Residents living around the vacant Pinemont Park and Ride say they will be gearing up for a long battle against a potential 300 unit apartment complex proposed by the Houston Housing Authority.
The METRO Real Estate Committee held a meeting Monday afternoon at its main office on Main Street, attracting residents from areas like Forest West, Pinemont Park and Oak Forest to voice their concern over the potential low income apartments. The Leader previously reported in Nov. 2014 that the 14.8 acre property had been declared a “surplus property,” and residents voiced their desire to see the land bring in retail establishments.
The Houston Housing Authority has since made a proposal to purchase the land for low income housing. While there aren’t specific plans yet for the community according to HHA representatives, HHA Chair Lance Gilliam said the organization would utilize eminent domain should the property be put on the market and sold publicly.
Residents voiced their frustration and disappointment over what one resident called a “backroom deal,” citing potential crime and negative effects on surrounding property values should the complex be built.
Sandra Cirone, Pinemont Park Homeowners Association Boardmember, said she shared many of the concerns of her fellow neighbors and cited traffic and drainage problems among some of the other potential issues it might bring.
“I feel that putting something in that large will impede traffic along Pinemont as well as foot traffic into our community,” Cirone said. “Also from a school standpoint, how is this going to affect schools that are already full in that particular area?”
Juan Cuevas, a commercial realtor and resident of Oak Forest since 2007, said the end-use of the property should be determined by the free market.
“To know that the highest and best use for this property has not been defined by the free market where this is exposed to everybody – it might still end up being this kind of housing – but this feels like a back door deal,” Cuevas said.
METRO Real Estate Committee co-chair Diane Lewter said the committee has held two meetings in the past with the opportunity for residents to offer public comment; however only one person showed up to a previous meeting. Committee members argue the process has been open, as all actions and conversations have been streamed and posted online METRO’s website.
In an email Forest West Association president David Ojeman called the threat of eminent domain a “gross abuse of power.”
“It is hard to believe that the city would just say we are going to buy this property without doing any impact studies on how this will affect our automobile traffic, foot traffic, our schools and not to mention the criminal element,” Ojeman said.
However, there were a few dissenting voices present at the meeting. One resident, who grew up in similar low income housing, called the HHA a “wonderful organization” and said his family is an example of the American dream.
“These children, and these families, just because they’re poor, it does not lead to crime,” the resident said. “I apologize for my neighbors and their attitudes of classism, because that’s what this is.”
METRO Real Estate Committee co-chair Jim Robinson said officials would recommend to the METRO board to begin a public bidding process and report on the community’s testimony. However, if the HHA chooses to exercise eminent domain or pay the highest appraised price for the property, it will be out of the hands of METRO officials.
“I know at the city level there is great support for this project,” Lewter said. “I know their feeling is there is a real need for working families and they want them to be in good housing.”
Another METRO board meeting will be held 9 a.m. April 23 at 1900 Main St.