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Former Mayor Wants City To Buy More Parkland, Incur More Bond Debt

August 29, 2011 By:InstantNewsWestu Staff

Local News

Former West U Mayor Burt Ballanfant told city council last week that he would like to be involved in acquiring more parkland for the city.

Ballanfant filed an application to serve on the parks and recreation board because of a “long term interest.” Council interviewed and appointed him to the board last week.

During his interview, he said one issue that still exists is the Ownby property, which was voted on and left dormant.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on parks,” Ballanfant told council. “If you approach things in a methodical fashion you will get somewhere.”

West U voters approved a $2 million bond program for parkland in 2006 while Ballanfant was in office as mayor. The parkland was included in the first bond program for the Recreation Center and Colonial Park Pool and was the only item to receive voter approval.

The property that the city was looking to purchase is owned by the family of Clifford Ownby. The property is located on Pittsburg and Poor Farm Ditch and is roughly one acre.

City Manager Michael Ross told InstantNewsWestU that the Ownbys wanted $4 million for their property in 2006, which was more than the city was willing to pay.

According to documents on file with the Harris County Appraisal District, the Ownby’s property is appraised at about $2.5 million.

The city did not issue the bonds, but the authorization to sell the $2 million bonds is approved by voters and is available for 10 years until it goes “stale” and the city can no longer use it, Ross said.

The bond money could be used to acquire parkland if the council so chooses, he said.

Ballanfant was the only parks board applicant who expressed interest in pursuing the Ownby property. Other residents said they would like the parks board to continue to maintain the city’s parks and work on developing more programs.

Council appointed John Wilkinson to the parks board as chairman. Wilkinson has served two terms on the recycling board, most recently as co-chair. Other members include Friends of West U Parks Chair Leah Ragiel, Ballanfant, Melissa Pifko, J.C. Kneale, Sona West, Susan Reeves, Kristen Woiwode-Flores, David DeAnda and Amy Morgan.

The term for the new boards and commissions will begin on Sept. 12.

14 Responses to “Former Mayor Wants City To Buy More Parkland, Incur More Bond Debt”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Yes, it’s like the old WUP Party all over again … Tax and Spend … Tax and Spend … Tax and Spend.

    And, yes, West U does operate on a party system … WUP Party vs. The Independent Party.

    Thank you.
    Ms. Pat Malone

  2. Remaining Nameless Says:

    The new Council were ALL elected on the basis of their restraint of additional spending. They ALL made that a part of their campaigns. Let’s hold them to their own policies. NO NEW PARKS. NO MORE SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!

  3. Patrick Henry Says:

    Can we recall this City Council. First the thought of once a week garbage pickup and now appointing Ballanfont to the parks board.

    Wake up folks, we live in an urban environment. We have tons of parks and a West U Country Club already. Also, Bellaire is going to be developing the old Teas Nursery as a park. Plus Hermann Park is just a short bike ride away.

    If Burt wants the Land, he should buy it. He is great at spending other people’s money. Burt, please go away.

  4. Ms. Pat Malone Says:

    According to the April 4, 2007 Report of the Regional Task Force on Parks and Open Space, Burt Ballanfant and Kathleen Ownby were listed are being members of this task force. I wonder if there is a connection between Kathleen Ownby and the Ownbys on Pittsburg?

    You are correct Lucille. There were concerns about who would use a park in that location. I remember the issues against the purchase because that side of West U had too many parks and the area east of Buffalo Speedway had too few.

    Thank you.
    Ms. Pat Malone

  5. Ms. Pat Malone Says:

    What is this “thing” that Burt has with acquiring the Ownby’s property? The following was taken from the Ho. Chronicle 08/31/2006:

    West University Place voters will not be asked to fund the purchase of a 1-acre tract of land on Pittsburg Street for a new park as the city could not negotiate the sale with the property’s owner.

    Council voted Monday to remove the $2.2 million item from its Nov. 7 bond package after landowner Clifford Ownby told members he worried the city could potentially claim his property through eminent domain.

    As a result, council approved three items for the bond election, totaling $27.6 million.

    Ownby, who has owned the property at 3615 Pittsburg for 50 years, said the city had ramped up its interest in buying his land over the last five months, but that no agreement had been reached.

    He said the city first contacted him about selling the land in 2000, then again “two or three years ago.”

    After pursuit of a property on Plumb Street was met with resistance from nearby residents, the city focused on Ownby’s property as the most attractive site for a new “passive” park in the city.

    The Harris County Appraisal District values Ownby’s property at $1.15 million. Ownby and his wife live in one of the two homes on the land. Their son and his family live in the other.

