Truck yard, spot for a new trail in Houston? Landowner says 'total waste'

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Standing on the banks of Greens Bayou in northeast Houston, Deidre Jordan calls the neighborhood "the commercial, industrial, ugliest part of the City of Houston."

She would know. Jordan owns land there and invited 13 Investigates to see the spot where the Houston Parks Board wants to build part of a new hike and bike trail.

It's not that she doesn't like parks. Jordan just doesn't think her land in an industrial section of northeast Houston is a good spot for one.

It is blocks away from a halfway house for 500 recently released felons and the trail will run along the city's largest landfill. In the middle of summer, Jordan says the smell from the towering mountain of Houston trash is so bad, "You don't want to open your mouth because that's how disgusting it is around here."

Jordan calls the proposed trail, "a waste. A total waste."

What really bothers Jordan is that to build it, the Houston Parks Board says it wants to buy part of her property. If she won't sell, she's nervous the parks board will take it with eminent domain. She already has letters from the parks board demanding access to her property for a survey.

Jordan isn't giving up anything voluntarily but confessed she doesn't know how to change their plans - not even how to suggest adjusting the trail's route.

The trail is part of the Houston Parks Board's Bayou Greenways 2020 project. In 2012, Houstonians approved $160 million in park improvements; $60 million went to city park improvements. The remaining portion, $100 million of your tax money is paired with at least $110 million donated to build Bayou Greenways 2020, a ring of hike and bike trails around the city.

You can view an interactive map of the project here.

Some of the trails are built, others under construction. The newest section starts near the old Texaco golf course, continues along Greens Bayou through undeveloped sections of the city with few neighbors nearby, and winds its way towards Old Beaumont Highway, where Jordan owns a parking lot for 600 tractor trailers.

The parks board is appointed by the mayor and manages all sorts of park improvement projects. The Bayou Greenways 2020 trails are the largest current project. After a week of emailing and asking for an interview about how they spend your money, their private PR agency turned us down. 13 Investigates was told Houston Parks Board CEO Beth White was unavailable on at least three days over two weeks we asked to schedule an interview.

The parks board won't tell us how much this portion of the trail will cost. Nor will they say if they plan to use eminent domain condemnation to take it.

Letters sent to Jordan's representatives raise condemnation as a possibility. The parks board, working together with the City of Houston, has used condemnation in the past. The parks board won't say how often. The city's legal department still has several days to reply to an open records request asking for details on past condemnations.

Through a PR person, Houston Parks Board did say ..."Our preference is always to acquire land through voluntary transactions and we have been fortunate that so many of our neighbors have embraced the greenways project by donating or voluntarily selling property to be used for the greenways."

It's not all bad news for the trail. At the other end of the proposed trail section, Roy Zermeno is looking forward to it. Asked about the trail that will start blocks from his East End home, Zermeno says he needs parks in his neighborhood and the trail will, "connect areas that have nothing."

"We need more (parks)," Zermeno told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg. The parks the city has close by, Zermeno says, are "adequate. I wouldn't say great."

A quick survey of Houston parks near Zermeno's home shows two that are just wild, overgrown green spaces. One bills itself a nature walk, but 13 Investigates found a trash can full of beer and sleeping supplies on the picnic table. Some soccer fields have just as much dirt as grass and no nets on the goals. Playgrounds need repair. The infield of a baseball diamond was overgrown.

We found a few parks where Bayou Greenways 2020 trails were already complete. At Maxey Park, we found Tasha Parnell walking her dog.

"It used to be a dump," she told 13 Investigates. "They started cleaning it up a month ago."

That was around the time a new section of trail opened through the park. 13 Investigates asked nearby resident Johnnie Byrd about the trail that recently opened in Stickland Park. Byrd told 13 Investigates, "You look at ways the city wastes money, this sure is one. It's a haven for something to go wrong."

The money used to build Bayou Greenways 2020 cannot be used to upgrade existing parks. When voters approved the bonds to build the trail network, the $100 million was dedicated solely to the trails. A separate $60 million allocation was dedicated to the Houston Parks & Recreation Department.

The Houston Parks Board told 13 Investigates, "The beauty of Bayou Greenways 2020 is that, once built, 1.5 million people will live within 1.5 miles of a free greenway and hike-and-bike trail located in areas that have few or no parks."

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