Ahead of city council meeting, residents hope McAllen’s disc golf park will be spared from development
The City of McAllen will decide next week whether a park on the south side of the city will remain a disc golf course.
India-based software company Zoho is eyeing the McAllen Disc Golf Course, also known as Green Jay Park, as the site of a 37-acre tech campus.
Residents who live immediately north and south of the park have been opposing the development since March. Those who use the park recreationally for disc golf and birding want the city to conserve the area’s flora and fauna from being displaced. Residents living in Balboa Acres, a colonia just south of the park, are concerned the campus, if built, would make Ware Road's flooding issue worse. The park lies in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designated floodplain.
In April, McAllen’s Planning and Zoning Board pulled a vote to rezone the area after public outcry. Two weeks ago, the same board voted not to recommend rezoning the area for Zoho’s campus, after an hour of public testimony from residents.
But residents are skeptical whether the vote will ensure the park will be saved.
In a recent interview, McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez said the Planning and Zoning Board wasn’t working in the “better interest” of the city.
Rodriguez said he and McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos — who supports Zoho’s campus plans — met with the company’s representatives the same evening of the Planning and Zoning Board vote, saying the park’s area was “perfect” for the company.
“We’ve got a very, very strong relationship with Zoho,” Rodriguez told KURV.
Though support for the park being saved seems to be growing, there’s still a significant chance that the city could ignore the board’s recommendation and approve the zoning anyway.
“Unfortunately for me, it's not shocking,” said Geoff Alger, a longtime McAllen resident who lives near the park and helped organize “Save McAllen Greenspaces.” “It's just more of what I've seen over the years continuing. And it's interesting because it's continuing with new people, so it seems to be baked into the system.”
Opposition to the city’s plans to develop over green space goes back more than a decade.
In a bond election in 2010, the city asked residents to vote on whether to sell Westside Park and approve $35 million for three sport complexes. The city wanted to flatten Westside Park — which is just two miles up Ware Road from the Disc Golf Course — and the McAllen Nature Center for tennis courts. Residents voted down both of the bonds, saying the wildlife and original, undeveloped flora of McAllen needed to be conserved.
Before Ware Road was extended to the south side of McAllen, what is now the McAllen Disc Golf Course was the back 9 of the Palm View Golf Course. Opening in 1971, the course was built to replace a golf course that was next to McAllen Miller International Airport. The airport's expansion prompted city officials to build the course off Ware Road where it remains today as the Champion Lakes Golf Course.
The back nine of the Palm View Golf Course was discontinued in 2000, after the city extended the Champion Lakes course south. The property sat unattended for 15 years until disc golfers and McAllen’s Parks and Recreation Department developed a disc golf course, the first in the city after a similar course built in the 1980s was discontinued. Then-mayor Jim Darling called it a “cool thing” during his State of the City address that year.
The park was called Green Jay Park at first, eventually being named McAllen Disc Golf Course, which is the name on all the city-designated signage in the park. The upper, west facing portion of Lake Concepcion was a highlight of the park.
Alger’s family moved from New York to McAllen, in 1971, the same year the Palm View course opened. Living nearby, he rode his bike around the course, exploring the lake and the front nine. Lake Concepcion, in particular, is special to Alger, who has been documenting the lake’s storied history from as far back as 1925.
“It turns out there is a lot more history to it than I thought,” he said. “A lot more history of it being a park and a gathering place and all kinds of stuff. Picnics and barbecues, fishing, swimming. Of course it was quite a lot bigger back then.”
The land around the lake is also prehistoric and is likely a burial ground for indigenous tribes. But now, the upper portion of the lake sits overgrown with thick grass and weeds, almost indistinguishable from the brush that surrounds it. The lake began to dry in 2020. The eastern boundary of the lake’s west side has dried, too.
Nobody knows why the lake started drying out, but Alger hopes the city will restore it rather than have Zoho develop over it.
Zoho started hiring McAllen employees in 2020 who, at the time, were working remotely. Last year, Zoho was located in the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone before outgrowing the space, a Zoho spokesperson told TPR. The company had been in talks with McAllen since 2021 about a more permanent space in the city, with the campus plans originating in 2022. The company moved into the McAllen Creative Incubator, a space created by the city and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, this year.
New Braunfels and Del Valle, a town 20 minutes outside of Austin, are home to Zoho’s other Texas offices. The Del Valle office is the international company’s U.S. headquarters, sitting on a multi-acre farm.
Zoho is seeking to do something similar in McAllen, according to its company plan, intending to make a campus large enough for 500 employees. For those employees would be an orchard, farm and bee hives, with architecture reflecting local building design.
The company’s campus seems to be supported by most residents, so long as it’s not built on the park. During the Planning and Zoning Board meeting, that sentiment was echoed multiple times by residents. But the city, who made the rezoning request on behalf of Zoho, is intent on building there, saying the city needs more jobs.
Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, when asked by the Planning and Zoning Board why the company wanted the campus in the park, said the area is close to South Texas College’s Technology Campus and the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone. Vegesna told the Monitor that the city showed the area as a potential campus site.
A spokesperson for Zoho said the company did not have further comment on resident concerns, referring to a previous statement saying Zoho would accept the McAllen city commission decision.
All the city would need to prove to FEMA is that the development would not increase flooding. Flooding in the area is already severe, particularly for residents of the Balboa Acres colonia.
“They don't know what we have been through here in this area,” Everado Lalo Saldaña, a resident of the Balboa Acres colonia told the Planning and Zoning Board on July 12. “There are times when it rains and there's no way out because the Mission water lines burst, [so do] La Joya’s, and we’re all late [for work]. And that's not right.”
The city has been referring to the park as a “facility,” with Assistant City Manager Michelle Rivera saying the course was not a park and was purchased explicitly for development. Residents have pushed back at this heavily, accusing the City of McAllen of gaslighting the public because the area is designated a park by the city.
Organizers in “Save McAllen Greenspaces” say the city, by denying the McAllen Disc Golf Course is a park, is trying to avoid a vote similar to the one that occurred in 2010 with Westside Park. But if a park is potentially being sold to a private company by a city, it must go to vote, according to local government code.
Until, or if, there is a vote, residents are hoping that enough opposition will convince the city that the park should remain. Should the city commissioners vote to rezone the property for development, Alger says they would pursue legal challenges or stronger protests.
“If we have to, we could chain ourselves to the gate and things like that,” he said. “And that's something that I would hope the city doesn't want to see, that Zoho doesn't want to see.”
When asked about City Manager Rodriguez’s comments and residents’ concerns that the city favors Zoho, the City of McAllen said, in a statement, that the rezoning process “has been the same for this applicant as for any other applicant, residential or commercial, who submits a request to rezone.”
“I'm not even optimistic, necessarily. Cautiously hopeful,” Alger said of the upcoming city commissioners meeting. “I know what (the city wants) to do. I know what they want, Zoho. I know they want this property, but there's so much opposition to it. Whether they've seen it yet or not, they're going to see it.”
The McAllen City Commission will meet on Monday, July 24, at 5 p.m., at McAllen City Hall to vote on the park’s rezoning.