With rapid re-development of the city's downtown underway, the brakes were tapped Tuesday evening on one proposed feature – an urban park.
A park has long been part of the downtown conceptual plan and seen as a key element to attracting people to the central business district. Its proposed location presents problems – ones not unknown but never completely discussed. City Manager Randy Criswell raised those concerns in seeking further direction from city council.
Beyond the costs of planning and developing a downtown park are issues with the stretch between North Oak Avenue and N.W. 1st Avenue from West Hubbard Street north to N.W. 4th Street. The main problem is the area lies in a FEMA-defined floodplain and floodway which dictates and in some cases restricts development – especially any that would heighten the threat of flooding and property damage.
"I think it is time we begin to talk about the urban park, or the downtown park, whatever you want to call it," Criswell said. "I think we need to talk about what we expect and how quick we expect it. I think we need to be realistic about where those dollars are going to come from."
Criswell no funding currently exists to take on development of a park without borrowing. But that is not the biggest problem, the city manager said.
"My biggest concern is the implication of construction in a floodway," said Criswell, who has an engineering background and experience with flood mitigation management from his previous work in Canyon. "We have a legal obligation to manage that floodplain."
Anyone who has lived in Mineral Wells within the last few years understands flooding problems in the city, especially downtown. Prolonged periods of rain or heavy rainfall can send runoff waters pouring down from hills that cradle downtown. The city's drainage canals converge south of downtown and tends to back up.
Crystal Canal, the relatively narrow, concrete-lined ditch that runs north and south through the center of town, will overflow, flooding businesses – even the City Hall Annex. Crystal Canal itself poses a number of problems, of which none are said to have a simple or inexpensive solution.
Criswell said he plans to bring onto city staff a person with flood management experience. The city is currently engaged in a flood mitigation study, funded through a utility drainage fee.
The two key terms in the discussion are floodway and floodplain. A floodway is a water channel, river or stream and its adjacent areas that cannot add impervious surfaces or structures that increase downstream flooding. Floodplains are defined areas beyond the floodway that can flood and are managed as to their development to meet certain requirements.
Crystal Canal is within a defined floodway.
"Within the floodway, no construction can occur, legally," Criswell said. "Not even a picnic table."
The urban park was located along the canal by Stantec Consulting Services in its conceptual downtown development plan. It shows structures on either side of the canal, which Criswell said is not possible at present. Another proposal is building a parking garage on the north end of the proposed park – which likely also is not possible without major changes to the canal such as tearing out the concrete and making it deeper and wider or creating a diversion channel.
The costs to do that would be millions of dollars.
Criswell said there have been talks with the U.S.Corps of Engineers regarding a flood mitigation survey and participation in a project. Another option would be to relocate the park to another location away from the canal. Councilwoman Tammy Underwood offered that suggestion.
"I don't think that would be wrong," Criswell said.
Interim Economic Development Director David Hawes agreed with Criswell's comments regarding development restrictions and issues along the canal.
"We don't have the money to do what needs to be done," said Hawes, a Mineral Wells native and current resident, and a principal in the Houston-based firm Hawes Hill & Associates. "We do have some opportunities here."
With a list of tasks to undertake in his new role, Hawes said one is to amend the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone policies, in part so that it can be used to help fund a downtown park.
"That is the only way to go get this done quicker rather than later," said Hawes.
Reluctant to add to the recent list and costs of studies by the city, Hawes and Criswell said a topography study is needed.
"We've got to determine the topography of that area," Hawes said.
Criswell agreed, saying, "We still cannot proceed until we know what those elevations are."
The city manager said other concerns about the proposed location of the park is property acquisition and the removal of parking behind some buildings downtown.
Councilman Doyle Light said the proposed park "has been visionary to this point."
"It sounds like part of that area is going to be out of our reach," Light said.
Hawes said he would be interested in learning where the central district's floodway "begins and ends."
At the direction of council, staff will define the area for a topographical study and prepare a request for proposals for council's approval to move forward with the study, which Hawes said could cost $30,000 to $60,000. He said the funding could come initially from a private source and later reimbursed.
"It is time to start conceiving and time to start evaluating from a technical perspective what we can do there," said Criswell. "I think a downtown park would be an amazing addition to what is truly becoming a destination."