Study aims to improve FM 1960

After months of gathering data, the Houston-Galveston Area Council has provided local stakeholders a list of recommendations from its Livable Center Study to improve the area of Cypress Creek Parkway between

Kuykendahl Road and Ella Boulevard.

The study provides a blueprint for how to improve the community, recommending infrastructure improvements varying from short-term, affordable options to long-term visionary concepts that require significant funding and resources. However, it will be up to local stakeholders and community leaders to implement those improvements.

"H-GAC oversees the planning process and works with the community to develop a long-term vision of how they like redevelopment to occur and what investments they would like to support that redevelopment," H-GAC Regional Planner Andrew Pompei said.

Long-term goals

H-GAC and consulting firm Design Workshop began work in May on the Livable Center Study, one of 18 such studies completed by H-GAC to improve communities throughout the Greater Houston area. H-GAC provided $80,000 in federal funds for the study, while the Ponderosa Forest Utility District funded $25,000, and the Cypress Creek Property Owners Association funded $3,000.

The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce wrote the grant and facilitated planning and stakeholder committee meetings.

The study proposes several long-term improvements, including a vision for redevelopment at the southeast corner of Ella Boulevard and FM 1960. The redevelopment site would house 120,000 square feet of retail and 675,000 square feet of office space. The project could be phased out over several years at a cost of nearly $140 million.

Taking advantage of existing infrastructure around Nanes Drive, the project could provide an improved street environment with a system of connected grid streets, shorter block distances and an internal trail network.

The other proposed site for redevelopment is at the northwest corner of Kuykendahl Road and FM 1960, where aging retail and multifamily properties are re-envisioned as a modern walkable neighborhood combining residential and commercial developments at an estimated cost of more than $115 million.

The proposed site allows for a centrally located park with tree-lined streets behind the garden apartments to the north of the site.

Houston Northwest Chamber President Barbara Thomason said the chamber has prospective developers they could speak with regarding interest in the redevelopment projects. However, Thomason said the chamber plans to meet with H-GAC again beforehand in early 2015 to make sure all key stakeholders have a chance to weigh in on the study results.

"The chamber has a lot of initiatives going on right now," Thomason said. "We pledged to hold stakeholder meetings, [but] for the purpose of implementation it's got to fit within the board's other priorities."

Thomason said the study also includes architectural standards that could be utilized to improve the look of the community over time once the chamber organizes an architectural review committee.

Short-term goals

Some stakeholders are considering moving forward with short-term projects from the study. One area the study examined is mobility near FM 1960 and Kuykendahl Road.

"Right now there [are] very few sidewalks," Pompei said. "There [are] very few dedicated bicycle facilities. As part of the proposed sites [we] are trying to make walking and biking safer and more convenient."

The study recommends several mobility improvements, such as trails along existing drainage corridors, bicycle trails to connect neighborhoods to nearby schools and placing breaks in fences between schools and adjoining cul-de-sacs so children do not have to walk around gated properties, Pompei said.

Thomason said one project that would require minimal resources would be a hike and bike trail through the community.

"That kind of amenity can really make a difference in a neighborhood," Thomason said. "It's the kind of amenity that young families look for when they are moving into a neighborhood community."

Marshel Reed, board member of the Ponderosa Forest Utility District, said the bike and pedestrian pathway is an attainable project that could be completed quickly.

"That is one of the things [where] we compete against master plan communities," Reed said. "They have dedicated walkways and pathways. We don't. We don't have any sidewalks."

Another possible short-term project would be the development of a small neighborhood park at a space currently filled by vacant homes that were bought out by FEMA.

"There are some things that we, as a utility district, can affect very quickly at a cost that can be more readily absorbed by local entities," said Reed, adding that specific project would have to be championed by Municipal Utility District No. 91 because the land is within that district's boundaries.

An area of overlap between the study and the Houston Northwest Chamber's ongoing Grow Northwest improvement initiative is the desire to clear illegal signage while adding signage to brand the community, Thomason said. The chamber plans to raise $610,000 on its own to add six monument signs and 75 street signs throughout its coverage area.

"Rather than create something new, we told [Design Workshop] to take a look at what we are talking about doing and see if that works for this report," Thomason said.

Next steps

Thomason said the stakeholders will discuss the next steps in implementing the study after meeting with H-GAC in January to plan a trip to other areas in Houston that have implemented improvements in similar studies.

"I have no way of predicting the outcome because there are various entities that could take steps," Thomason said. "For example, the Ponderosa Forest Utility [District], they are capable of initiating various projects depending on their budget and their priorities."

Pompei pointed to the East End Management District in Houston, which has been successful at implementing the recommendations of a similar study.

Because the study area is mostly unincorporated, legislators, superintendents and other key community leaders will need to get involved to help implement some of the recommendations more quickly, Thomason said.

"We have to keep in mind that we are not a management district," Thomason said. "We don't have a tax increment reinvestment zone at this point. We are not a municipality, and we don't have the tools in our toolkit that some of these other areas do."

However, fundraising at the grassroots level has proven effective in the past and is one avenue that will be pursued in addition to potential developers and federal funding programs, she said.


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