said he was led to the site by using a system developed by the Trust for Public Lands that assesses the need for green space based on population density and the number of youths and low-income residents in an area.

The analysis produced a map showing what areas of the sector need parks, which Turner sent to city real estate staff. Of the nine options they sent back, Turner's top choice was cheaper than the West-heimer site but already had townhomes going up when his staff went to check it out. Other options were buried in neighborhoods, inaccessible and hard to police. Another was oddly shaped; still another, in Midtown, was nearly triple the cost of the Westheimer site.

Even Mayor Annise Parker, who agreed to place the item on the City Council agenda and said the proposal would be an appropriate use of the open space fund, has her reservations about "an expensive park on a commercial strip."

Turner said the commercial area does not bother him, pointing to Mandell Park on nearby Richmond Avenue, another busy corridor. Still, Turner looked again at available properties in the park sector last week, but found no viable replacement.

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, whose District C includes the Westheimer site, supports the proposed purchase.

"In terms of this park on this space for that price, I think it's what the fund was designed to do," said Cohen. "The fact that we are growing so much and there is so much development going on, trying to maintain some green spaces - even if it's only 10,000 square feet - I think is important."

'We're kind of barren'

Council District C as a whole is tied for first among the 11 districts in the number of parks and is third in acreage and average park size, when multi-district Buffalo Bayou Park and Memorial Park are included.

The 77006 ZIP code that is home to the proposed Westheimer site, how­ever, ranks 23rd among the city's 78 ZIP codes in the number of parks, and near the bottom in park acreage and average park size.

Montrose civic leader Greg LeGrande, who lives in the adjacent Avondale neighborhood, praised the idea, saying his neighbors feel their lack of park access.

"We're kind of barren in the area here," he said. "There's not too many parks within the actual neighborhood. You have to go quite a ways in any direction."

LeGrande said it would have been better for the city to have made the purchase a few years ago when prices were lower, but he said the proposed price for land on West-heimer is a fair one.

Some of the concerns raised about the purchase are based on the incorrect belief that the money could be spent anywhere in the city, Councilman Stephen Costello said. Still, Costello said the price per square foot gives him pause.

"I'd much rather see us use the money elsewhere if we can, but anytime you're inside 610 you're obviously going to be paying a premium for land," he said.

"So, it really kind of depends on where we're able to invest and whether that's the right place to

Edited by trymahjong
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is this the parking lot for royal oak, next door to the new doc's? if so that would be a great place for a park, although there would likely be a fairly heavy transient population unless otherwise policed well. he parking lot that's there now is atrocious. in addition the space is pretty small and oddly shaped so i think you would be fairly limited to what you could build there.


the area definitely needs more parks, though. and one at this location would provide a bit of an oasis in a very commercialized part of the inner loop. as trymahjong said it's hard to imagine too many other opprtunities to put a park along this corridor ever coming again.

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COH approved the purchase at 424 Westheimer- I just read Cohen's enewsletter- my commuter is acting up and the cut and paste went pooey.

Maybe someone else can post the article?

I'm glad to hear that. The cost is high, but it won't be cheaper 10 years for now so I am glad they "bit the bullet".

In the 80s they wanted to close Westheimer from Montrose or so to Taft and make it a walkable restuarant area. Think how cool that would've been. This park will make our quality of life better and increase property values all around it. Houston is on a positve roll for adding green space!

Also, I remember in the 80s they thought mass transit was too expensive. Not any cheaper now.

Edited by Dakota79
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There are a lot of threads on HAIF about how to improve that area (great ideas too) and I have attended soooooo many seminars hosted by one organization or another that would pop up with fabulous renderings of "civic" improvements but the status quo never seemed to change.

In fact those CIP and SNAP projects that the City dangles out to neighborhoods to get improves using City money- not one Nope not one has ever been approved for that area- Avondale is a fairly active civic group, sending reps to participate in all that City/community stuff---getting those requests shot down year after year was hard to take.

This little piece of good news really caught me by surprise.

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In the 80s they wanted to close Westheimer from Montrose or so to Taft and make it a walkable restuarant area. Think how cool that would've been. This park will make our quality of life better and increase property values all around it. Houston is on a positve roll for adding green space!

I doubt it. A lot of those pedestrian malls built in the 1970s and 1980s (the ones actually built, many more were proposed) were poorly conceived ways to try to turn around inner city commerce while in reality just killing them off faster. Most of these pedestrian malls were converted back to vehicular traffic by the 1990s.

Montrose in the 1980s, as anyone could tell you, wasn't anything like the Montrose of today, and was probably a scheme to gentrify Montrose back then and get rid of the bars and other unsavory establishments, and I'm not sure if the 1980s pedestrian mall plan actually would've ensured a better future.


In regards to parks, I was kind of confident that they would probably add park space since they seem to play fast and loose with that sort of thing anyway (remember the "parklet" they created in a parking space?)

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