Who Owns the Esplanades on North and South Boulevards?

WHO OWNS THE ESPLANADES ON NORTH AND SOUTH BOULEVARDS? The president of the Broadacres Homeowners Association, Cece Fowler, tells the Houston Chronicle’s Diane Cowen last weekend that the neighborhood’s esplanades, as well as the park along Parkway Dr., are owned by the HOA. However, Cowen says that according to the City of Houston, the esplanades are part of the city’s Adopt-An-Esplanade program, making them public right-of-way. The dispute continues: “Fowler said that she and her board are conducting a title search to prove their ownership. She said the neighborhood has maintained and financed the esplanades and green space from the beginning.” That maintenance took a new turn last Thursday when 11 signs prohibiting photoshoots were erected on the esplanades. According to Fowler, the gatherings had become more than a nuisance: “up to 40 to 50” were occurring per week beneath the canopies of oaks that line the boulevards between Mandel St. and Parkway Dr. The 26 homeowners that make up the community discussed mitigation strategies like putting in speed bumps, adding a gate to the neighborhood, or hiring full-time security personnel before settling on the signs as a more cordial means of discouraging shutter-happy visitors. Now that they’re up, residents hope they’ll keep out flashbulbs as well as the props that sometimes come with them: “Fowler said some have brought in sofas and bookcases and one group drove a Jeep onto the esplanade, damaging the grass, brick sidewalk and sprinkler system. They throw confetti onto the ground and release Mylar balloons into the trees. And all bring photography equipment and crews that hang around for hours.”  [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox

22 Comment

  • I also personally know people that have been threatened to have their cars towed by homeowners on this street. The homeowners state that it is a private street and people that park there to catch the light rail are breaking this law. This is a lie. These are public streets. Their verbally abusive intimidation of people is the only thing borderline illegal.

  • Even if the city owns them the neighbors shouldn’t have to put up with all the BS, and the city should support them because the amount of property tax they pay is through the roof.

  • Can the city sue the HOA if these signs are illegal? It appears that it is an illegal appropriation of city property if that is the case.

  • 40-50 a week? sounds like the street went viral and now it’s ruined.

  • The article mentions that the esplanade has a sprinkler system. How about leaving it on during peak photoshoot times?

  • Do we not have littering and vandalism laws to address the confetti, balloons, and driving onto the grass?

  • I’m not a Broadacres resident, but I run and walk my dogs on these streets almost every day. I can understand why the homeowners are upset. Recently, the photography sessions have gotten out of hand. Multiple photographers at a time are jockeying for the best spot. It’s not uncommon to have 20+ families waiting in line for a single photographer. Some photographers set up giant props, blocking access to the sidewalks for the day. Litter is left behind from smash cakes and confetti. I’ve even seen them photograph IN the residents’ yards. It’s ridiculous.

  • The City of Houston has ordinances in place to prevent the homeless from loitering, camping, and even sitting on sidewalks. Seems like the COH could step up some enforcement actions against these photographers.

  • On the plus side, if you happen to have legitimate business in the neighborhood (i.e. making a delivery) it’s nice to know that instead of circling the block you can just park on this grassy median and the city won’t be able to tow your car.

  • LOL, so their position went from “the HOA owns the esplanades” to “well, we think the HOA owns the esplanades, but we’ll have to do a title search to be sure”.

    I’m on one of the a-holes who cuts through North and South to avoid traffic on Bissonnet and because it is just a pleasant drive (in my defense I drive fairly slow and carefully), and do see a lot of wedding photography, etc. going on, so I do feel bad for the homeowners, especially if the people taking pictures are inconsiderate.

  • These picture people are right in the line with the person that stopped on I45 midday to take a selfie. Yea, I am pretty sure I45 is a city owned ROW as well.

  • They owned it since the 1920’s is most current statement by the HOA per ABC13. Should be easy enough to show property tax statements or receipts since they have almost 100 years to pick from . Hope it is appraised for an accurate amount by the county. Wouldn’t want anyone to not pay their fair share.

  • Traffic for Lights in the Heights is much worse, but it is only one night.

  • Obviously I’m not a Broadacres home owner but live nearby. Like Tunnel Rat I use the boulevards to walk for exercise and my observations are the same. Years ago I used to think awww, isn’t that cute, they’re getting their holiday day card/engagement/graduation/whatever occasion photo done. Then the photographers started getting surly, yelling at me to get out of their shoot, forcing me to walk in the street. Where I don’t feel safe no matter which street it might be in this city. There are days when numerous photographers have completely taken over the pathway. I’m in total agreement with the homeowners. This situation has gotten out of control.

