Your Time Is Up: Cohen Cuts Off Criticism of Costly Memorial Park Plan
What’s the Rush?
Full Council to Consider Unfinished $3.2 Million Plan Wednesday, April 1
Public Comments to Council on Tuesday, March 31
March 29, 2015
Update Monday, March 30: Council Member Steve Costello’s office has responded that as a member of the board of directors of the Memorial Park Conservancy, he will recuse himself from voting on the proposed master plan.
Public comments were limited to two minutes due to the large number of people signed up to speak on the city’s proposed master plan to spend $200-300 million on Memorial Park. A few of the nine members of the council’s Quality of Life Committee, chaired by Ellen Cohen, met last Wednesday afternoon to hear Parks Director Joe Turner and landscape architect Thomas Woltz present the ambitious, vague, and costly master plan for the 1500-acre-plus woodland park.
Dozens of people spoke in favor of the plan. Most of them were members of the board of or connected to the Memorial Park Conservancy, and many of them, users of the park, gave moving testimony about their reasons for joining the conservancy: the devastating impact of the 2011 drought, which has killed more than half the trees in the park.
But there were also strong critics of the unfinished $3.2 million proposal, which so far does not seem to be an actual written plan specifically identifying and prioritizing what should be done and when, two key elements for a successful master plan, according to a recent report on urban park conservancies from the Trust for Public Land.
A large contingent of critics were residents or property owners adjoining the park concerned about the increase in traffic, noise, lights, and people using the park. A smaller group of conservationists also expressed concern about the increase in traffic and parking, the loss of trees and natural areas, the expense, inappropriate planting plans, and lack of detail about costs and maintenance. It was suggested that new facilities be placed instead in new parkland purchased with some of the millions of public dollars to be used for the project.
The new master plan proposes to increase parking by thirty percent. However, the 2004 master plan for the park, much of which has never been carried out, identified parking lots as “undesirable intrusions on the natural landscape” and recommended “no net change to the quantity of daily use parking spaces” in the park. To manage peak demand, the 2004 plan recommended the use of shuttles and the construction of “an ‘over-flow only’ parking using environmentally sensitive construction techniques along the rail and power line right of way.”
Update On the Not-A-Boat Launch In Memorial Park at Woodway
Feb. 9, 2015
Rumors have been flying across the concrete prairie and through the riparian woods of Buffalo Bayou that what was once a popular boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway will be opened again to the public maybe by March or April.
And while we have determined that there is not actually a definite plan yet for opening the once-a-boat-launch, we can confirm that there may be some plans eventually to possibly appropriate some money to build handrails for safety and handicapped access, a proper parking lot, and some other stuff that city officials claim are required to make the longtime, popular no-longer-a boat-launch safe again for the public.
The Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) 16, which in 2013 expanded to include Memorial Park, will consider funding the improvements “required to open the area as a public access point to the bayou,” Sarah Newbery, Memorial Park project director for the TIRZ 16, said in an email. This budget decision will happen at the next board of directors meeting on February 25, 2015, at 3:30 p.m. in Suite 1700, 1980 Post Oak Boulevard, said Newbery.
Why an unelected semi-private entity controls our public park, we don’t know. But the Uptown TIRZ meeting notices and agenda are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting at the Houston City Hall Public Bulletin Board, at the rear entrance of the City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby. So go downtown and park and find the bulletin board and look on it to see what’s on the agenda. There does not seem to be an online notice.
We can tell you that the Uptown TIRZ 16 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan includes nothing for the Woodway “drainage/erosion control” project, not even for maintenance, which is a constant problem, since the badly designed (AECOM) outfall collects mud. However, the TIRZ 16 2015 CIP budget includes $9.5 million for “Memorial Park/Buffalo Bayou.”
But It’s Best to Leave the Bayou Alone, Says BPA’s Water Quality Director
Feb. 5, 2015
We lost track of the number of times our jaws dropped listening to Steve Hupp present the Bayou Preservation Association’s argument for destroying one of the last natural stretches of Buffalo Bayou in Houston.
Hupp, who was speaking to the Briar Forest Super Neighborhood council on Jan. 20, is the water quality director for the BPA, which was founded in the 1960s to protect the natural banks of Buffalo Bayou from the bulldozers of the Harris County Flood Control District. Hupp lamented that a representative of Flood Control wasn’t there to help him make his case for bulldozing and dredging some 80 percent of a healthy stretch of our wild, southern bayou for more than a mile in and around our public Memorial Park, including the great cliffs of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. This $6 million boondoggle, touted as “bank restoration and stabilization,” is called the Memorial Park Demonstration Project (MPDP). Demonstrating exactly the wrong thing to do for erosion control by razing the riparian buffer, the project will destroy the bayou’s ecosystem. According to the BPA, the bayou will be re-engineered to “a more natural state.”
Briar Forest, which is south of Buffalo Bayou between Gessner, Westheimer, and Dairy Ashford, has been fighting its own battle with Flood Control over a plan to destroy a significant amount of forest to create stormwater detention basins.
City Council Member Oliver Pennington was at the meeting. Pennington, who is running for mayor, represents District G, which includes Briar Forest way out there and much closer into town, the south bank of Buffalo Bayou in the “bank restoration” project area. The south bank, which is half of the project, is owned entirely by the River Oaks Country Club, founded in 1924, of which Pennington is a member and which is donating $2 million or one-third of the projected cost of the “stabilization” project. The club is in the process of digging up and rebuilding its golf course, which over the decades has encroached on what was once thick riparian forest, moving closer and closer to the edges of the high banks of the bayou.
