Kingwood’s Northpark project is a go. After a surprise curve ball thrown at the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 10 (TIRZ) last month, the City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner did an about-face.
Last month, TIRZ members were stunned to learn that the city wanted one-third of its revenue to pay for affordable housing in return for extending the life of the TIRZ. An extended life is necessary in order for the TIRZ to have enough borrowing power to pay for the $60 million Northpark project. Without an extension, the two-part project was not going to happen.
But in mid-December, the mayor relented and the Houston City Council voted yes to extend the TIRZ to 2048.
At the January TIRZ meeting, the energy was palpable as the directors were both relieved and invigorated to learn that the long-awaited transportation improvement project to Northpark is finally going to happen.
Chairman Stan Sarman announced that the city council approved three ordinances relating to the TIRZ in December and a fourth is expected to be approved in mid-January. The TIRZ got approval to borrow up to $60 million for Phase One, which will bring an overpass from U.S. Highway 59 east to Russell Palmer Road. Phase 2 will come after that, with a separate budget and time line. It will continue the improvements from Russell Palmer to Woodland Hills Drive.
Initially, $6 million will be transferred to the TIRZ from the city, which will be used to start the design process which is estimated to take up to a year.
Sarman, TIRZ manager Ralph De Leon and board members were vocal about wanting to get things moving as quickly as possible.
De Leon said that a $20 million improvement project to Mills Branch Road will also begin soon, meaning there will be two major traffic projects concurrently in the area. But, he quipped, Houston City Councilmember Dave Martin would like to see these done “in our lifetime.”
De Leon also said that because the Northpark project touches a TxDOT-controlled area, TxDOT will be the project manager, something Sarman added was a good idea: “They know what they are doing and we welcome their management.”
Phase One will be a 100 percent locally funded project, with $16 million coming from the City of Houston’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget. Originally designated for Kingwood Drive, Martin and the mayor agreed some months ago to move the funds from Kingwood Drive to Northpark. The rest of the money will come from issuing bonds. In fact, Masterson Advisors Managing Director Drew Masterson presented a potential time line for issuing the bonds with a closing date of May 7, a remarkably quick schedule.
The TIRZ also approved a maximum of $100,000 for a drainage study of Kingwood in partnership with the Harris County Flood Control District. The two entities will do a thorough analysis of the ditches and drainage pathways in Kingwood. Most of these were designed decades ago, when Kingwood was first developed. Since Hurricane Harvey, many have identified this study as necessary.
Rachel Ray-Welsh of Walter P. Moore told the board that two intersection improvements are set to begin – Willow Terrace at Kingwood Drive and Woodland Hills at Kingwood Drive. Sarman explained that the entire intersection at Woodland Hills will be replaced.
“When it was built, concrete thickness standards were 7 inches. Today it is 11 inches. You can already see some panels are cracked. We don’t want to have two different ages of concrete out there. We are going to replace the entire thing,” he said.
Jessica Beemer, chief of staff for Martin, announced that the CIP budget for the next year has not been decided and in fact, is likely to be impacted by the recent Proposition B vote. Martin, Turner and others say the city cannot afford to implement the vote. A public meeting is set for Jan. 31 at City Hall. Beemer said that under the current administration, District E (which is Kingwood as well as the Clear Lake area) gets about six percent of the CIP budget. If equitable distribution were in place, the district would get nine percent of the total. In the past, under the previous administration, the district received only one percent.
The authority next meets Feb. 14 at the Kingwood Community Center.