The city of Houston is proposing an ordinance that would require developers of new housing projects to set aside a certain amount of land for parks or make a contribute to allow the city to purchase park land. The revised draft ordinance, incorporating changes suggested by various interested parties, is on the Houston Planning Department website. This ordinance will go to City Council for a vote on October 9th. Diane Schenke, of The Park People, says that she anticipates that at least one council member will tag the proposal (delay it to the next meeting).

There were 15 speakers at the hearing on the proposed ordinance on September 19.

Mary Lawler requested a waiver for affordable housing. Fahim Hamid; developer Ron Lindsey; Adam Aschman, representing Greater Houston Builders Association; and Andy Teas, representing the Houston Apartment Association; opposed the ordinance.

The speakers for the proposal were: Mandi Kimball; Tom Bacon, a developer and member of the Houston Parks Board; Ty Kelley, for the Bayou Preservation Association; Ann Lents; Evelyn Merz; Gina Donovan; and Bob Schwarz, of the Brays Bayou Association. Supporters Doreen Stoller and John Cutler, of Trees for Houston, were present also. Diane Schenke, from The Park People, and Linda Shead, from the Trust for Public Land, also spoke in support of the plan. Excerpts from their statements follow:

Linda Shead said:
“The proposal to institute a parkland set-aside program for the City of Houston is a welcome addition to City resources needed to make the Houston parks system among the best in the nation. Such set-aside/fee programs are being successfully utilized in cities throughout the country, including some of Houston’s chief competitors, such as Atlanta and Chicago, and the Texas cities of Fort Worth and San Antonio, as well as neighboring communities such as League City and Sugar Land. In fact, though not typical, the City of Atlanta goes beyond requiring set-asides/fees for single family and multi-family developments to include new commercial development in its requirements for providing park fees.

Shead continued:
“These set-aside programs are especially important in cities like Houston, where it is so very challenging for city resources to keep pace with the constantly increasing demand posed by a fast growing population. Without such a program, and with two million more people expected in Harris County by 2035, and a substantial portion of that within Houston and its extra-territorial jurisdiction, an unfair burden would be placed on existing Houston taxpayers both to catch up on providing park equity and access for current residents and to provide adequate parkland for the new arrivals.

Schenke said:
“This effort is important because parks have functions beyond generally improving the City. Parks and green spaces represent critically important environmental amenities; contact with nature is highly valued, and it offers a range of health benefits. In cities and towns, parks are the principal venue for regular public access to nature. Parks also offer settings for physical activity and social interaction. Most importantly, parks, green space and nature provide significant benefits to communities including: (1) economic; (2) developmental; (3) psychological; (4) air quality; and, (5) public health. Given these critical elements, we support the comments filed by Children at Risk, entitled “The Impact of Parks on Child Well-Being.”

Regarding economic issues, Schenke said:
”Parks and open space create a high quality of life that attracts tax-paying businesses and new residents to communities; corporate CEO’s say that employee quality of life is the third most important factor in business; small company owners say recreation, parks, and open space are the highest priority for a new location for their business; and, across the U.S., access to parks and open spaces has become a measure of community involvement, a tool for attracting businesses and residents by guaranteeing quality of life and economic success.

Parks also provide an economic benefit to cities by boosting tourism: open space boosts local economies by attracting tourists and supporting outdoor recreation. Also, because tourists cite natural beauty and quality of view to be the most important criteria in selecting a destination, many communities are now striving to protect scenic views and moving utility wires underground and protecting trees and historic buildings.”

If you want to communicate with your city council members about this proposal, the council’s website will give you instructions.

The Trust for Public Land and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department are hosting a free talk by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”. The event will be Tuesday, October 2, at 7:30 p.m., at the Cullen Theater of the Wortham Center. A book signing will follow the talk. Seating is limited, so RSVP to (713) 226-7200 as soon as possible.