Contractors Almost Finished with Framing New KMS, Starting on Roof

While far from complete, Humble ISD contractors have made steady progress with the construction of the new Kingwood Middle School (KMS), despite heavy and steady rains in May, June and July. Back in late March, I reported that steel was going up. Since then, the contractors have finished erecting steel on 80-90% of the new KMS building.

I took all the photos below on 7/10/2021.

Overview of campus, looking south. Woodland Hills Blvd on right. The white area in the foreground appears to be roofing.

The new KMS is being built on the site of the old athletic fields. When complete, the old school will be demolished and the athletic fields will be relocated there.

A prominent feature of the new construction is a temporary detention pond (foreground) to reduce flood risk for neighbors. Looking NNW. Note the concrete slab between the detention pond and the crane, where contractors have not yet started erecting steel.
The new building will be much taller and “airier” than the old one which had solid brick walls over most of the exterior.
Portions will be 3-stories tall, letting more students learn on a smaller footprint.
Looking north across old KMS campus toward new construction shows the variation in the respective footprints.

When demolition of the old KMS has finished, the temporary detention pond will reportedly turn into a permanent one near the location of the semi-circular drop off zone above.

Humble ISD expects the school to open for the 2022 school year. For more information about the plans for the building, see the District’s web site. Find updates on other new construction from the 2018 bond here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/10/21

1411 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Development Watchlist: New Caney ISD Prepping Land for High School #3 in Kingwood

New Caney ISD is planning to build a new comprehensive high school on a roughly 50-acre site between US59 and Sorters-McClellan Road, where a par-3 golf course used to be. The land is south of HCA Kingwood Medical Center and behind several car dealerships that face US59.

At the moment, this is the largest active development in the Kingwood area. Luckily for residents downstream, plans call for a large retention pond on the site

New Caney ISD High School #3, still unnamed, will be built where the par 3 golf course used to be in the center of the image above.

Photos of Site and Layout

The site for this high school is roughly 5-acres larger than Kingwood High School’s site. Clearing and grading of the land has already started. See pictures below.

Looking NE. Land for Future New Caney ISD High School #3
Looking East.
Looking South. Detention pond will go at the far end of this part of the site.

Importance of Detention Pond

A Bid Bulletin described the total project as a 337,000 square-foot, 3-story building with tilt-wall construction and a detention pond.

A building that large, with parking lots, and rubber grass on its playing fields would make make detention ponds critical.

Site Plan for New Caney HS #3 shows detention pond on south side of property (right) and taking up approximately 10% of the property. For a higher resolution PDF, click here.

Plans show that the retention pond will be located along the southern border of the property. The land naturally slopes to there.

Although width and length are not noted on this drawing, it appears to take up about ten percent of the site and have a depth of 6.66 feet. If those are accurate assumptions, that would mean the pond provides 33.3 acre feet of detention for a 50 acre site.

That equals .666 acre feet of detention per acre. The City of Houston requires .5 feet per acre for sites of this size.

But a white paper by the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium points out that many factors can influence the amount of detention needed to offset development. Those factors include the amount of impervious cover, the soil type and more. They can change the rate needed for protection of downstream residents more than 10X. There is not one-size-fits-all.

Until we learn more about the specifics of this site and project, we can’t know whether this plan provides enough detention. But this certainly is an encouraging start.

Now that the site is cleared though, New Caney ISD should expedite construction of the detention pond. The peak of hurricane season is two months away. Elm Grove showed us what can happen between clearing and the installation of detention ponds.

More About the High School

Community Impact newspaper reported earlier this year that the high school will open in August, 2022. The project will be built in two phases.

Artists renderings of the campus show a sleek, modern, open, light-filled design.

Aerial image shows high school will be built around an open courtyard giving more classrooms access to more sunlight. Rendering from New Caney ISD.
Artists rendering of lobby of New Caney HS #3 from New Caney ISD.
Front Elevation of the new high school from New Caney ISD.

