The Woodland Park Settlement

Back in June, developers razed nearly an acre of Woodland Park to give their new town homes a better view of the grounds leading toward the bayou.

The city announced a settlement yesterday, finalized on August 15th, wherein the developers are paying a $300,000 fine. The payment was received, via cashier’s check, that same day. They were out a little more than that, as they had legal counsel and have to absorb the cost, in some sense, for the two-month work stoppage.

The big questions:

• Is $300,000 sufficient to restore the park? Obviously, it cannot be restored to the condition it was before, because mature trees can’t be miraculously recovered, but restored to the extent possible/reasonable?

• Is $300,000 sufficient as a penalty? Is it more than they will recoup by being able to sell three houses (or two, if the claims that one developer plans to live there hold true) that now have a lovely, rolling view to the bayou instead of a dense wall of vegetation?

• Is $300,000 sufficient as a deterrent when other developers are making decisions about removing inconvenient vegetation in other public park areas or otherwise altering adjoining property to increase the value of their own developments?

Certainly, $300,000 sounds worse than the $20,000 some men were fined for cutting down 5 trees to improve their view of Lake Tahoe. (Then again, 75 trees @ $4,000 = $300,000, and don’t forget, the reforestation is going to have to include debris removal, re-grading in a flood plain, and restoration of trails in addition to vegetation.)

Houston, too, is notorious for doing nothing/being able to do nothing when it comes to most city versus developer issues, so $300,000 is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And, at a certain point, the world must move forward.

A part of me howls for something more, however, something that has a bit more poetry than payment via cashier’s check.

In essence, the developers just paid $300,000 + expenses for a lovely view. Within six months, they’ll enjoy the benefit of the city’s landscaping job. I would like to suggest one element to that plan that I think might mollify those of us who were really angered by this episode.

The city should erect a sign.  A really big one. One that pretty much blocks the view from all three town homes. And that sign should have a reminder on it, that the reason for the sign was the fact that the three homes were unfairly granted an improved view at the great cost of the destruction of city property that included a mature tree canopy.

Look, I’m flexible. Even if it doesn’t totally block the view, it should dominate the view.Certainly, it should go up before the homes are put on the market.  I believe that might be a fitting final gesture.

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9 Responses to The Woodland Park Settlement

  1. bshirley says:

    perhaps some poison ivy along the fence line

  2. Due to the drought, my parents have a lot of trees on their land near Huntsville that are either dying or dead. While they were in the process of moving there full time, their neighbours bought the lot next to one of theirs and then, proceeded to clear deep into my parent’s property, including removing some trees that were salvageable with a little TLC. I believe they took the dispute to the HOA and the other party, once my parents presented the results of two residential surveys of the land, agreed to plant new trees or give my parents the money to do so. They still have yet to follow through. It angers me, because I don’t go up there that often, but I can tell where the property line divides and I’m not a real estate surveyor. People, unfortunately, are assholes and more and more they’re willing to do whatever they want. We have forgotten to teach and practice the responsibility we have to society. At least the developers did pay the $300K, but I agree, a big fat sign, maybe soliciting donations until the city can pay for mature trees and turn the park back the way it was would be just.

  3. Eric says:

    Speaking of responsibility: Why not petition the city to allow you and your neighbors (who are similarly outraged over this) to allow you to replant the now empty plot of land with new trees and native plants? Wouldn’t that be a more proactive way of dealing with this issue? Sure seems better than placing yet another huge sign in front of the town homes; as if the prospective buyers 6-8 months from now had anything to do with the deforestation.

    And of course I realize no one will actually put up that sign… just thinking that if you and your neighbors are truly, truly outraged over this – fix it!

    • The sign, obviously, isn’t really the right remedy for a number of reasons. Consider it a modest proposal, and apologies if I’m not as adept at expressing myself as Jonathan Swift. As for being proactive, many in the neighborhood, under the auspices of the Friends of Woodland Park, have donated thousands of hours to cleaning the park, clearing trails, and tending to the forest. The significant investment of time and resources in this public park, in fact, is what made many people so upset by the destruction, and gave them a very personal reason to want a substantial penalty.

      • Eric says:

        I understand the reason people are upset… I’m just saying use this as a chance to take that little section that’s been destroyed and make it something the whole area can enjoy. Perhaps make it the playground, or dog park, or maybe stables for horse riding activities. Yes, that will require further monetary investment, but perhaps the City of Houston will see fit to take $50,000 of the $300,000 penalty and reinvest it into the park/woodland area that was damaged.

        And don’t think I’m not against smarmy developers – I am. I just didn’t like the sign idea. Thanks for responding, and best of luck with this, I’ll be pulling for you from Galveston.

      • Thanks – the good news is that I have absolutely no influence or authority over what happens, so I think everyone is safe from the sign! :-) Had a horrible moment when I realized the idea made me sound like one of those judges who makes drunk drivers wear sandwich board signs at rush hour at big intersections.

        My biggest concern is that it will take at least $300,000 just to do basic flood mitigation and some pretty basic native species planting, because all of the homeowners in the immediate area (even the developers in question) need to have that critical work done to protect their homes. The city isn’t exactly rolling in dough, and park funds are being channeled into some higher-profile projects, so it seems unlikely that a large-scale recreational program would fit at this time, both the funding & the space. The highest and best use of this space may be simple green space that doubles as flood control.

        The silver lining is the opportunity to try to tip the balance back toward natives from invasives. And, more good news, people with more experience and expertise in that area than I have are on top of that.

  4. Eric says:

    Ah, got it. Well, the city is making some serious waves in regards to parkland/flood mitigation/natural habitat renewal. Take for instance the current work on Brays and Buffalo Bayou that is ongoing. Most folks don’t realize Brays Bayou is currently being reworked as Buffalo Bayou is getting the more glamorous work and larger amount of attention as it is the “front lawn” of the city (so to speak). If you dig around (and it sounds like you’re quite connected with your neighbors) I’m sure there is a plan to eventually rework White Oak Bayou. I’ve always found it an interesting prospect to take White Oak and “un-channelize” it (or whatever the term might be). There have been plans to turn the older bayou’s into a more natural, albeit usable park-scape – White Oak included – though I’m not certain the current Parks2020 initiative is including you guys?

    Perhaps you could use your connections to further this cause and lead a grass roots effort to help with White Oak or just the little spit of land in question? After all, it only takes 1 big push sometimes to get the boulder rolling downhill. If the city really wants to beautify itself, it will take efforts such as what you and your neighbors are trying to do. I’ll try and keep up to date with the goings on up your way. Good luck.

  5. Pingback: City reaches settlement with developer over Woodland Park damage – Off the Kuff

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