Houston Land Bank and City of Houston Partner to Revitalize Velasco Incinerator Site

The Houston Land Bank (HLB) and the City of Houston have joined forces to breathe new life into the former Velasco Incinerator site, employing innovative community development models to make lasting positive changes in the Second Ward and its surrounding area.

The Velasco Incinerator Site, a 4.56-acre expanse of vacant land on North Velasco Street alongside Buffalo Bayou, served as a municipal incinerator facility from the 1920s until the late 1960s. In 1995, all buildings on the site were removed, leaving behind incinerator stacks, a concrete building foundation, and a sanitary sewer lift station.

Over four decades of operation, ash and fill materials accumulated on the property, with environmental assessments conducted since 2006 revealing elevated levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, dioxins, and furans. The site, surrounded by chain-link fencing and covered in native grasses and trees, has languished for decades due to the complexity of cleaning up the environmental hazards.

The cleanup of the Velasco Incinerator Site aligns with Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Complete Communities mission, which aims to foster equitable development in under-resourced neighborhoods. The revitalization of the site has the potential to trigger positive change within the Second Ward Complete Community, responding to residents’ requests for adaptive reuse projects along Buffalo Bayou. It also supports the Resilient Houston initiative’s goal to address environmental injustice in coordination with local partners.

Mayor Sylvester Turner stated, “The Velasco Incinerator Site remediation project seeks to mitigate an historic inequity, which makes it about more than just cleaning up contaminated land. This strategic partnership gives us the opportunity to revitalize this portion of our city while correcting a wrong and providing opportunities for our residents.”

To enable community benefit and apply for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding for site cleanup, the Houston Land Bank has entered into a land banking agreement with the City of Houston.

The agreement stipulates the need to collaborate with strategic partners, local stakeholders, and the Second Ward community to create a green space and reuse plan promising tangible benefits for the local community. The estimated cleanup costs are $7 million, involving activities such as providing protective coverings or barriers over contaminated soil and waste materials to prevent the spread of pollutants, reduce exposure to harmful substances, and promote environmental safety and health.

Christa Stoneham, CEO of HLB, noted, “This project embodies the core values of the Houston Land Bank, actively transforming our communities for the better. We believe in the power of collaboration and the need for environmental justice, and by aligning with the City of Houston, we are taking a momentous step toward restoring not only the environmental integrity of the Velasco Incinerator Site but also rejuvenating the spirit of our local communities.”

Community engagement, integrity of ethics and transparency, and meaningful partnerships with community stakeholders will be paramount to the success of this clean-up and revitalization project. Houston Land Bank has launched the www.bankingvelasco.org website to communicate project status updates, reports, and other critical information.

The first phase of this project involves gathering public feedback on our EPA grant cleanup application and Analysis of Brownfields Cleanup Alternatives (ABCA) report. During the public comment period starting October 23, a grant application draft and an ABCA report draft can be viewed online at www.bankingvelasco.org. Physical copies of the application and draft ABCA report will also be available for viewing at the Flores Neighborhood Library, located at 110 N Milby St, 77003.

There are two ways to submit written comments: 1) in the comments box on www.bankingvelasco.org and 2) on comment cards made available at a public meeting on October 26th . HLB will publicly post responses to questions we received regarding the ABCA and grant application to ensure transparency by November 8.