    Ownby expressed concern about the issue Monday before council’s vote to remove the item from the bond package.

    “There is no agreement between the city and the owner over the property,” he said. “It looks like this situation is headed for condemnation of our property by eminent domain. We were told this wouldn’t happen.”

    Council voted 4-1 to remove the item from the bond package, with Mayor Burt Ballanfant dissenting.

    While council made changes to the wording of the remaining bond items before its vote to approve the package, there was additional debate regarding two propositions.

    One of those propositions, if passed by voters, would allow the city to spend up to $2 million for the purchase of yet-to-be-determined parkland on the east side of the city, between Auden and Buffalo Speedway.

    After Councilman Steven Segal’s motion to remove the item entirely from the bond package was rejected 4-1, Councilman Mike Woods proposed the city include language in that proposition that would prohibit it from using eminent domain to claim property for that land as well.

    “The intent of putting this (money) aside was to be opportunistic when land became available, not to grab land,” Woods said.

    Woods’ motion died for lack of a second.

    “If the city had a fund today to buy land, it wouldn’t be constrained,” Councilman Dick Yehle said. “I don’t think we should put constraints on this. I don’t want to put restrictions on it.”

    Another motion was made to reduce the amount of Proposition 1, which previously allocated $12.6 million for improvements to the Colonial Park Aquatics Center, to $10.5 million.

    That motion also died for lack of a second.

    Thank you.
    Ms. Pat Malone

  6. Lucille Says:

    I was living in West U when interest in the Ownby property surfaced. Contrary to what is written here, I don’t recall Mayor Ballanfant being the only one interested in buying it. I’m surprised it is still available. Things were really different in 2006 and were much better then with property values ahead of the appraised amounts. The argument for buying the property was the size and the infrequency of such an opportunity being repeated. There were some back and forth comments from residents. I’m a little fuzzy mentally on the details, but I seem to remember that there were two or three older houses facing Pittsburgh creating the width and the length went back quite a way with the west edge being Poor Farm Ditch. A question was asked just who would use such a park in that location. I thought it would benefit the residents of South Side Place more than West University. The strongest argument against the purchase was from residents who lived in other sections of the city who felt that the area west of Buffalo Speedway had too many parks and the area east of Buffalo Speedway had too few.

  7. Love The Parks Says:

    Yes, besides donating the land, also please donate the loss of tax revenue, the cost of developing the park, and the maintenance of the park for the next 20 years.

  8. Avid Park User Says:

    Seriously, if Mr. Ballanfant feels there is a need for more park space in West U then let him donate the land to the City at his expense, not the residents. My family is an avid user of our parks and we never find them to be crowded, nor do we feel the need for more parks. If we ever feel like a change there are multiple parks with a 3 or 4 minute drive from West U…such as Herman Park.

    As previously mentioned, the City has taken on enough debt. “Stop the spending and manage what we have” was voiced more than once by our new Mayor and City Council members during the recent election. This was part of every candidate’s platform.

    Mr. Ballantfant, we all love our great city. However, if your intent in becoming a member of the Parks Board was to find more land for the City to purchase for parks, then you picked the wrong time to join the Parks Board. I think the City’s current debt will be retired in 2017. You may want to try running again in 2018.

  9. Brokelyn Says:

    Lovely idea to build more parks, but Mr. Ballanfant is out of touch with the times. Let’s build a fund over time to acquire park land (raising funds from park-related activities and special fundraisers, for example) rather than issuing debt to do so. Save the debt for projects that have a demonstrable ROI.

  10. Bob Says:

    With real estate prices down, now is the perfect time to look for more park space. Our pocket parks are an incredible asset for the City and all are overused. Additional parks will only make West U. a better place to live and will provide long term value for all of us.

    • Brokelyn Says:

      @Bob: Real estate prices are what they are. They are “down” versus three years ago, but “up” versus ten years ago. Speculate on real estate with your own money. City funds (and debt) should be used in a thoughtful manner that addresses ciitizen needs, not based on temporal fluctuations in market values.

  11. reallyfakename Says:

    Really? If there’s one thing I’d say we’ve got enough of . . . it’s high quality parks. Bert needs to wake up from 1988.

  12. Tangley Resident Says:

    It would be a mistake to incur any more debt at this time. We should focus on further promoting the parks and recreation center we already have a sizable investment in.

  13. Borrowed Money Says:

    As a person I like Bert Ballanfant. But has been burying us in debt as a member of the METRO board for they last decade when they are spending money as if it was from Monopoly. And now he wants our city to incur more bond debt. You are killing us Bert. Let’s slow down and try to retire a little of this debt. (And for the record, I think we have wonderful parks, but we have plenty)

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