Fort Worth ‘urban village’ funding cut in bond plan

12/11/2013 10:03 PM

12/12/2013 7:25 AM

The City Council refined the projects included in the proposed $292 million bond package by slashing funding for urban villages and cutting back on transit-oriented development while boosting money for parks and infrastructure.

During a special work session Wednesday, city staffers presented a re-prioritized list of projects after accounting for suggestions gathered during a public input period from July to November.

Reorganizing items for the bond program, which will be set in January for a May election, didn’t come without edgy comments by the mayor and council members about their favored projects.

About $14.5 million will be redirected to other priorities

Still, Councilman Sal Espino, who faced a $200,000 cut to Rockwood Golf Course in his district so that Trail Drivers Park could receive additional funding, echoed the sentiments of the council when he said the bond package was fair and vetted by the community.

“We aren’t going to please everybody,” Espino said.

“We still aren’t going to have enough soccer fields for our citizens. We still aren’t going to have enough trails or bike lanes, but this is a five-year program, and at this point in time, that $292 million with no tax rate increase, the allocation is a fair one,” he said.

It would be the first bond election since a $150 million package was approved in 2008.

Proposed reductions to projects

The proposed changes, which included cuts to urban villages and transit-oriented developments and TEX Rail, caused concern among some council members.

Urban villages, which are pedestrian-friendly mixed developments, were originally proposed to receive $9 million but would drop to $6 million. Transit-oriented developments decreased from $7 million to $4.5 million.

Councilman Joel Burns, who represents the hospital district and other areas where funding for urban villages and transit is needed, said his district received cuts but no additions.

“How do I pitch this? How do I tell them [residents] to go out and vote for this bond package that funds everything in areas outside of District 9 but has nothing but cuts for things inside District 9?” Burns asked at the meeting.

He proposed using some of the $4.5 million remaining in transit development to connect the hospital district and south Fort Worth with the commuter stop at the Texas & Pacific Station.

Burns also asked the council to consider putting what was proposed as a $400,000 increase in playground equipment funds toward the McLeland Tennis Center and Rosemont Park, to be more equitable.

After the meeting, Burns said that although he was disappointed by the cuts, the $6 million is still “far more than we have ever had for urban villages” and he was encouraged that his council colleagues understood his concerns.

Other cuts included reducing the money for a service center in north Fort Worth from $18 million to $14 million and cutting grant-matching by $4 million and economic development funds by $1 million.

The changes led to increases for projects that were partially funded, including the Como Community Center, which went from $3.5 million to $5.3 million; a far north athletic facility, which went from $1.8 million to $3.6 million; and Chisholm Trail Park, which went from $2 million to $3.8 million.

Transportation and infrastructure still make up most of the bond, at $204 million.

Additions to the proposed list

Though bicycle infrastructure was not included in the original list of proposed projects, 103 residents urged the council to consider adding that funding.

In the end, the staff proposed adding $1.26 million for bike infrastructure, which could include bike lanes for commuters, trails and help for Fort Worth Bike Sharing.

Councilman Danny Scarth, who represents east and north Fort Worth, said he was concerned that bike infrastructure would require restriping or taking lane miles away from cars.

“At the risk of alienating my mayor, I would like to look at the bike infrastructure a little bit,” Scarth said jokingly.

Mayor Betsy Price, an avid cyclist, often engages residents with “rolling” town halls where the groups go on bike rides.

Councilman Jungus Jordan also referred to Price’s cycling, saying “Mayor, I know it is near and dear to your heart.”

But Price interjected, saying, “It is, but let me just make a comment right here. Everybody thinks I am married to this. This is in response to the public comments. This is in response to the fact that the city of Fort Worth has had a bike plan in place for five years, long before I was here.”

Jordan said he was fine with the $1.26 million but wanted to make sure the bike trails were connected with arterials.

Price also said the term “bike infrastructure” is a misnomer, because it will also help people with mobility impairments, such as those on scooters or in wheelchairs.

Also not on the initial projects list: The staff has recommended funding $1.25 million in expansions at the Handley Meadowbrook Community Center in east Fort Worth.

Public art funding stays the same

Though public art was a controversial topic for months, both with the public and on the council, the funding is proposed to stay at 2 percent of the entire bond package, or $5.8 million.

Just over 70 percent of public comments recommended keeping public art funding at current levels or increasing it, according to data presented at the workshop.

Jordan said that though public art funding will not be reduced, the council needs to do a better job of managing public art and should have a set plan to do so.

“We have some we are proud of and some we are not so proud of,” Jordan said about the projects.

Price agreed, saying a few projects have been handled poorly. But she said the program adds to the quality of life in the community.

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