Parks, trails planned along with developing communities
After the 2013 Legislature passed a law allowing MUDs to use the areas where utility lines run for trails, several Cy-Fair MUDs have taken advantage of this by starting park projects. In 2005, the Texas Legislature passed a bill giving MUDs the power to take on debt to fund park projects with help from bond elections.
"Some MUDs are taking very aggressive roles in developing parks because they realize there's a quality of life benefit for residents," said Jim Robertson, chairman of the Cypress Creek Greenway project, which has been working with MUDs to develop parks along the creek. "Particularly if they provide these amenities in subdivisions, there is an effect of increasing property values."
Some MUDs have been more aggressive than others, Robertson said. Newer MUDs are more likely to use parks and trails to promote their developments. Bridgeland, Coles Crossing and Lakewood Crossing are among the communities that have launched projects.
"Older, more established areas don't have parks and trails," Robertson said. "Newer MUDs realize it's a way of invigorating areas that don't have these amenities. They are essentially retrofitting parks and trails into existing subdivisions."
MUD 365 at Coles Crossing has been working for the past year on Cole's Park. Plans include enhancements of the sports fields, a bird and wildlife habitat and viewing stations, walkways, piers and a deepwater fishing station. MUDs 364 and 365 also previously teamed up to create a 4-mile jogging trail with benches, fido houses and connecting sidewalks. Although these projects did not require bond elections, other parks—such as that Cypress Forest Park—have looked in that direction. The law states that up to one percent of MUD debt can be used for park development.
Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said MUDs play a crucial role in the ongoing effort to connect all the different parks and trails along Cypress Creek.
"The big idea is to have all of our riverways within this region connected along with our major park systems," Cagle said. "When it is all done that way, what a beautiful central park we will have extending into all of our neighborhoods."
As parks continue to be developed and connected with trails, opportunities exist to implement other amenities—such as dog parks or disc golf courses—based on the desires of MUDs or residents in the area, Robertson said. The project is being tackled in small pieces, so there is no set date for the entire Greenway to be completed.
Around 25 new parks have been developed along Cypress Creek—from Hwy. 290 to Spring Creek—since greenway studies began in 2004, Robertson said. Individual developers have played a role, as have precinct commissioners and MUDs.
Peter Houghton, vice president of master planned communities with the Howard Hughes Corporation, said the more entities that partner on these projects, the better. Houghton oversees park projects underway at Bridgeland in Cy-Fair.
"The more funding sources that can be harnassed, the better the parks tend to be," he said. "We go build the park and the MUD's contribution is usually paid at a later date when they sell bonds."
Bond elections can result in an increase in the district's tax rate, but they do not necessarily require one. MUDs have the option of issuing the bond in small increments over time to keep the rate low.