Developing Park Space

In an effort to increase the amount of park space in the city, Houston Councilmembers are considering a measure to require developers to set aside land for public use. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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At a public hearing more than a dozen people representing developers, environmental groups, affordable housing and park trustees testified to city council on a proposed ordinance for creating and preserving green space. City Public Works Deputy Director Andy Icken says there's a national standard for how much park space a city a should have.

"And that standard came from the Trust for Public Land. That standard is 25.5 acres per thousand residents."

Counting all the county parks inside the city limits, Houston meets that standard. But the concern is that as Houston's population continues to grow, the city won't be able to keep pace acquiring land for parks. So the city is proposing an ordinance that would require developers to set aside 10 acres of land per thousand residents estimated to live in the new neighborhood.

"The city has achieved much of the park space we have today through philanthropy and work of various volunteer groups. We see that continuing to a certain extent, but we also see the need to require development to participate in that process of acquiring park land."

Developers could opt out of the land set-aside by paying an $800 fee per unit. That money would go into a city park fund to pay for acquiring and maintaining park space. Tom Bacon is president of the Houston Parks Board and he's also a real estate development investor. He says the requirements on developers are minimal.

"We're always in the mode of saying no don't add anything to our cost. We are one of the lowest cost cities in the United States to develop in and what it results in is sort of a commodity town, we don't really stretch ourselves in terms of quality environment."

Several people, including representatives from the Houston Apartment Association and the Greater Houston Builder's Association disputed the idea that this ordinance would be easy on developers. But the testimony that really caught the attention of councilmembers came from Mary Lawler of Avenue Community Development, a non-profit affordable housing provider.

"Those of us who are working to develop affordable housing in the inner city are already battling increasing land costs and the rising costs of construction. Adding to these costs, the required dedication of land or an $800 fee will make this housing less affordable to the low-income families we are trying to serve."

Lawler asked the council to exempt affordable housing providers from the ordinance. Mayor Bill White later said he's not sure an exemption is the best alternative, but said if the city needs to do more, they will. The ordinance may come up for a final vote within the next two or three weeks. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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