Grassroots improvement programs and improvement studies are on the rise in the Spring/Klein area as organizations find innovative ways to raise funding for improvements in unincorporated portions of Harris County Precinct 4. The precinct is larger than eight states in the U.S. and about 70 percent of the precinct is unincorporated.
"The county is limited in revenue streams compared to many cities," Precinct 4 Communications Director Mark Seegers said. "The commissioner is challenging his capital improvements division to look at every project from every possible angle, knowing that he's got dollars worth of projects and a dime's worth of budget."
Although the county does what it can to provide for the needs of its unincorporated residents, Seegers said working and communicating with other organizations and improvement groups is integral to improving the region.
"I think it's tremendously important because it takes an entire community to band together to make a difference," said Barbara Thomason, president of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce. "We seem to be fortunate as a community to have the kind of people who are willing to step up to do that. It does make a difference."
Houston Northwest Chamber
The Houston Northwest Chamber's Grow Northwest initiative was created to generate economic development in the region, Thomason said. As part of Grow Northwest, the chamber created a community draft plan last fall during a series of workshops with local stakeholders who suggested improvements they would like to see in the area.
The draft plan suggested raising $5 million over five years and distributing the money between several improvement areas, including business retention and expansion, community branding, safety and security, transportation and infrastructure, and education and workforce development.
Thomason said there are several areas she would like to see the plan address. She said she would like to see more emphasis on expanding Grow Northwest to improve the region's business retention and expansion. The community could also improve its branding and image through the use of distinctive signage at entrances to various communities, while adding officers in commercial areas could address public safety concerns, she said.
However, the plan requires funding from private donors, Thomason said, so the chamber raised $35,000 for a consulting firm, Opportunity Funding LLC, to meet with local business stakeholders.
After meeting with more than 75 individuals, the firm reported to the board March 26 that the businesses could commit a combined $1.8 million, Thomason said. However, some stakeholders said they could not commit until they saw more detailed plans and the firm could not meet with every significant stakeholder.
Thomason said the chamber's board decided to form two task forces: one to begin working on the possible launch of a fundraising campaign and a second to add more detail to the community draft plan.
"I would like to see a campaign launched this fall and completed this fall and [to see] that the funding is committed so we can begin our work," she said.
Cypress Creek Parkway
Aside from being rebranded as Cypress Creek Parkway, FM 1960 has undergone other changes that have improved the Spring thoroughfare in recent years.
Barbara Schlattman, a local interior designer, said she learned in 2004 that the Texas Department of Transportation had plans to add medians to the roadway, which had recently been found to be one of the deadliest in Texas.
"I met with TxDOT and found out there were no landscaping plans," Schlattman said. "I knew that it would be an eyesore if it was allowed."
TxDOT told Schlattman she could add landscaping in the medians—from just west of Hwy. 249 to I-45—if she could hire a landscaping architect, provide water and maintenance and pay for the entire project. Schlattman joined the chamber and helped form a fundraising foundation for local improvement projects.
The foundation was able to raise $555,000 for the project—Green Medians—and was able to get 14 local municipal utility districts to agree to the maintenance and watering of the medians.
"We got every rose bush and everything we wanted," Schlattman said. "There were many obstacles along the way. It was like a roller coaster. As soon as something good happened, something bad would happen."
Although Green Medians was completed in 2011, Schlattman said she has not finished the roadway's beautification. While Green Medians was underway, youth groups approached her hoping to gain volunteer hours by planting in the medians, which gave her the idea for Green Sides.
"Our idea for Green Sides is to reforest [FM] 1960," she said. "[FM]1960 when I moved out here in 1973 was full of pine trees up and down the road, and through progress, many of those trees are gone. We want to create a blanket of trees above our buildings."
Green Sides will allow Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to plant in the parking lots of commercial areas throughout Cypress Creek Parkway, Schlattman said.
She said she plans to meet with local property owners soon and the project will not require fundraising as she has had preliminary discussions with organizations to donate pine trees and mulch for the project.
Livable Center Study
The Houston Northwest Chamber's plan is not the only improvement study currently underway. The Houston-Galveston Area Council has begun work on a Livable Center Study in conjunction with the chamber, the Ponderosa Forest Municipal Utility District and the Cypress Creek Property Owner's Association.
"I think it's going to look at both the public realm and the private realm," said Jeff Taebel, director of community and environmental planning for H-GAC. "The public realm will include improvements to infrastructure, including sidewalks and intersections to improve pedestrian safety and access. We also want to look at development potential to revitalizing some commercial areas and at some residential that needs revitalization."
Taebel said the plan will study from Kuykendahl Road to Ella Road and from Cypress Creek to just south of FM 1960. It is the 18th Livable Center Study H-GAC has worked on in the Greater Houston area.
A request for proposals for the project was sent out last fall and Design Workshop—a firm with offices in Austin and Houston—was selected. H-GAC is funding $80,000 of the study through federal money, while the Ponderosa Forest MUD has agreed to sponsor the remaining $45,000, Taebel said.
The plan will kick off in May and could be completed by November, Taebel said. Although no meetings are set, he said there will be opportunities for the public to provide input.
The study will culminate with a series of recommendations for short-, medium- and long-term infrastructure and improvement projects, he said.
Taebel said the improvements could be funded from a variety of sources, including Harris County or TxDOT. Some projects could be incorporated into ongoing or planned projects.