Developers Plan to Improve Memorial Park by Cutting a Lot of Trees, “Re-establishing” Streams

Business Group Requests Federal Permit for Dredging, Filling Wetlands, Hardening Tributaries to Buffalo Bayou

Public Comment Due by April 4, 2019

 

March 13, 2019

A Galleria-area development group has asked for a federal permit to fill wetlands and dredge and armor streams in Memorial Park in order to build two “earthen land bridges” over Memorial Drive. The project, part of a controversial $200-300 million landscaping plan for the public park, requires the felling of hundreds of trees, including mature pines, digging up and lining the streams with concrete rubble and wire baskets of “rocks,” covering Memorial Drive with concrete tunnels, and relocating playing fields and picnic areas.

The Harris County Improvement District 1, otherwise known as the Uptown Houston District is a local government corporation composed of property owners and developers and funded by special property tax levies. Its members are appointed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. In 2013 the boundaries of the Uptown District, which is also governed by the Uptown Development Authority or Uptown Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ 16), though they have different boards, was expanded to include Memorial Park, a 1,500-acre semi-forested park on Buffalo Bayou in the center of Houston. The TIRZ uses local property taxes that would otherwise go to the City’s general fund.

Location of proposed concrete tunnels and “land bridges” over Memorial Drive and same location in 2017.

 

The park, formerly the site of a World War I-era military training camp, is also a State Antiquities Landmark. (See also here.) Parts of a small constructed channel connecting the two originally natural though partially altered tributaries appear to be walled with stone possibly dating from that period. The two tributaries flow through deep wooded ravines lined with lovely dirt paths and empty in Buffalo Bayou.

“Rocks,” other than ancient sandstone, are not natural to Houston’s streams.

  • Location of streams, marked in blue, within project area in Memorial Park south of Memorial Drive subject to Clean Water Act because they are tributaries to Buffalo Bayou. Image from p. 15 of permit application mitigation plan.
  • A 2013 topographic map of natural tributaries flowing from Memorial Park into Buffalo Bayou.
  • The 2013 topographic map focused on the area of proposed land bridges and "re-established" streams.
  • Overview of the so-called "main" and "west" tributaries within the project boundaries. Image from page 24 of the permit application mitigation plan.
  • Plans for armoring the two streams with rock, gabions, and toewood. From page 26 of the permit application mitigation plan.

 

Public Comment Period Until April 4

The Improvement District last week filed an application for a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which enforces the federal Clean Water Act. The Corps is seeking public comment on the permit application, including on whether a public hearing should be held. The public has until April 4 to comment. See below for how to comment.

Read the rest of this post.

12 thoughts on “Developers Plan to Improve Memorial Park by Cutting a Lot of Trees, “Re-establishing” Streams”

  1. Thomas Jackson says:

    This isn’t news. This has been part of the plan from the beginning. Why would you try to frame this so negatively? This is going to be awesome.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Thomas.

      Some people have been opposed to the plan or parts of the plan from the beginning. Many people are appalled by the amount of trees that are being felled. At this moment we are opposed to removing trees and vegetation from streambanks, armoring streams with riprap and wire baskets filled with rocks and digging up ravines and tributaries with heavy equipment to insert tree trunks into the bank with their root wads sticking out into the channel.

  2. Jessica says:

    One of my favorite parts of Memorial Park are the hiking trails where you can get lost away from the concrete of the city. I’m heartbroken they want to put down even more concrete and pretend this an improvement on nature. It’s a lack of appreciation for the natural vegetation and wildlife that already exists there in order to make another buck.

    1. Maybe we can persuade them to be softer on nature. We love those beautiful trails too. They are a treasure for all Houstonians.

    2. Lori says:

      But if nothing is done all those trails are going to be gone as a result of future floods. Already a bunch of them were destroyed—never to come back—as a result of Harvey. I have been walking the trails for several years now and with every big storm, the erosion eats away more and more of the land. A couple more Harvieys, and all of those trails may be gone for good.

      1. Could you tell us specifically which trails you are referring to, Lori? There are still a great many lovely trails through the woods and along the banks and ravines of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. And the best way to protect the banks and allow them to rebuild is to leave the trees and vegetation, including fallen trees, in place. This also helps collect sediment from the water. Please see our article about the Flood Control District’s destructive bayou maintenance as well as our report on how even urban streams can restore themselves.

        Also please note that the plan for the land bridges at this time does not include altering the trails through the bayou woods on the south side of the park. However, the master plan does include significant changes for that beloved natural area. We will be reporting on that.

  3. September 17,2020
    I am shocked and heartbroken over all the old-growth trees that have been removed from Memorial Park in the last two weeks, and the trees have been removed from the highway. I now realize that I didn’t understand the master plan, the rendering was impressive, I attended fund-raising luncheons to help support the cause, but what a disaster, losing all that shade, those shaded play areas, dozens of old-growth pines and live oaks. I think there will be terrible flooding on the trails with the loss of these trees. I also didn’t realize that trails would be closed during construction, forcing everyone on the few remaining trails, which is bad for trees – – especially all those bike tires. It was always a relief to sit in shade on Memorial Drive, that is now gone. I am a tree-hugger from Seattle, I have been walking those trails for 30 years, I should have been paying more attention. The hikers and bikers are furious, we didn’t understand The Plan and did nothing to stop it.

    1. Yes, I’m afraid a great many people didn’t — and don’t understand — what is in the Master Plan for Memorial Park. More ugliness and tree killing to come. Paid for in part with over $108 million in public funds. We’ll be writing an update. Also check out the Save Memorial Park Facebook page. It’s just getting started.

  4. Vincent Bennett says:

    Absolutley DISGUSTED to see how many trees have been removed over the past few weeks. What country is this? Brazil? I thought we had a mayor that actually cared about the environment. People have got to understand, many of those trees that got cut down took 50, some over 75 years to grow, they don’t just come back overnight as the rendering shows. Very sad. How much more of this are we going to tolerate?

    1. We are working on trying to save some of the trees that remain. Visit Save Memorial Park on Facebook. Website coming up soon. Thanks for your comment.

  5. PAIGE MANGINELLO says:

    I’m happy to have finally found the truth about what is going on. The amount of wildlife that have been displaced is disturbing. I live in Cottage Grove and the owls, coyotes, rabbits, snakes, etc have all come our way to a non friendly area for these animals. They all lived in those hidden landscapes that have been destroyed. I have been running that park for over 26 years, I have never seen such destruction and I am not being dramatic. With the influx of new arrivals from the Northern and western states people are unaware of this type of wildlife. Its scary and they are thought of as invaders. We’ve taken their homes. How can we prevent this from getting worse? I do feel that the loss of these old trees and root systems will make way for more potential flooding especially on the I-10 side of the park. I wish there was something to be done. Sadly I feel its too far gone at this point.

    1. Thanks, Paige. So many people are upset about what they are doing to Memorial Park. There is a new group, Save Memorial Park.Check out the Facebook page, though it’s just getting started. But we’ve been trying to fight this destruction of the natural park for five years. Too late to save a lot of the big elder trees. But they plan on taking down more trees, and we will do what we can. Stay in touch.

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