Dig This: District Breaks Ground on Hike and Bike Trail
A Scoop of a Story: Dishing the dirt are (from left): Jim Murphy, Westchase District; Lucio Ortiz, Texas Department of Transportation; Gwen Tillotson, City of Houston; Sandra Musgrove, Harris County Flood Control District; and Philip Schneidau, Westchase District Board of Directors.
City, county and state officials joined Westchase District for a groundbreaking ceremony recently marking the construction start of the Brays Bayou Connector Trail (BBCT).
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"] Steve Le, City Council Member District F, speaks at the District's groundbreaking for the Brays Bayou Connector Trail.[/caption]
The new 1.92-mile trail will run south from Richmond Avenue to Bellaire Boulevard and will feature underpasses at Richmond, Westpark Drive, Westpark Tollway, Harwin Drive and Bellaire, allowing users to enjoy the trail entirely off-street. The BBCT will also connect to the City of Houston's on-street bikeway network via street connectors at each roadway intersection.
"This is the first project under construction using funds from our 380 Area Agreement," said Jim Murphy, Westchase District's general manager, referring to an agreement between Westchase District and the City of Houston which provides money from property tax revenue increases to finance public infrastructure projects. "It represents the start of many more exciting projects already in cue that will improve the quality of life for Westchase District residents, workers and visitors."
Construction of the BBCT will cost about $4 million and will be funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Agency and money from the 380 Area Agreement. Expected completion of the BBCT is Fall 2016.
Dig It: District Grows Trail Network
In emerging subdivisions or master-planned communities, it’s relatively easy to develop a park or design a winding trail for residents. In an area with precious little undeveloped land such as Westchase District, shoehorning in outdoor amenities among existing structures can prove a challenge. However, by the end of this year Westchase District will feature nearly four miles of off-street trails for joggers, walkers and bicyclists.
This spring Westchase District broke ground on Brays Bayou Connector Trail (BBCT), a new 1.92-mile off-street trail that will run south from Richmond Avenue to Bellaire Boulevard. The 8-to 10-foot concrete path will include benches, water fountains, trash receptacles, landscaping, wildflowers, tree groves and a four-piece workout station.
The most exciting thing about the trail is its connectivity to a larger system, according to Irma Sanchez, vice of projects for Westchase District. “This trail will connect to the City of Houston’s on-street bikeway network at each roadway intersection and to the Westchase Park & Ride on Harwin,” said Sanchez.
The direct trail connection to this METRO facility will enable trail users access to METRO’s bus route 151 (Westpark Express), which travels to downtown. Across the street from the park and ride, BBCT will connect to the 8-acre, city-owned Harwin Park and the 81-acre, county-owned Arthur Storey Park, as well as the future Brays Bayou Trail.
On the north end, the BBCT will connect at Richmond to the District’s existing Library Loop Trail., which loops east and west between the Robinson – Westchase Neighborhood Library, 3223 Wilcrest Drive, and the Deborah Sue Schatz United States Post Office, 2909 Rogerdale Road.
The new trail will feature underpasses at Richmond, Westpark Drive, Westpark Tollway, Harwin Drive and Bellaire Boulevard, allowing trail users to safely enjoy the trail entirely off-street. “We’re lowering the existing corrugated steel storm outlets and encasing them in square concrete box culverts to create the street underpasses,” said Irma Sanchez, vice president of projects for Westchase District. “This way they become a seamless part of the trail and users can travel right over the tops of them.” Sanchez estimates this portion of the project will run about $648,000.
Construction of the BBCT will cost about $4 million and is being funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Agency and dollars from the 380 Area Agreement between Westchase District and the City of Houston, which provides money from property tax revenue increases to finance public infrastructure projects.
“This project is an amazing opportunity to partner with the District,” said Gwen Tillotson, deputy director of economic development for the City of Houston. “Westchase is phenomenal at leveraging money from various sources to achieve their desired projects. This trail is a great example of that.”
Partnerships Net Progress
Another significant trail partner is the Harris County Flood Control District, which had to approve all the plans for the trail. “Our first mission is storm water drainage,” said Sandra Musgrove, HCFCD infrastructure division director. “Properly designed trails support that mission, while adding visibility and enhanced security along our bayous.”
