Landrush

The city of Houston is being carved into special taxing districts, promising windfalls for some, financial burdens for others

Indeed, hundreds of residents from the solid, middle-class subdivisions that surround the City Park zone are still trying to stop Greg Baxter, who intends to develop an apartment complex and shopping center on 108 acres of vacant land along White Oak Bayou near East T.C. Jester. The protesters were encouraged when they learned Baxter had apparently misled city officials about the environmental condition of the site. Nonetheless, city officials shrugged off the possibility that City Park, a former gas and oil field, could be contaminated, and though Baxter has reportedly done additional environmental testing, he hasn't shared the results with anyone.

The Brown administration has also ignored some angry residents from the subdivisions that border the Memorial City TIRZ, a situation that turned nasty July 20, when more than 1,200 residents crammed the Memorial High School auditorium for a public hearing on the zone. Brown had originally planned on attending but didn't. If he had, the mayor would have learned that the support that exists for the Memorial City TIRZ comes from developer Metro National.

The developer's plans call for $98 million in road widening and construction, street lighting, traffic signals, and water, sewer and drainage improvements. While city officials argue that those public improvements are needed to protect the existing retail businesses in the area, Metro National is also hoping to cram in more than $1 billion in new development, including ten million square feet of new office and retail space and 3,000 units of rental housing.

More than 1,200 residents gathered July 20 to protest the proposed TIRZ in the Memorial City area. City Council approved the zone the next day.
More than 1,200 residents gathered July 20 to protest the proposed TIRZ in the Memorial City area. City Council approved the zone the next day.
More than 1,200 residents gathered July 20 to protest the proposed TIRZ in the Memorial City area. City Council approved the zone the next day.
Phillippe Diederich
More than 1,200 residents gathered July 20 to protest the proposed TIRZ in the Memorial City area. City Council approved the zone the next day.

One woman, a former schoolteacher, called the plan ludicrous and earned a standing ovation from the crowd when she accused the city of trying to turn Memorial City into a "magnet urban center."

"We don't want to live in one," she said.

But thanks to tax-increment reinvestment, she and her neighbors won't have a say in the matter. Nor is anyone asking the approval of the city, county or HISD taxpayers who could be forgoing as much as $334 million in property tax revenues over the next 30 years to benefit Metro National Corporation. That's nearly twice the amount of public money voters grudgingly approved for a downtown baseball stadium in 1997, but at least someone bothered to ask.

With a seemingly endless supply of public money available and no voter approval needed, the TIRZ proposals are drawing in developers who are lining up before a City Council that seems only too willing to accommodate them.

"What's happened," Radack says, "is some people have figured out there is a California gold rush going on right here in Harris County."

Next week: Your future tax dollars at work.

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