HOUSTON (AP) — A fee collected from developers by the city of Houston that was supposed to go toward new park lands netted more than $11 million six years since its passage — but no new parks.
The 2007 ordinance was touted as an organized way to add green space to a sprawling, often congested city. Instead, the money it collected from developers went to improving existing playgrounds and adding amenities to new parks, the Houston Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/H1GnBN ).
That's left at least one local developer saying he feels misled.
"We were led to believe that money was going to be used to actually purchase park land," said Mike Dishberger, CEO of the Houston home builder Sandcastle Homes.
The ordinance required developers to either donate land for new parks or pay a $700 fee per unit constructed. Most opted for the fee. The city has collected more than 16,000 payments since May 2008, according to city data obtained by the newspaper.
Only 12.8 acres were donated, and just 1 acre is managed by the city parks department.
Instead, the money went to spruce up existing parks, some of which are "really tired," said Roksan Okan-Vick, executive director of the nonprofit Houston Parks Board. Okan-Vick said she wasn't surprised the city hadn't bought new land with the money.
Estella Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city is working on making its first purchase to expand a park in the Heights neighborhood.
Mark Ross, the deputy director of parks development, defended improvements like new water fountains and playgrounds as easier to plan and fund, as well as popular with people who go to the parks.
"Most of these might be considered minor improvements, but it's what people appreciate the most," Ross said.
And former Houston Mayor Bill White said buying new parkland adds maintenance costs to an already strained budget.
"The difference between a safe community park and a weeded lot is maintenance and facilities," White said.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com