Update 6/12 @ 9:15 a.m. Just got a call from a staff member in Councilman Gonzalez’s office, and he is on it. This staffer has personally worked with Friends of Woodland Park, cleaning and clearing, so rest assured, their office will be paying close attention and has already been in touch with the Parks Director. I’m guessing at this point, we needn’t make any additional calls or emails to anyone, because there seems to be universal outrage and determination to act. Keep your powder dry and wait for updates.
I was alerted to an egregious clear-cutting along Woodland Park, a City of Houston public park at the edge of the Woodland Heights, by a neighbor’s posting on our online bulletin board:
The Friends of Woodland Park, Inc. would like inform and acknowledge for the neighborhood that it appears there has been unauthorized vegetation removal within the Park. We are currently working with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) to determine the cause and initiate a solution to protect the Park and its inhabitants. Currently information is limited due to an ongoing investigation. We know many of you use the park on a regular basis and would be interested/concerned. So we wanted to assure the neighborhood that we are aware of the matter and are working on it. As more details become available we will report them.
The Friends of Woodland Park is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit that was formed and is funded by the sweat, tears, and quite possibly, knowing about thorns and such, blood, to protect the second public park developed in Houston. They organize clean-ups, host movie nights, and work closely with the Parks Department to maintain this gracious public space.
I hopped in the car to see what this “unauthorized vegetation removal” entailed, thinking maybe they dug up some dewberry bushes. I must tell you that my neighbor exercised heroic restraint in writing such a measured notice.
Allow me to take you on a quick tour so you can see the scope of what we’re talking about.
Three town homes are being built at the corner of Houston Avenue on Wrightwood Street. Here’s the view from Google Maps before the development started. You can see the lot on the northeast corner of the Houston Avenue/Wrightwood intersection, which is, per the appraisal district, ~16,000 square feet:
I believe the street address for the town homes is 1420 Wrightwood:
I cross-checked the various names on this sign to arrive at my 1420 Wrightwood conclusion, a tract which HCAD says is owned by a William J. Workman, who purchased it in 2011. You can see that a partner in the joint venture developing these homes is Workman Real Estate:
You can also see the architect and bank working on the project. Here’s the back fence, which delineates where the property abuts Woodland Park:
Now, they’ve cleared a small strip behind the fence, as you can see from the sidewalk. But if you take a few steps into the park, you start to get a sense of the scope of what they’ve cleared:
But here’s where it gets really, really egregious. They’ve clear-cut a swath of parkland that drops down toward the bayou, removing all but a few scrubby patches of grass:
Various people who’ve looked at it, including city parks employees, estimate the clearing to be at or about an acre of land. Public park land. Public park land that drops down to a bayou and is in the flood plain.
As I was taking pictures, another neighbor pulled up to check out the devastating view. He said that the developer’s response to the outrage was to explain that the clearing was done to give the condos a better view, and that besides, all they took out were invasive species.
OK, here’s the deal, and developers, please take note.
It would not have been OK for my husband and I to take our bulldozer down to Bolivar and raze an acre of dunes because there were invasive plants there.
Nor would it be OK for the people who live in One Park Place to take their chain saws over to Discovery Green to knock over a few trees so they could see the dogs at the dog park more clearly. (And why did I pick One Park Place, a.k.a. 1400 McKinney, as my example? Extra credit for you if you can guess in the comments.)
What part of public land do these people not understand?
And another thing—when your property backs up to the bayou, and you are in the flood plain, what do you think you do to the foundation upon which your town homes are built when you take a scorched earth approach to “unauthorized vegetation removal?” A day’s worth of heavy rain would totally wash out this newly denuded ravine.
Houston has a reputation for being a little lax with developers, but this is beyond what anyone around here will tolerate. The Parks department has been notified, but so have the police. This is egregious destruction of public property, and it will not go unpunished.
I will be adding suggestions for what you might do to express your outrage, but as a first step, I suggest sending a note to your city council representatives (your district council member and the at-large members), as well as to our mayor, to ask for prosecution to the fullest extent possible along with complete restoration and restitution from the property owner who authorized this. You can find names and contact information for council here, and for the mayor here.
Next, you might drop a note or place a phone call to the banker, whose name and number are on this sign. Update – please remember that the banker didn’t (most likely didn’t) authorize this or know about it, so be polite. It is a case where a letter might be best:
I can’t imagine the bank will want to extend additional financing knowing the kinds of fines the developer will face, not to mention the delays in construction that large fines (or jail time) might create. And, to the extent that the clear-cutting jeopardizes the foundation stability, I’m sure the bank won’t want to be left holding a muddy lot when subsidence kicks in after a heavy rain.
For extra credit, you might see if you know any members of the bank’s Board of Directors and drop them a note.
For now, I think we can leave the concrete contractor alone, because that’s most likely a sub who didn’t authorize the clear-cut.
What are we asking for?
1) Reforestation with native plants and mature trees. They can’t just plant some grass and wash their hands of this. They need to pay a landscape professional to develop a plan that will then be subject to the approval of the City of Houston Parks Department to ensure we get back to nature as quickly as possible.
2) A hefty, hefty, hefty civil penalty.
3) Criminal prosecution if the destruction rises to the level of criminal destruction of public property.
Enough is enough. Developers aren’t all evil people, and no one believes central Houston should be torn down and abandoned so it can return to pristine swamp and bayou land, but we have to take as strong a stand as possible against the reckless destruction of public property.
Update: I’d be happy to be proven wrong. I’m not a surveyor, so don’t know for certain if the clearing is exactly an acre, but if the city employee’s estimate is close and this is on public land, this is outrageous.