Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 1526 into law on June 10, 2023. Going into effect on January 1, 2024, this new law will dictate how local parkland dedication ordinances can be used in Texas cities with populations over 800,000 (Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Dallas) and put significant strain on Austin’s already underfunded park system.
What is Parkland Dedication?
Parkland Dedication is a tool used by cities to help provide the level of services needed to maintain parks as populations grow and new developments increase demand on the parks system. Usually collected as either a fee or dedicated land allowance from new developments, this ensures that the infrastructure of the park system is protected from the negative impacts of new growth and provides healthy, safe spaces through parks for current and future generations.
“Parkland Dedication is an important resource for reducing taxes, providing political centrality and contributing to how fast-growing cities invest in parks and green spaces.” – Dr. John Crompton, Texas A&M University (2022)
What’s happening to Parkland Dedication in Texas?
The new law will reduce the effectiveness of Parkland Dedication by reducing the land requirements. Currently, Austin’s Parkland Dedication Ordinance stipulates that for every 1,000 new residents in a new development, 9.4 acres of parkland must be dedicated. The new law will reduce the requirement to 0.73 acres in the high-density urban core.
How has Parkland Dedication benefitted Austin?
In Austin, new parks are primarily funded two ways: through bonds and Parkland Dedication. In fact, between 2016 and 2021, the City of Austin collected over $38 million in Parkland Dedication fees – funds used to acquire new parkland and support new park infrastructure.
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department estimates that the new law will cause at least a 100-acre deficit in the park system by 2030.
Since 2017, Austin has acquired almost 70 acres of new parkland (valued at over $24 million) through the use of Parkland Dedication. The following projects and acquisitions were either fully or partially funded through Parkland Dedication in Austin in 2020:
How will the new law affect park funding in Austin?
The changes to parkland dedication put in place by this new law will have a critical impact on Austin’s parks and green space. Without Parkland Dedication funds, the City of Austin will have to find other avenues of funding to secure the financial means to maintain and improve our nearly 400 parks.
Additionally, lower fees and smaller parkland requirements from developers will put the increased financial burden of maintaining our park system on taxpayers, as the park system will rely more heavily on bonds and increased taxes to fill the funding gap. The law also requires that cities pay developers for any land dedicated over a set fee cap. Had this policy been implemented in 2021-2022, the taxpayers of Austin would have owed developers over $65.2 million to achieve the same level of growth in our park system – a total of 54 acres of new parkland.
Austin Parks Foundation remains committed to the fight for parks funding in Austin
During the 88th regular Texas Legislative session, Austin Parks Foundation worked with local governments around Texas and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department to fight this devastating bill. Unfortunately, despite testifying in front of the House and Senate committees, organizing advocates to speak on behalf of Parkland Dedication and reaching out to developers and politicians to seek compromise, the bill was passed and signed into law.
APF is unwilling to accept a lower quality of care for our park system, and we will work with the City of Austin, local stakeholders and parks advocates (like you) to push citizen-passed bonds and research innovative ways to fund park projects.
Without Parkland Dedication, advocacy will become more important than ever, and we will need your support to ensure that our parks get the funding they deserve.
Interested in how you can help advocate for our parks? Subscribe to our advocacy newsletter to stay up-to-date on our efforts to secure crucial funding for Austin’s parks.