A wish comes true: ‘Saintly’ West U resident bequeaths property, funds for city park

May 20, 2016

By Charlotte Aguilar

A longtime effort to create a new neighborhood park in West University has come together quietly, thanks to lifelong resident James Hughes, who has left his family home to the city in his will, along with funds to develop it as a passive park in his mother’s honor.

The West U City Council will vote Monday on accepting the donation that would create Jennie Elizabeth Hughes Park on the corner of Sewanee Avenue and Pittsburg Street.

“It’s unbelievable — it’s exactly where the parks master plan has been saying we have a parks desert,” said Mayor Susan Sample. “We’re incredibly grateful to the family.”

“It matches what residents said they wanted when they were surveyed,” said City Manager Chris Peifer. “It’s the right area, it will be passive — no playground equipment, no tennis courts, no basketball courts, no lights — and it will be almost fully funded.”

Hughes, an architect known for his dedication to the sick and shut-ins, died April 1, at the age of 89. But about a year before his passing, the city was approached by a relative and future executor of Hughes’ estate, quietly exploring his wish to give the land and $200,000 in funding for development.

The 15,000 square-foot property — two lots — is at 6446 Sewanee St. The dwelling on the site was built by Hughes’ parents in 1928, and he lived in it from boyhood until his death. On the Harris County Appraisal District rolls, the property’s market value is $1.6 million.

In the year since the possibility of Hughes’ donation was first raised with tight confidentiality, West U City Councilman Burt Ballanfant revived the idea of using $2 million in bond funds approved in 2006 to acquire and develop property in the area between Edloe Street and Buffalo Speedway. City staff surveyed potential properties in the area, but with the bond funds set to expire this year, it became clear they could fund only a portion of the costs of buying and developing land.

In 2014, a survey of residents showed that while they were interested in having more parks, they felt funding should be handled privately. There was back-and-forth on council and among city professionals whether the survey superseded the results of the 10-year-old election.

With Hughes’ generosity, that discussion has become moot.

Described upon his death as “saintly” and “kind and sharing,” Hughes was a longtime volunteer through St. Vincent DePaul Church and with the Christian Community Service Center.

“His neighbors knew him and respected him a great deal,” said Peifer.

The West U council meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building, 3800 University Blvd.

This 15,000-square-foot property on Sewanee is being bequeathed to West U by lifelong resident James Hughes to create a park in his mother's name. (Photo by Charlotte Aguilar)

This 15,000-square-foot property on Sewanee is being bequeathed to West U by lifelong resident James Hughes to create a park in his mother’s name. (Photo by Charlotte Aguilar)