For those new to the area, two independent school districts serve the Kingwood area. The Humble ISD serves the vast majority of the area. The New Caney ISD serves the parts outside of Harris County on the north and west.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/17/2020

1023 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Perry Contractors Encroaching on Porter Drainage Ditch West of Woodridge Village

Aerial photos taken Monday this week (5/11/2020) show that Perry Homes’ contractors appear to be partially blocking drainage that serves dozens of homes on the western side of Woodridge Village in Porter. With heavy rain expected this weekend, residents like Gretchen Dunlap Smith are nervous.

Homes Flooded Twice Last Year by Water that Could Not Get Out of Neighborhood

Many of those homes flooded twice last year, in May and September, just as homes in Elm Grove did.

Looking south toward Kingwood along the western edge of Woodridge Village in Montgomery County.

The issue with these homes, however, was that water could not get out of the neighborhood because of altered drainage.

Water drains to the east (left) into the drainage ditch along the perimeter of Woodridge, and then south toward the top of the photo to Taylor Gully.

This enlargement, cropped from the photo above, shows how the perimeter road is pushing into the drainage ditch for homes in the older Adams Oaks subdivision to the right.
Hovering over Flower Ridge in Porter and looking southeast. Note how workers have pushed past Perry’s own silt fence (upper right) that marked the old edge of the ditch and how dirt from construction is now collapsing into the ditch.

Heavy Rainfall Forecast for Saturday

After months of inactivity, it’s gratifying to see workers hustling again. But as the old saying goes, “Haste makes waste.” Forecasters are predicting widespread heavy rains this weekend. Predictions range from 2 to 4 inches, with pockets up to 6 inches.

Jeff Lindner, Harris County meteorologist said this afternoon, “Expect a line or complex of slow-moving thunderstorms to move across SE TX Saturday starting out west in the morning and spreading across the area throughout the day. There will be a low severe threat with this activity, but the main threat will be heavy rainfall. 

As of Thursday, NOAA and the National Weather Service predict heavy rains and possible flash flooding across all of SE Texas.

That gives contractors one day, Friday, to clean out that ditch to avoid another possible flood and more possible lawsuits.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/14/2020

989 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 238 since Imelda

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.

Woodridge Village Turns Into Beehive of Construction Activity

Last year, overland sheet flow from Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village contributed to flooding hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest twice. Construction slowed last fall, but has now turned into a beehive of activity. Just days before a deadline for a deal with the Harris County and the City of Houston to buy the property. Yesterday, dozens of pieces of heavy equipment swarmed over the northern section.

Visible Changes Since April 21st Flyover

Since my April 21st flyover:

  • Excavation of the N1 detention pond started
  • Excavation of the N2 detention pond continues.
  • N3 is surprisingly far along, perhaps 30-50% complete
  • Contractors are filling in wetlands and bogs with dirt excavated from detention ponds
  • They are building a concrete pilot channel down the east/west portion of Taylor Gulley
  • And they appear to be blocking out some roads.

These construction crews appear to have completed more work in the last month than the original contractors did in the last year.

Purchase Deal Faces May 15 Deadline

Perry originally set a May 15 deadline for a City/County commitment to purchase the property. Perry said that if they didn’t receive a commitment by then, they would continue to develop the Woodridge Village property and to try to sell it on the private market.

When Harris County commissioners last met, they put two conditions on a purchase:

  • That the cash-poor City of Houston donate land worth $7 million (half the purchase price) to Harris County Flood Control District, to help defray the cost of other other flood-mitigation projects.
  • That the City of Houston adopt NOAA’s latest Atlas 14 precipitation frequency estimates.

Sources close to the deal believe that if Perry Homes gets a firm commitment by the 15th, that will keep negotiations open.

However, the last City Council meeting before the deadline starts this afternoon (May 12). Donation of land to Harris County Flood Control is not on the agenda. Neither is an Atlas-14 resolution.

Harris County Commissioners Court publishes the agenda this Friday for their Tuesday, May 19th meeting.

