Public Notice: Army Corps and TCEQ Soliciting Comments on High-Rise Development Near River Grove Park

Romerica Investments, LLC has applied for a permit to develop wetlands, flood plain, and floodway in the area around Barrington and River Grove Park in Kingwood. Rumored for years, many residents, including me, assumed the project died after Harvey. After all, who would be crazy enough to build high-rises in the path of 250,000 cfs? But as they say in horror movies, “It’s baaaa-aaack.” The proposed development includes: a marina/resort district, a commercial district, a residential district, and roadway expansion.

Here’s a link to a video that describes the architect’s vision for the development. It was posted to Vimeo in February of this year. Note the sky-blue waters of the San Jacinto. (This is what you get when a developer in Mexico uses an architect in Rome.) See more specifics below.

Location of Romerica’s proposed development.
The major pieces of Romerica’s proposed Kingwood development. For details see below.

River and Floodway Alterations

The applicant proposes to construct a new navigation channel on the West Fork to the south of the proposed marina and expand the existing channel on the east for better connectivity between the proposed marina and the West Fork San Jacinto River. 

Features of Proposed Resort District

The applicant proposes to develop the 25 acres north of the proposed marina into a resort district. The resort district will consist of a resort hotel, commercial, and residential space. The applicant proposes to construct:

  • Five towers within the resort district at a height of 90 feet for the western hotel parcel
  • Residential condominium towers at a height of 260 feet, and at a height of 500 feet (50 stories) for the eastern hotel and condominium parcel. 
  • Fill material would be used to raise the elevation of the resort district 12 feet from 45 to 57 feet to raise the proposed structures above the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto River.  

Features of Proposed Commercial District

In a 47 acre commercial district, the applicant proposes to construct:

  • Retail, residential, and office space.
  • Three towers ranging in height from 230 to 400 feet for the retail offices and residential condominium towers.
  • Additional mid-rise residential and retail spreads at a height of 70 feet. 
  • Fill material would raise the elevation of the commercial district from 45 feet to 57 feet over base flood elevation and raise the proposed structures over the FEMA 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto. 
  • Parking garages with two below grade levels and concealed above grade levels to increase the footprint density. 
  • A 19.25-acre lake (from an existing 16.25-acre lake) to create a smaller marina area for personal watercraft parking.
  • A 125-foot wide channel between the 80-acre marina and the 19.25-acre marina and the marina/resort district and the commercial district. 

Features of Proposed Residential District

The 64-acre residential district would include:

  • Condominium structures, 65-feet high, on pier and beam foundations with elevated first floor parking and four stories.
  • They would use fill to elevate them to 58.5 feet, which is above the FEMA 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto River. 
  • 25-story condominiums with parking garages.
  • Nearly 2 miles of 41 foot wide roadways with bridges over canals and streams.

Expansion of Woodland Hills Drive

The applicant also plans to bring in more than 1700 cubic yards of fill to raise and expand Woodland Hills Drive. Woodland Hills would become four lanes all the way to Hamblen.

Wetlands Mitigation: Somewhere Else

To compensate for all the fill they are bringing into the floodplain and wetlands, they would purchase mitigation credits from outside the Kingwood area. Basically this means that all of this development would be filling in local floodplains and floodway without commensurate local compensation. Said another way, it would constrict the flow of the West Fork during floods.

To review the complete text of the public notice, click here.

To review the proposed plans, locations and schematics, click here.

Comments are used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity. For accuracy and completeness of the record, all data in support of or in opposition to the proposed work should be submitted in writing. Concerns should contain sufficient detail to furnish a clear understanding of the reasons for support or opposition. Prior to the close of the public comment period on January 29, the Corps’ District Engineer will determine whether sufficient cause exists to hold a public hearing.

If no comments are received by that date, it will be considered that there are no objections.

Comments and requests for additional information should reference USACE file number, SWG-2016-00384, and should be submitted to: 

  • Evaluation Branch, North Unit 
  • Regulatory Division, CESWG-RD-E 
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
  • P.O. Box 1229 
  • Galveston, Texas 77553-1229 
  • 409-766-3869 Phone 
  • 409-766-6301 Fax 

Rehak’s Concerns

  1. If not removed, the mouth bar will back flood water up into this area during major floods.
  2. I thought Friendswood deed restrictions limited the height of commercial structures to 3 stories. When I built my commercial property, that was the limit. It was also a major point of contention during the construction of the new Emergency Hospital at 59 north of Kingwood Drive. I wonder how they’re getting around that. All these high rise buildings in the middle of a residential area will significantly change the character of the community. Most residents bought into Kingwood because of those deed restrictions.
  3. Filling in our floodplain with mitigation credits purchased from somewhere else will significantly alter floodplain characteristics here. When KSA explored building a dog park in River Grove Park, the City engineer told us that the width of the fence posts could not reduce flood conveyance by .000001%. The maximum allowable was 0%.
  4. Boat navigation on the West Fork has been if-fy for decades and getting worse due to sediment washed downstream from sand mines. Dredging may improve a two-mile stretch, but until the mouth bar is removed, boats will have a difficult time navigating beyond that. The Army Corps is having to dredge its way up and down the river. Any marina likely could not survive the kinds of floods we had in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Other structures would also likely be damaged.
  5. If damaged in a future flood like Harvey, who would have pockets deep enough to repair these huge structures? Few would want to inhabit them. The one office building on Hamblen has flooded repeatedly in the 35 years I have lived here. It’s not just repairing water damage this close to the river; Harvey deposited 5 feet of sand in River Grove Park. How do you clean all of that sand out of a luxury resort?
  6. The paving and filling of all this wetland will increase and accelerate runoff that endangers downstream properties.
  7. It appears that no environmental impact study has been filed.
  8. All of the floodplain calculations are based on old surveys which are currently being revised. Before these buildings could even be built, floodplain maps will be redrawn. Remember, USGS reclassified Harvey flooding at Highway 99 as a 42-year storm. The area where many of these buildings would be built has been under three feet of water at least four times this year.
  9. I’m not an engineer, but will the soil support structures this large?
  10. It already can take a half hour to get in and out of Kingwood at rush hour. This high density development could add thousands of additional cars when residents have indicated they do not want to widen Kingwood Drive or Hamblen Road. The information provided to date makes no mention of traffic loads.

Having said all that, the architects renderings look gorgeous. If they could solve those concerns, the development might be an asset to the community.

Please send your feelings, pro or con, to the address above.

These are my opinions on matters of public policy protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statutes of the great state of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/29/2018

487 Days since Hurricane Harvey