Friendswood residents will have the chance to make their opinions heard regarding changes to the Stevenson Park parking lot during a series of town hall meetings to be held this fall.

City Manager Morad Kabiri announced during an Aug. 1 Friendswood City Council meeting that Friendswood will hold three town hall meetings in the coming months for the public to provide input on what they want in Stevenson Park’s parking lot. The announcement follows recent pushback from residents and council members due to lack of public input on the project.

Developing a plan

In 2021, Keep Friendswood Beautiful was awarded the Governor’s Community Achievement Award, totaling $250,000 to be used for landscaping projects along local Texas Department of Transportation rights of way. KFB plans to use the funds to revamp bridges, beautify medians and add a sign over the entryway to Stevenson Park, according to KFB member Kelly Browning.

With a new entrance sign planned, KFB turned its attention to the parking lot behind it, previously occupied by the now-demolished Fire Station No. 1. The lot has an uneven surface due to the fire station’s remaining foundation.

The GCAA would not cover improvements to the lot, so KFB turned to the Friendswood Downtown Economic Development Corp. for city funding.

“We started to dream bigger, and we wanted to see what else we could do to serve the community,” Browning said at a June 14 FDEDC meeting.

Sketches shown by landscape architect Casey Collins from Halff Associates Inc. at a June 14 FDEDC meeting included additions of a covered stage, water fountain, event lawns and a garden structure to the lot. Up to 40 parking spots could be retained. Collins estimated that the project could cost $10 million-$15 million.

KFB asked the FDEDC during its June 14 meeting for city funding to create a conceptual plan for the lot, which the FDEDC approved 4-1 with two members absent.

“I looked at it as a joint effort, because we have the responsibility to improve downtown, and KFB brought to us an opportunity to improve downtown,” FDEDC member Rebecca Hillenburg said at a July 11 council meeting.

City council expresses concerns

The FDEDC brought an item before council on July 11 asking Friendswood to authorize funding for a $13,500 contract with Halff Associates to create a conceptual plan for the lot. Funding a conceptual plan allows the city to solicit input from the public and potentially vie for grant opportunities or place it on a future bond package, according to Kabiri.

However, citizens expressed concern during the public comment period about the lack of community input gathered by the city before taking this step.

“I’m not opposed to making plans for future improvements; I just think it deserves discussion, communication with and input from the citizens. I do not believe now is the time to commit money towards this project,” resident Connie Ratisseau said at the July 11 meeting.

The council voted 4-3 to expend the $13,500, with council members Brent Erenwert, John Scott and Robert Griffon opposed. Scott and Griffon expressed their concerns about the implications of funding KFB’s plan, particularly that other organizations would also look to the FDEDC for funding.

“I’m concerned about the precedent this would set,” Scott said.

However, Council Members Sally Branson and Steve Rockey were concerned about the safety of leaving the lot in its current condition.

“That parking lot is dangerous as it currently is,” Rockey said.

Holding town hall meetings

The city will hold three public town hall meetings at the Friendswood Library in September, October and November, Kabiri said.

At the first meeting in late September, Halff Associates will set up aerial photographs of the space on easels and present on the conceptual plans. Attendees can then go around the room and indicate what they want to see in the space. The next two meetings will involve the same exercises and an update on comments received at previous meetings.

An online survey collecting opinions about the lot will also open in September. Dates for the meetings have not yet been determined.