It’s time Dallas requires developers to chip in to pay for land for Dallas parks

Special Contributor

The old joke was that the official bird of Texas must be the crane, because of all of the construction underway. There may be some truth to that, but one essential component of urban development in Dallas that is too often neglected is the construction of new parks for all city residents to enjoy.

So it is encouraging that the City Council will be presented with a plan Wednesday to create a new and long-term source of support for building parks in Dallas. We hope the council supports the plan.

In brief, the plan would require Dallas developers to offset new hotels and housing developments by paying into a new parks fund or setting land aside.

Why is this good for Dallas? The reason is simple. Dallas is growing in terms of development and population, but it isn’t keeping pace in terms of adding parks, trails and green space. Among the 10 largest cities in America, only Houston, San Antonio and Phoenix score worse on the annual list put out by the Trust for Public Land. Among the largest 100 cities, we rank 50th.

And as we grow, it will only get harder to create parks unless we take steps now to set aside funds and land. In the parlance of the trade, it’s hard to build a new park in an already “built” environment.

In this case, the proposal being offered to the council has been kicking around for a long time. It has been approved unanimously by the Dallas Park and Recreation Board. Developers and other stakeholders have been hashing out compromises for months. And the city’s quality-of-life committee has been briefed on the idea five times since 2017.

The proposal would require developers to pay a fee depending on the size of a project or to pay a smaller fee and set aside some land for parks.

Those funds would be pooled and spent on parks near the developments that generated the fee. Fees generated in the downtown zone could be spent citywide on the trails that stitch Dallas together.

Dallas has made do without these fees for decades longer than many other cities in Texas, including Plano and other neighboring communities. And we are typically skeptical of mandatory fees, but in this case we believe Dallas needs to pull private developers into the process if it is to have the park land needed to ensure it is a city of the first order for generations to come.

The risk is that opponents effectively derail this plan through needless delay. We hope the council hears out all objections. But we also hope it moves forward before its July break to support a plan that ensures Dallas can build the parks it will need in the decades ahead.

What’s in the plan?

* Divides Dallas into seven zones. Park fees paid by developers will be used within the same zone.

* Exception would be in the zone including downtown, Uptown, the Design District and the Cedars neighborhood. Those funds could be spent developing Dallas’ citywide trails network.

* Fees would depend on the number and type of unit developed. For example, for single-family developments, the fee would be $1,165 per house; for multifamily, $457 per one-bedroom unit.

* Developers could opt to donate land instead or to develop private park lands within the project, as long as it was accessible to the public.

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