Still more trail partners exist in the form of landowners who gave the District recreational easements to build on their property, which is immediately adjacent to the canals.
“Our congregation saw it as an opportunity to be of service to the District,” said Dr. Ed Montgomery, founder and pastor of Abundant Life Cathedral, whose property touches BBCT north of Harwin. “The trail is a way to promote healthy living and family interactions and I feel it will help to change the environment of our community.”
The trail construction should be complete this fall. “We’ve had some rain delays, but overall construction is good so far,” said Enrique Allende, project engineer with Miranda Construction, the contractor responsible for building BBCT. “The biggest challenge is working in tight spaces along the channel. Fitting our equipment in and having to work is tricky, but the property owners whose land backs up to the trail have been great about accommodating us.”
Another owner working with Westchase District is CenterPoint Energy, which allowed the District to maximize the wide swath of greenspace along the transmission corridor running north and south between Westheimer to Richmond. Through an agreement with CenterPoint, the District will begin construction soon on a trail that will connect to the Houston Community College campus at Westheimer and Hayes Road, with a mid-block crossing at Meadowglen Lane. The trail is an example of a larger effort between CenterPoint and the City of Houston to enhance the use of some 500 miles of transmission corridors crisscrossing the city.
“While the trail itself is pretty basic, we’re looking at adding landscaping and benches to some open spaces just off the trail,” said Sanchez. “It will be yet another outdoor amenity that will help enlarge our trail network and enhance walkability in Westchase District.” She added that the trail will cost about $600,000, is paid for with funds from the 380 Area Agreement and a federal grant, and should be completed by the end of the year.
Little Free Libraries Popping Up on Library Loop Trail
Perhaps you've heard of the Little Free Library movement? The concept is simple: quirky mailbox-like structures filled with books supplied by readers that are free for all to enjoy. Borrow a book or leave one to share with the world - it's a grass roots way to promote reading and randomly discover new books.
Westchase District is getting on the literacy love by installing its first Little Free Library this week at the west entrance to the Library Loop Trail, next to the Robinson Westchase Library, 3223 Wilcrest Drive.
The movement began in 2009 when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother. She was a teacher who loved to read, so he filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS.As of March 2016, more than 1,000 Little Free Libraries have been donated in Texas alone.
Among the initial titles found in Westchase District's enclosed, two-story, birdhouse-looking bookshelf:
Tuesdays with Morrie
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Great Gatsby (complete with handwritten notes!)
"They create another cool amenity for our trail users and they help foster a literacy-friendly community," said Louis Jullien, Westchase District's project director. "I hope people will find new reading favorites and that they will share their favorite books with others."
The installation is only the first of several Little Free Libraries to be located along the trail. Another one, sponsored by Zachry Group, will appear soon. If you or your company would like to sponsor a Little Free Library in Westchase District, contact Louis Jullien, 713-780-9434.
New Mural on Library Loop Trail
Everybody's favorite Westchase District mural painter Larry Crawford, founder of Mural Arts, recently expanded his public art palate from traffic control signal boxes to something a little larger.
Residing under a bridge
[caption id="attachment_5646" align="alignright" width="300"] Concrete Canvas: Larry Crawford, owner of Mural Arts, carefully adds detail to the box culvert at Wilcrest Drive.[/caption]
Above the District's water habitat, located just east of Wilcrest Drive and behind the Robinson Westchase Library, is something called a box culvert. It's a concrete structure that spans the flood control channel and it's a space ripe for some artwork.
The habitat is home to dozens of turtles, fish and other aquatic life. Larry has designed a mural that reflects the character of the area, including egrets, turtles, cardinals and a raccoon.
Tales on the Trail
We're celebrating debut of the mural with a reading and art event for the whole family that we're calling "Tales on the Trail." It's on Saturday, July 23 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. in the parking lot of the Robinson-Westchase Neighborhood Library, 3223 Wilcrest Drive.
