The city of Houston will sell a parcel of land in the White Oak Bayou watershed to the Texas Department of Transportation despite some pushback from city residents and advocacy groups.

City Attorney Arturo Michel said the land is not considered dedicated parkland and therefore does not require a public hearing or 30-day public notice to be sold.

What you need to know

Several Houston residents and nonprofit groups spoke out against the city selling the 126,627-square-foot tract to TxDOT, which plans reconstruct a portion of I-45 as part of the North Houston Highway Improvement Project.

During the May 21 public comment session, several speakers urged council to vote against the sale of land, with some questioning the legality behind it.

Save Buffalo Bayou President Susan Chadwick argued the land in question is designated as a recreation area and by law cannot be sold without a public hearing or 30-day public notice.

However, during the May 22 Houston City Council meeting, Michel said the parcel of city-owned land is not considered dedicated parkland and therefore does not require a public hearing or notice.

Some council members raised individual concerns about selling the land, but the discussion ultimately led to an 11-4 roll call vote to sell the parcel to TxDOT. Council members Mario Castillo, Abbie Kamin, Letitia Plummer and Edward Pollard voted against the item.

Sorting out details

Houston Mayor John Whitmire said if the vote failed, it could have resulted in a worse outcome for the city.

The city of Houston, along with Harris County officials, signed a memorandum of understanding with TxDOT in 2022 for the improvement project. Michel said a break in that agreement likely would have ended with the transportation department enacting eminent domain.

Eminent domain, according to the Office of the Attorney General, is the legal authority that allows certain entities, such as TxDOT, to take private property for public use. If the land was taken through eminent domain, the city would have lost the $261,051 TxDOT paid for the property through the approved agenda item.

Despite the fact that the project will continue, the agreement with TxDOT states the hike and bike trail will still be accessible for residents to use during and after the construction phase. Whitmire said the city will also still maintain the trail.

What happens next?

Work will start in 2024 on the first parts of the NHHIP near Hwy. 288, but work on the segment near the bayou trail is not expected to take place until around 2027 or 2028.

The project, which extends through Downtown Houston, isn’t expected to be complete until 2042.