Reminder: Meeting With City Council Members Representing Buffalo Bayou
July 29, 2014
Public Meeting with Council Members Pennington and Cohen
It’s about Shepherd Drive, but go and ask why they support the project to destroy Buffalo Bayou.
Don’t forget the public meeting tonight (Wednesday, July 30, 2014) with City Council Members Oliver Pennington (District G) and Ellen Cohen (District C), who represent the wild banks of Buffalo Bayou to be bulldozed by the misguided project known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project. Even the natives and the early settlers (including mill owners) knew better than to cut down the riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou, recognizing its importance for naturally controlling erosion of the banks, slowing storm waters, filtering pollution and bacteria, trapping sediment, and providing wildlife habitat.
Cohen represents Memorial Park, which belongs to all of us. And Pennington, who is running for mayor, represents the south bank of the project, owned by the River Oaks Country Club, stewards of the riparian forest for which it is named since 1923. Pennington also represents that little-known section of Memorial Park just west of 610, now known as the Bayou Woodlands, formerly the Archery Range. There, just off Woodway, a failing “erosion control” project is spewing mud and silt into the bayou. Previously this was a lovely forested ravine with a nature trail. The TIRZ 16, encompassing the Galleria area, now including Memorial Park, and a special kind of improvement district that gets to keep and spend tax money that would have gone into the city treasury, spent $1,147,934 on this particular drainage boondoggle designed by engineering firm AECOM, which also designed the failing “erosion control” project on the banks of the Houston Country Club.
So go and ask these city council members why they support the destruction of some of the last best, healthiest and most beautiful bayou we have in the city. The project would destroy nearly 1.5 miles of the bayou, including most of the forest on both banks, dredging up and rechanneling our lovely, shady stream, obliterating creeks and prehistoric bluffs too old even to contemplate, killing and driving away wildlife, trampling and removing habitat, and so much more that is wrong. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit for the project.
The meeting, held in conjunction with the city Public Works and Engineering Department, is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Anne’s Catholic Church (St. Basil’s Hall), 2140 Westheimer Road. The purpose is to review a paving and drainage project, set to begin in a few weeks, on Shepherd Drive from Westheimer to Buffalo Bayou. So it’s not exactly about the bayou project. But there will be a question and answer period.
Another Failed Erosion Control Project on Buffalo Bayou
July 15, 2014
Kayaked down Buffalo Bayou past Memorial Park the other day with geophysicist Richard Hyde, a longtime supporter of Buffalo Bayou, an early member of the Bayou Preservation Association, and an opponent of the BPA’s very bad plan to destroy the natural beauty of Buffalo Bayou in order to … well, no one can quite figure out the purpose of this bizarre and heart-breaking project that would raze over a mile of perfectly fine riparian forest along both banks in and around our great Memorial Park. The proposal, created and promoted by the BPA and officially a project of the Harris County Flood Control District, would also dig up and fill in the bayou, its banks and high bluffs, dam up or bulldoze tributaries, causing enormous loss of land and forest to the River Oaks Country Club, which is paying $2 million for the privilege. It is a mystery why anyone thinks this is a good idea; a mystery how a project with no public benefit and so much public harm ever got funded ($4 million from county and city taxpayers); and a mystery why the BPA, an organization founded to “preserve the natural beauty” of the bayou, would be so hell-bent on eradicating it.
The water was very low — known as base flow, the bayou’s natural flow during fair weather, which is very slow and shallow. Except it wasn’t really base flow because a thunderstorm had just passed over, so even as we were slip-sliding in under the Woodway bridge the water was rising and the current picking up from runoff.
Our first shocking encounter was the new Woodway drainage outfall, recently constructed at a cost of $1,147,934 to Houston taxpayers (i.e. taxes that went to the Galleria area TIRZ 16 rather than into the city treasury). Laughably, this project, no longer under construction but still closed to the public, is described as an “erosion control” project in the TIRZ 16-Uptown 2013-2017 Capital Improvement Plan. “This drainage outflow project is to mitigate erosion in banks of Buffalo Bayou at Woodway,” says the budget description.
Please note the horrific erosion from the dissolving banks of this new massive outfall, the sand and mud clogging the channel, the concrete sidewalk and steps. There were trees here once, and a nature trail. Update 8.4.2014: In 1848, the rock-bottomed ford here was known as “Dutchman’s Crossing.”
The budget shows no funds allocated for operating and maintenance.
The big, new drainage pipe was also supposed to be set at an angle that allowed the often powerful flow of water to be released in the direction of the flow of the bayou, instead of shooting directly at the opposite bank. But apparently someone forgot to tell that to AECOM, the engineers who designed the project (as well as the tragically unsuccessful “erosion control” project at the Houston Country Club, which razed much of the riparian forest buffer on the banks of Buffalo Bayou along its golf course). AECOM designed the Woodway outfall so that the water blasts directly at the opposite bank, which is already being eaten away by the force.
Mr. Hyde just shook his head.
This “erosion control” project is in City Council Member Oliver Pennington’s district and Mr. Pennington is running for mayor, as he tells everyone he meets, so be sure to let him know what you think about Mr. Pennington’s “erosion control.” He’s holding a public meeting on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, from 6:00 to 7:30 pm at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, St. Basil’s Hall, 2140 Westheimer (at the corner of Shepherd). The meeting is to discuss “storm drainage improvements” on Shepherd from Westheimer to Buffalo Bayou. The project is scheduled to begin in a few weeks and will last over a year, so it’s very kind of Mr. Pennington to offer a public meeting about it.
Mr. Pennington supports the “erosion control” project that requires razing the wild banks and destroying our natural bayou in and around Memorial Park. So let him know what you think about that too. Might be time to bring out the pitchforks pickets and banners.
To be continued.