For the normally staid environment of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 10 meeting, it was a day of unexpected news. Board members were pleasantly surprised the Northpark project, heretofore discussed as beginning no earlier than 2021 or later, may begin as early as 2019.
Eyebrows went up when they learned the City of Houston is not in total agreement about the extension of the Authority’s “life” — which will affect their ability to fund Phase 2 of the Northpark project — but they were downright shocked to hear of preliminary plans to take on a second, massive and potentially disruptive project — the extension of Woodland Hills over the San Jacinto River to FM 1960.
The expansion of Northpark Drive in Kingwood is probably coming sooner rather than later. Members of the Authority heard the welcomed news from Chair Stan Sarman and Manager Ralph De Leon at the May meeting.
“The Northpark project will be pursued in two phases. Phase 1 will be funded by the City of Houston and the TIRZ and will run from I69, including the overpass, to some point east. Phase 2 will be funded with H-GAC and the TIF process. Now that we have the agreement of Houston to move the funds, we will be able to begin earlier, probably in 2019,” Sarman said.
Houston Council member Dave Martin secured the mayor’s agreement to transfer the designated funds from the City of Houston 2018 Capitol Improvement Plan for Kingwood Drive, $15 million, to the Northpark Project. Houston City Council is expected to vote on the switch this summer. Once the funds are available, the project will get underway. Kingwood Drive improvements will be reset for the future.
The proposed FY 2018 budget merited some discussion.
Funding for major road projects will require the issuance of bonds. The Authority can only borrow against its terms of existence. Sarman and Martin have asked the City for an extension of the Authority life of between 20 to30 years. But for now, the extension is only a discussion, not a reality. Jennifer Curley of the city, told the surprised board that their proposed budget, with many line items and plans tied to a longer life and bond issuance, would probably be adjusted to reflect a modest extension of two years, a fact that seem to dumbfound Sarman and the board. After some discussion, the board tabled voting on the budget and Sarman made plans to meet again with Houston administrators.
But it was another road project — the extension of Woodland Hills Drive over the San Jacinto River to FM 1960 — that raised the hackles of several in the room.
Board members were visibly stunned to see the project in the proposed FY 2018 budget (appearing in year 2022). The Authority has just recently taken the initial steps of the massive Northpark project, its first as an entity, and consideration of a second, huge undertaking caused members to sit up and throw out comments about it being ‘contentious’ and ‘not in the mobility plan.’ De Leon and Sarman smoothed those concerns by saying the Authority will have up to $800 million in returned increment over 25 years; the city wants and expects the Authority to undertake significant projects and not just hold onto the funds.
“The city needs to know you aren’t just sitting on money that can be used elsewhere,” De Leon said. “You need to show you are doing the kinds of things that the TIRZ was set up to do.” De Leon also said more access into the community is a safety issue.
Sarman said community input would be sought before any project is approved and that the extension may never be actualized.
The Authority is currently overseeing three small Kingwood intersection improvements that are just getting underway. Sarman also mentioned the upcoming, major, 6-and-1/2-mile road improvement project on FM 1960 from the Business FM 1960 intersection to the McKay Bridge just east of Atascocita Shores; this project is not an Authority project, but one being undertaken by Harris County.
The Authority has finalized the map of proposed parcels of land to be annexed into the Authority boundaries, approximately 7,481 acres. The majority, 5,381.1 acres, is the Lake Houston Wilderness Park located north of Kingwood. The annexation will mean the Authority can spend funds to make improvements to the park; one item will be a pedestrian bridge over the river that is structurally sound for vehicles. Ambulances and firefighters with a 9-1-1 key can unlock the gate to make rescue and emergency calls.
The Authority will now hire a real estate lawyer. Acquisition of right-of-way land, anticipated for the Northpark project, is “very tricky,” De Leon said. Board members will attend training for right of way purchases.
As of May 11, the Authority has a fund balance of $2,314,432. The City of Houston increment of $4.7 million is expected at the end of May.
The Authority will meet June 8 at 8 a.m. at the Kingwood Community Center.
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