The event will feature a free grab-and-go breakfast, story times for children, a coloring book station, a book exchange at the District's new Little Free Library (see right) and chalk art classes on the Library Loop Trail with mural artist Larry Crawford. Come one, come all for a morning of family-friendly fun!
Looking Good: New Mastarms and Landscaping
Two new projects are underway in Westchase District which have things looking spiffy. First up: at the request of the District, the City of Houston is upgrading the traffic signal at the intersection of Briarpark and Westpark, replacing the traditional span-wires with the cleaner and safer mastarm signal poles.
[caption id="attachment_5635" align="aligncenter" width="671"] Beltway 8, North of Bellaire[/caption]
Next, the Texas Department of Transportation is landscaping the greenspace along southbound Beltway 8, just north of Bellaire. TxDOT funded 100 percent of the construction costs and used designs provided by Westchase District. When completed, the District will take over maintenance of the area after one year.
Game Changer: Parks and Recreation Coming Soon
A proper home for scooters and soccer balls: This 3.4 acre-field just north of the Library Loop Trail on Wilcrest Drive will become one of two parks in Westchase District.
For all the rich amenities in Westchase District – unmatched mobility, award-winning beautifi cation, superior public safety and convenient retail shopping just to name a few – the area historically has been park poor. That’s about to change with the City of Houston’s recent vote to purchase two plots of land in Westchase District for $3.6 million to be used for city parks. One 3.4-acre parcel is on Wilcrest Drive just north of Richmond Avenue and the District’s Library Loop Trail. The other 1.8-acre parcel is on Woodchase Drive just north of the Westpark Tollway.
The vote to purchase the land is the culmination of sustained efforts by the District to partner with the City of Houston to acquire public green space. “This is a huge step forward in realizing a dream of ours to have not just one, but two public parks in Westchase District,” said Jim Murphy, Westchase District’s general manager. “Once the land is secured, we’ll be spending millions in funds from our 380 Area Agreement with the city to equip these parklands with quality amenities for all to enjoy.”
The District, Murphy said, will engage in a thorough process of evaluating what the best elements are to put into the park. “We want both parks to be fi rst-class environments that are attractive and inviting,” he said. “These parks will be fully tricked out. I’m talking landscaping and lighting, ongoing security and maintenance, benches, dog park areas and walking paths that connect with other community amenities. I suspect we will see particular equipment that will cater to both the very young as well as to seniors, each of which are signifi cant populations in and around the District.” Murphy added that these are the fi rst public parks to be provided not just in Westchase District but in a much larger area around the region. “The ability to market these parks as part of our package of amenities will be enormously benefi cial to our multifamily communities as well as to our employers and offi ce properties,” he said.
Reaction from the community has been enthusiastic and positive. The Indonesian Consulate, located at 10370 Richmond Avenune, backs the District’s Library Loop Trail and will be just southwest of the park at Wilcrest. In a letter to Murphy, Henk Edward Saroinsong with the consulate wrote, “...we agree on the project because it is not only benefi cial for the community but will also make the Indonesian Consulate become more strategic and will improve its property value.” Legacy at Westchase Apartments, located at 10070 Westpark Drive, has 323 units and its residents will be a block’s walk from the future park off of Woodchase. “This will be a great feature for our families,” said Liz Romero, regional supervisor with ParaWest Management, the community’s management company. “We haven’t had any parks in the area so this is a welcome opportunity for our residents to get outside, walk their pets and enjoy some fresh air near home.” “We’re excited to learn about these parks coming to Westchase District,” said Leo Tyler, campus pastor with First Methodist Houston, located at 10570 Westpark. “Playing and learning outdoors are healthy activities that can help strengthen families and build a sense of community. That benefi ts not only our church members but other members of the public to whom we minister. Our church’s motto is ‘Your Home in the City,’ and we’re committed to the spiritual wellbeing of the community. Parks are critical to the wellbeing of a city as well and to making an area feel like home.”
Once a design fi rm has been selected, the District will begin the planning process in earnest. “We’ll host meetings and actively solicit public input on what features the park should include,” Murphy said. “Design of the parks should take about 10 to 12 months with another year of construction, so I would expect us to open both parks in early 2019.”