40 acres of timber turned into toothpicks

40 Acres of Timber Turned into Toothpicks

In two weeks, approximately 40 acres timber has turned into toothpicks at the new Northpark South development. Clearing is now about two-thirds to three-quarters complete.

The development lies between Sorters-McClellan Road and the West Fork San Jacinto at the end of Northpark Drive. The developer, Century Land Holdings of Texas, LLC, hopes to build 236 homes, driveways, roads, and an 11.2 acre stormwater detention basin on a total of 54.4 acres.

If that sounds like a lot, Century has already applied for a variance from the City of Houston Planning Commission to create lots less than 5,000 square feet. Regardless, RG Miller Engineering still claims impervious cover will not exceed 66%. But that’s not the only curious takeaway from the RG Miller report.

No Mention of Wetlands

To achieve such density, Century will pave over wetlands. But the RG Miller report makes no mention of wetlands.

Northpark South Wetlands
National Wetlands Inventory shows wetlands in middle on far right.

USGS has documented wetlands on this property since at least 1961, as you can see in this topographic map viewer.

However the developer apparently has not received a wetland development permit from the Army Corps.

Red circle shows location of development. No wetland permits have been issued in this area and the drainage impact analysis does not contain the word “wetland.”

In addition, the imagery showing the wetlands (the empty crescent-wrench-shaped area in middle right of blue outline) is misdated.

The caption in the drainage analysis says the image is from 2018. But the homes in the top left of the frame were not built until late 2020. And the image itself is from late 2021. So why would the image below be dated two years earlier.

Shadows and vehicles in this image match a Google Earth Image from 12/11/2021, when the area was rated abnormally dry and drought was setting in.

Compare a Google Earth image taken on 2/23/2019 – before the onset of drought. When you zoom in a bit, you get a clearly different impression.

Scrolling back through 30 years of historical images in Google Earth shows evidence of periodic ponding in this location and distinctly different vegetation from the surrounding area.

Was the RG Miller image accidentally mislabeled or an attempt to show drier conditions that didn’t scream “wetlands”? We’ll probably never know.

According to one environmental expert I consulted, developers very often have consultants who assert that there are no wetlands on property. Therefore, they feel, there’s no need to involve USACE “because a permit isn’t necessary.”

The expert said, “In my mind, they are betting on not getting caught. They can save a lot of money by avoiding permits and those savings are apparently worth the risk.”

It’s also possible that the latest Supreme Court ruling on “Waters of the U.S.,” removed federal government protection for these wetlands. In that case, these wetlands would not require permitting.

Problems Building over Wetlands

The expert continued, “Comparing this information to the plans, it looks like there will be residential streets and houses on top of the historic wetlands. I would NOT feel safe living on top of a former wetland this close to the river. NO WAY! The land has a memory, deep in its soils, and I would expect future issues.”

Current Status of Clearing

I took the photos below on the afternoon of Friday, 11/24/23.

Looking west at extent of clearing in last two weeks. West Fork is beyond sand pits near top of frame. NorthPark Drive runs off bottom of frame.
Looking E toward Kingwood. Detention basin will stretch between the woods on left and the road on right in the area close to camera. Basin will drain into pond in lower right foreground.
Looking N toward a sister development (Northpark Woods) by same developer. Sand pit middle left belongs to another company.

High-Water Mark Shows Potential Danger

The image below shows where the new development sits in relation to the river and the high-water mark during Harvey.

Extent of flooding during Harvey relative to new development, according to nearby resident. Looking west down Northpark toward San Jacinto West Fork.

While Harvey was an extreme storm, keep in mind that pre-Harvey flood maps show inundation potential across most of Northpark South. And the new post-Harvey flood maps, which have not yet been released, will take in even more of the new development.

Buyer beware. There’s plenty here to chew on. Toothpick anyone?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/25/23

2279 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.