  • In a way, this is just the latest battle in a hundred year old fight. On a Preservation Houston tour of Broadacres (where we trespassed all over the esplanades), it was pointed out that the neighborhood was originally designed as a closed loop with the only access to the city via Parkway to the east. Houston, however, viewed the streets as public and forced the developers to cede ROW through the lots on the western side of the loop to connect North and South Blvds to their counterparts in the west. This is why North and South Blvds pinch weirdly right around West Blvd – when you’re ceding expensive land, you only give the minimum required.

    I also don’t see how this ends well for the HOA now that the city is paying attention to these esplanades. Either they end up discovering that they don’t own the esplanades and lose the de facto control they’ve had over them, or they show that they do own them and are hit with a bill for back taxes. And if we’re talking taxes, the county might use this to reassess that sweet tax break on the park. I assume they justify that by saying it’s essentially a public park, but now the neighborhood is demonstrating that its private green spaces might not be as public as they’ve let on.

  • @Your Best Tenant – It’s just as public for you as it is for the photographers. They have no more right to tell you to get lost than the Broadacres people have to tell the photographers to get lost. If they want to use public space for their photoshoots, they have to work around the rest of the public. Hell, if a photographer acted like that to me on a public space, I’d be tempted to decide the place they’re doing the photoshoot is a nice spot to sit and enjoy the weather.

  • If I owned a house and this was bugging me, I’d just hang around on the esplanade and insert myself into every picture. Maybe with some offensive but protected language on a sign.

  • If you want privacy and more control of your surrounding move to a damn gated community! So tired of people living in the city trying to change everyone else when it is they who should make the change. If city living isn’t for you and you don’t like people and crowds then move! I don’t care how much money you have or how privileged you feel. City streets are open to the public. And yes I will always cut through this area because it is nice and, until they are gated, the streets are open to the public!

  • Let’s give the Broadacres HOA some credit. They have tried to stop the overuse of the esplanades. I lived near a school where the moms would rather wait on a neighboring block rather than in the carpool line. They would stand in the street, line both sides of the block with their cars, and lounge in yards while waiting. Aside from the lounging, the activities are legal although somewhat dangerous at times (don’t get mad when I almost hit you while turning a corner when standing in the middle of the street obscured by cars). I think the best solution is to have discourage photographers through random photobombing, emergency maintenance work requiring lots of orange gating and cones, strategic dog poop or sprinkler use, or neighborhood parking permits required during peak photography times. If you have ever been Hermann Park on the weekend, you must have sympathy for these folks. There are brides and girls in princess dresses everywhere with the accompanying limos/carriages/etc.

  • I ride my bike there almost everyday. Yesterday I noticed the signs were gone from North Blvd. The sign is still up at the park though.

  • @ Cactus: Do not put too much faith in the tax roll. HCAD makes some effort to track all privately-owned common areas, and you can find them by searching (http://hcad.org/property-search/real-property-advanced-records/) for Land Code: 2004. Nearby zip codes are 77006, 77005, and 77030, but you can put in whatever other criteria you like. In this area, common area land is appraised consistently at $0.05 per square foot. It’s a willfully immaterial amount that they call “nominal value”. The idea is that whatever value it contributes, whether as flood control, as a walkway, as common area parking, as flood control, etc., is contributed to other real property which transacts in the marketplace and for which they have sales comps. To assess the common areas would be double taxation; to attempt to adjust-out the value of the common areas from sales comps would be needlessly complicated and would introduce inequity to the tax roll as individual appraisers exercised subjective judgement and as individuals used that method in protests. That is to say, HCAD’s policy on common area land makes sense. However, you’ll notice that Broadacres has been paying a material amount of property taxes on their tennis court, which is an improvement that serves the same function and is treated differently for absolutely no good reason. In theory, HCAD could put a value on pavement, but they don’t do that in practice; it is safe to assume that the esplanades would be treated as land only. Furthermore, HCAD can only back-assess for the prior five years. At $0.05 per square foot, five years of back taxes at a ~2.5% tax rate would be $275 per acre.
    Technically, yes, small as it is, I think the property tax issue would normally carry weight. It is the property owner’s responsibility in all cases to notify HCAD of their title to property and Broadacres has failed to do so. However…both in principle and in terms of what is considered financially material, I don’t really think that it matters. In this particular case, I suspect that what will carry the most weight will be the political clout, campaign contributions, and [other means] that the residents are able to exert in order to privatize the commons.
    Of course, if cooler and more reasonable minds prevailed, they’d just split some of the cost for an HPD officer to patrol during peak photography hours that can ticket people for public nuisances and littering. Good lord, it’d be cheaper than litigating this.

  • Traffic during Lights in the Heights was bad. One homeowner West of Studewood griped at me and triggered me.