On Feb. 20 Southlake officials announced their decision to amend the city’s 2030 Parks, Recreation and Open Space/Community Facilities Master Plan. The amendments affected a handful of the city’s 35 parks, with changes ranging from expanded parking options to a complete layout overhaul.
“The goal of the Southlake parks master plan is to have a well-integrated mix of passive parks and active parks and then preserve green space,” Southlake Deputy Director of Community Services Candice Edmondson said.
Passive parks are typically more natural and promote low intensity recreation. Active parks require intensive activity and often involve team activities, with playgrounds and ball fields. Central Park, Liberty Park at Sheltonwood, McPherson Park and the Southlake Sports Complex are the four sites listed for additions and redevelopments in the amended plan. Central Park and Liberty Park have been slated for design improvements and additional amenities, while the Southlake Sports Complex was recommended as a possible location for a new skate park once the complex itself is redone.
McPherson Park will be redeveloped by Southlake Town Square developers Cooper & Stebbins, which plan to maximize this park’s proximity to Town Square and to the Hilton Dallas/Southlake Town Square hotel.
“[The developers for] Southlake Town Square have always had this very strong vision of creating a great place, but the reality of any downtown in the world is that there’s a certain amount of fine tuning that really should never stop, because the goal should always be to enhance the place and to create better streets and better blocks,” Cooper & Stebbins President Frank Bliss said. “What we’re really trying to do is take existing pieces of Town Square that work well the way they’re designed and make them better.”
Amendments to the master plan also include sweeping citywide recommendations for all Southlake parks.
Planning for city parks
The approved changes mark the first time the parks master plan has been amended since its creation in 2013, Edmondson said. She said the opportunity was finally right to bring the amendments before council to pave the way for the 2035 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan that will begin next fiscal year. The changes are prioritized by order of importance and implementation.
Edmondson said the timing of the amendments to the parks master plan was based on several factors. She said it was important to incorporate the proposed developments for McPherson Park for the reference of future councils. Also, the city had previously set aside funding for a parks and recreation project called Safety Town that created a scaled-down city layout to teach children about all areas of safety. She said the council and the master-planning committee has decided not to do this project, and the funding will be redistributed.
“There were a couple of administrative things that we needed to change, and [the Safety Town and McPherson Park revisions] just opened up an opportunity for us to take some comments that we received about the skate park and some other things and just look at them at that time,” Edmondson said.
The city pays for the improvements to its parks through the Southlake Parks Development Corporation. The corporation uses the city’s half-cent sales tax to develop the Southlake parks system. The city also allocates a portion of its general fund budget to maintain Southlake parks.
The amendments to the plan will also be paid for through the city’s sales tax, with the exception of McPherson Park’s improvements, for which the city would partner with the developer to fund the improvements.
Despite the fact that the changes to the master plan have been approved, Edmondson said no immediate change will be seen. Most of the projects approved through the amendments will not take place for a few years. Right now, the city’s priority is finishing improvements to Bicentennial Park and redeveloping the Southlake Sports Complex.
“I think we’re going to completely look [the sports complex] from scratch and not try to build around with [what] already exists, but just take it as a blank slate and start over,” Edmondson said.
She said not all of the projects on the parks master plan will be finished by 2030 due to a lack of manpower, money and priorities that will probably change, but the goal is to have a large portion of the projects finished by 2030.
Planting seeds of change
Council Member Randy Williamson said the city uses the annual Southlake Citizen Satisfaction Survey as a resource for what residents want to see in the community.
He said two requests evident in the surveys over the past few years are more parks and green space as well as how to enhance safety for the growing number of bicyclists.
Williamson said the council places an emphasis on preserving green spaces amid the construction of the city.
“We just start having places that aren’t buildings, that aren’t cars – it’s just open green space,” Williamson said. “That keeps a community very fresh, in my opinion.”
In the 2015 survey the city received feedback regarding bicycling and how the city could enhance safety
“If you come into Southlake any time on a Saturday you’re going to see cyclists all over the place through all of our roads, so that’s an opportunity for us to say, ‘OK that’s a group that we can try to put a priority on and enhance their experiences through our system,’” Williamson said.
In the 2017 survey, satisfaction with cycling safety education increased 6 percent over 2015 and was the statistic with the greatest percentage increase in the survey.
Edmondson said providing connectivity for Southlake residents is a key factor in the parks master plan recommendations, and it has been for a number of years now—something Williamson said was the result of a shared vision.
“You can go back a couple mayors and [review] their vision for what Southlake was going to become, and we’re very much becoming that,” Williamson said. “We still have work to do but we’re becoming that, and those leaders … and the councils that worked with them over the last 20 years have got us to where we’re at today. The staff that we have here, they’re so committed to [their vision], and sometimes the council will have a vision or an idea and we have such a great staff that can go out and do the real planting of the seeds to make those things happen for us.”