Meritage Begins Clearing 40 Acres for 210 Homes, Many Over Wetlands

Meritage Homes of Texas LLC, a company based in Scottsdale, Arizona, has begun clearing 40.2 acres between Kings River and Pinehurst of Atascocita. The company will reportedly build 210 homes there – 5.2 per acre. Although the new development is far above floodplains, wetlands cover a large part of the first phase.

Two Phases of Development

Meritage told homeowners in the area that it plans to develop the land in two phases, with the second still several years away.

The two parcels bracket Pinehurst Trail Drive. The first stretches along Kings Park Way almost to West Lake Houston Parkway (WLHP) on the west. The second stretches to the Atascocita Golf Club on the east. (See satellite image below.)

Locations of Phases I and II.

Land Not in Floodplain, But Contains Wetlands

According to FEMA, the land sits outside known floodplains. That’s good news.

Phases I and II circled in red. From FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer. Cross-hatched area = floodway. Aqua = 100-year floodplain. Tan = 500-year floodplain.

However, according to USGS, portions of the property contain wetlands. That’s not good news. Homes developed over wetlands often experience a variety of problems, such as shifting foundations, doors that stick, and cracked pavement.

From the National Wetlands Inventory.

The presence of wetlands (and a gas pipeline) may indicate why this property was not developed until now.

The definition of “jurisdictional wetlands” has flip-flopped in recent years as one administration after another has tweaked the definition of “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS). Currently, we’re dealing with Biden’s changes to Trump’s changes to Obama’s changes. It’s not simple.

The definition stretches more than 100 pages and determines what the Army Corps protects.

It’s not clear at this time whether the Army Corps has ruled whether these particular wetlands fall under their jurisdiction.

Western Parcel Being Cleared First

Photographs taken on Feb. 13, 2024, show that contractors have already cleared a significant portion of the first phase, which is on the west. See images below.

Looking ENE toward Lake Houston. This shot shows the first part of clearing adjacent to Texas Laurel Trail and Pinehurst Trail Drive. Wetlands cut through this area.
Reverse angle shows full extent of clearing as of Tuesday morning, 2/13/24. Looking W toward CVS (out of sight in background) along WLHP.

Note the small channel that appears to be draining the wetland area. According to the schematic diagram below, homes, driveways and roads will eventually cover this channel and the area it drains.

Layout of Homes and Detention Basins

Plans indicate the area will have 124 30×80 foot lots and 86 40×80 lots. That’s fairly high density. And it will have a high percentage of impervious cover that generates a lot of runoff quickly. Luckily, the development will have four stormwater detention basins, according to the diagram below posted on Facebook.

Harris County regulations specify a minimum requirement of .65 acre-feet of stormwater detention per acre for developments of this size. It’s not clear at this time whether the development will exceed the minimum requirement.

Tree Buffer

A resident indicated that a deed to the property requires Meritage to maintain a buffer of at least 25-30 feet of wooded land along the property boundary. That should help retain/restrain runoff, too. See photo below.

So far, contractors seem to be leaving the required setback.

Construction Plans and Drainage Analysis to Follow

According to residents, Meritage just closed on the property in January. Given the recent sale, I do not yet have full construction plans or a drainage impact analysis. However, I have submitted a FOIA Request to Harris County Engineering and will provide them when I get them.

When I photographed the clearing activity this morning, it had silt fence around most of the perimeter (an improvement from last Sunday).

The silt fence is also an improvement over a neighboring development on WLHP by Trammell Crow.

Neighboring Development Still in Quagmire.

Harris County Engineering and Constables shut down construction at the Trammell Crow site after it flooded Kings Park Way, WLHP, and neighboring properties during heavy rains in late January.

This morning, I noticed that contractors are back at work behind tall privacy fences. However, they still lack silt fences along large parts of their property. Moreover, trenches that they dug to drain the property to a sediment pond had been blocked off to accommodate construction equipment. See below.

Trammell Crow contractors were busy this morning piling dirt over the knee-deep muck on their site from heavy rains two weeks ago.

Stormwater is the enemy of construction. That’s why most contractors implement measures to control it upfront in a project, not after the fact. Let’s pray that Meritage’s contractors protect their neighbors better.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/24

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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.