West U Residents Appear Ambivalent About More Parks

May 20, 2014

Residents of West University Place appear to be neutral about whether the city should acquire more land for city parks, according to a survey presented Monday to the city council.

The Parks Master Plan Public Survey of West U residents was conducted earlier this year. There were 1,430 responses to the survey, which was sent to all households in the city, a response rate of about 27 percent.

The survey indicates that there’s no urgency for West U to acquire more parkland, said Dr, Jamie Rae Walker, of the Texas A&M University Agrilife Extension Service which conducted the survey.

“There is not strong support for immediate action to be taken in acquiring additional parkland in West University Place,” Walker said.

The survey shows that many West U residents did not have strong feelings about whether the city needs to acquire more land for a city park. Just under half of survey respondents (38 percent and 45 percent) indicated they were neutral on acquiring parkland. Just 32 percent of those surveyed agree that land should be acquired between Edloe St. and Buffalo Speedway for a new park, while 30 percent disagreed. And, residents who were not neutral were almost evenly split on having a new neighborhood park near their home.

Walker stressed, however, that “neutral does not mean no” as city officials plan to use the survey to develop a 2014 Parks Master Plan. That plan will be developed under the direction of landscape architect Jim Patterson, of White Oak Studio. Patterson helped the city of West U develop the 2000 Parks Master Plan.

Patterson said the survey is “a valuable first step in updating the Parks Master Plan.”

He said that he expects that there will be “a lively debate” in West U about the new Parks Master Plan, and that several Town Hall meetings will be held to get more citizen input.

“What I have taken away from Jamie’s research is that there is not an immediate need for the city to acquire more parkland. But that is a question for the mayor and council to address,” said Tim O’Connor, West U’s Director of Parks and Recreation.

Mayor Bob Fry said the results of the survey “are pretty much what I expected. There were not any big surprises.”

“It tells me that residents of West U are very satisfied with what they’ve got,” Fry said.

City Councilman Dick Yehle, however, cautioned about reading too much into the survey results.

“It really doesn’t tell you one way or the other” whether the city should buy more parkland, Yehle said. “The charge continues to be to put a vision in front of people and see what they think of that vision.”

Although West U voters in 2006 approved a bond referendum for the city to spend $2 million to acquire more parkland, that money has never been used. The city has considered, but not acted on, proposals to buy vacant residential lots in the area between Edloe St. and Buffalo Speedway.

Former West U Mayor Burt Ballanfant said that West U voters had already made their opinions clear about the need for additional parks space with that 2006 majority vote.

“We did vote on a bond issue. And it passed,” Ballanfant said.

The survey also shows that West U residents enjoy and support the city’s parks and recreational facilities.

More than half of city residents  — 56 percent — use at least one West U park at least once a month. Swimming pools, playground and walking paths are the most used parks features. A huge majority of West U residents — 89 percent — agree that the city’s parks provide safe places to recreate and exercise, and 77 percent agree that parks provide opportunities to interact with their neighbors.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of residents  — 96 percent — were in favor of using “private contributions” to fund parks. About 85 percent of survey respondents said they wouldn’t mind using corporate sponsorships for new parks. Only 31 percent said they would favor using revenue bonds, repaid with higher property taxes, to fund new parks.

The parks survey was sent to all households in the city. It was answered by 1,430 residents, a response rate of about 27 percent. The survey results, which were tabulated by Texas A&M University’s Agrilife Extension Service, have a plus or minus margin of error of 3 percent.