“The Developers Are Coming! The Developers Are Coming!”

Actually, the developers are already here and licking their chops over the extension of the Grand Parkway (SH 99).

My riff on Paul Revere’s famous line is not meant so much as a statement of impending doom as about the need for caution.

Certainly, there are many honorable developers who try to build high-quality communities for people without adversely affecting downstream residents. I don’t wish to malign a whole profession. Nor do I want to fail to acknowledge the many wonderful communities they have built in this area.

But there are also some developers who put profit before people. They try to cut corners wherever they can and hope that nobody will notice. Especially regarding flood control. It’s expensive and easy because most people don’t understand it.

Grand Parkway Coming Soon To Wetlands Near You

The construction of State Highway 99, aka the Grand Parkway, has opened up vast new areas on the outskirts of Houston to developers. Many of those areas consist of wetlands and forests.

TxDoT is currently prepping land for Section H of the Grand Parkway almost all the way to FM 1960 on the east from US59.
From USGS. Wetlands near the path of Grand Parkway extension. Compare with maps above and below.

Visible Difference in Development Density Where SH99 Completed

The map below shows permit applications in the north Houston area. Compare the density of projects around sections of the Grand Parkway that have already been completed (left) with the areas on the east where the concrete has not yet reached.

This map shows permit applications in the northeast Houston area, both within the City and its ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction. The Colony Ridge development featured below is outside the ETJ (green area) in the upper right of the map above.

Developers have even more projects underway outside the City’s ETJ (not shown on the map above).

How Development Can Affect Flooding

Kingwood residents have seen how one developer can contribute to flooding hundreds of homes. Last year, Perry Homes clearcut 268 acres north of Elm Grove before installing detention ponds. Hundreds of Elm Grove homes then flooded on May 7 and again on September 19, during Tropical Storm Imelda.

Below are recent photos of a massive 10,000 acre development in Liberty County near Plum Grove. It is about to become a 15,000 development now, thanks in part to Grand Parkway access. And yet it has only one small traditional detention pond.

Detention ponds slow down the rate of runoff to compensate for the loss of trees, wetlands and ground cover that have been replaced by streets and rooftops.

Their goal: to prevent downstream flooding.

Colony Ridge Accounts for All Growth in Liberty County In Last Decade

Colony Ridge can account for all the growth in Liberty County in the last decade. Below are some photos of Colony Ridge and its expansion near Plum Grove. The approach of SH99 will make it more accessible and therefore more attractive (at least from one point of view).

All aerial photos below were taken on 6/126/2020.

Looking north across the Grand Parkway extension toward Colony Ridge in Liberty County near Plum Grove.
Just north of the Grand Parkway (upper left), you can see roads going in that will accommodate even more manufactured homes, aka trailer homes.
The developer puts in roads, ditches, water and sewer. Fire hydrants? Forget it.

Developer’s Marketing Strategy

The developer tries to pass as many costs along to lot buyers as he can to maximize profit. He targets Hispanics. Residents tell me that sometimes two or three families may live in one of the homes you see here.

Nobody knows the real population of Colony Ridge because many residents are reportedly undocumented and uncounted.

Site work before parking a home is the responsibility of site buyers, many of whom openly burn brush to clear their lots. Like the developer, they’re trying to cut costs.

Land of Fire and the Forgotten

Resident burning brush on his property last Sunday afternoon. Residents aren’t the only ones burning.
That smoke you see on the horizon is from dozens of brush fires set by the developer as he continues to clear land.
Here’s one still smoldering.
At this point, a major storm would bring the potential for uncontrolled erosion, just as it did in Woodridge Village in Montgomery County, above Elm Grove.
As dry as it has been lately, the developer is burning brush piles next to woodlands. That increases fire risk. The barren surface also accelerates runoff and erosion, increasing flood risk.
Note the haze and plums of smoke on the horizon and the vast expanse of exposed, packed dirt.
The smoke is coming from burning piles of brush, such as these. If a fire spread into surrounding woods, local volunteer fire departments would be overwhelmed.
No fire hydrants anywhere in sight.

If this were Houston, hydrants would be spaced at a minimum of every 500 feet. A firefighter told me that the spacing often depends of home values and population. Based on population alone, he believes this area should have hydrants.

One Small Detention Pond for 15,000 Acres

The developer has one detention pond (center) for the entire 15,000 acres. He relies on less efficient, in-ditch detention for additional capacity. Note the proximity to SH99 in the upper right.
There are no detention ponds anywhere in the new areas being cleared. This is reminiscent of Woodridge Village which contributed to the flooding of hundreds of homes in Elm Grove. But Woodridge was only 268 acres.
The developer relies on this and other drainage ditches to double as detention ponds in storms. But at the far end of this ditch…
…FM 1010 washed out during Harvey and destroyed one of the two major access roads into the development. The in-ditch detention failed. So has the county. The road has been out now for 1025 days, increasing the commute time for residents and the response time for firefighters.

Endless Loop of Construction and Destruction

State Highway 99 represents more than just a third loop around the City of Houston.

SH 99 will bring more developers and more people eager to escape downstream flooding issues.

Tapayer funded roads such as these create endless loops of construction and destruction. They are like a perpetual motion machine. Building one area floods another, causing people to move farther out and the cycle to repeat itself.

No one will admit it’s intentional, of course. The flooding is just a byproduct of greed. Cut a detention pond here. Substitute in-line detention there. Don’t bother planting grass to reduce erosion. Send your problems downstream. Let someone else worry about them.

One Chance

Do all developers think that way? Of course not. Many have principles and wonderful communities to show for them.

That notwithstanding, as one Splendora resident said, “They really only have one chance to get this right. If they screw this up, it will be almost impossible to fix and they will argue over who is going to pay for it for centuries.”

We are at that inflection point now.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/19/2020

1025 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.