Pictures of Work in Progress as of 5/11/2020

Below are pictures of the Woodridge Village work in progress. All were taken on 5/11/2020. It certainly appears as though Perry Homes is hedging its bets in case the City and County don’t come through with an offer. For orientation purposes, the first image shows where detention ponds go.

Location of detention ponds within Perry Homes’ property.
Looking south along the eastern property line of Woodridge Village at excavation of the N3 detention pond.
Looking southeast from the northwest corner of Woodridge near the Webb Street entrance. Shows initial work on the N2 pond.
Looking southeast. Activity is where Mace Street extension into Woodridge Village would go.
N2 Detention Pond Extension
Filling in the bog adjacent to Woodland Hills. Note mud on left side of photo.
Looking north from SW corner. S1 is in foreground. S2 is in upper right. N2 is triangular area in upper left.
A tighter shot looking north along western boundary with N2 in foregroundyou can see three distinct zones of activity.
Hovering over Village Springs in Elm Grove, looking north along eastern property boundary. S2 is in middle and N3 is taking shape above that.
Where Taylor Gully makes a turn north of S2, contractors are installing a concrete pilot channel.
Looking NW across northern section. Taylor Gully is on bottom left. S2 on upper right. Dirt excavated from various ponds is being used to fill in wetlands, center.
Middle of eastern boundary, excavation work continues on N3 and a channel that will lead down to Taylor Gully.

After months of foot dragging, construction activity at Woodridge is now in high gear. Perry Homes says it expects to finish work on the detention ponds sometime this summer.

Sale or no sale, that’s good. Hurricane season is just a little more than two weeks away. These ponds won’t be fully functional by then, but every little bit helps.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/12/2020

987 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 236 since Imelda

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.

Contractors Begin Excavation of N1 Detention Pond at Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village

In the last week, contractors have finally started excavating the N1 detention pond at Woodridge Village. Work on the excavation of N2 continues. It also appears that they may have started prep work for excavating the N3 pond. See photos below.

All this comes:

The next Commissioners’ Court Meeting is set for May 19. The agenda for that meeting should be posted May 15.

Excavation Begins on N1 Pond (First Pond on Northern Section)

On May 5, 2020, Jeff Miller, an Elm Grove resident, noticed excavation activity near the Webb Street entrance to Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village. Engineers designated this area for the N1 (first northern) detention pond.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Miller from Webb Street Entrance in Porter taken on 5/5/2020 shows excavation beginning on N1
Closer photo by Miller from Webb Street Entrance also taken on 5/5/2020
Wider shot by Miller on same date shows additional prep work on N1 site

Miller also shot this video on 5/6/2020, showing the progress contractors have made on the excavation in one day.

Video by Jeff Miller, Elm Grove resident on 5/6/2020.

N2 Excavation Continues

I took the shot below on May 1 with a telephoto lens from the north end of Village Springs in Elm Grove. It shows excavation work continuing on the N2 pond.

Excavation work on N2. Photo taken on 5/1/2020.

Additional Work in Area of N3 Pond

Additional work near area of N3. This excavator was loading up three dump trucks on May 1, 2020.
The dump trucks hauled dirt back to the soupy portion of the Woodridge Villages northern section, then circled back.

On May 5th, Jeff Miller photographed the N3 area from a closer vantage point. It appears only the surface layer has been scraped off so far.

Photo of N3 area courtesy of Jeff Miller taken on 5/5/2020.

Putting New Work in Context of Entire Project

Here’s the layout for the five Woodridge Village Detention Ponds. Contractors finished work on the two southern ponds earlier this year.

Woodridge Village has five detention ponds at various stages of completion. Northern ponds are now under construction. Southern ponds are completed.
At the time of last year’s May flood, only S1 was complete. S2 was substantially completed by September’s flood. The northern ponds had not yet been started.

When the northern detention ponds are complete, the detention system will still not be fully functional because there are no streets or storm drains yet to funnel water into them. Still, some detention is better than no detention with hurricane season three weeks away and an above average season predicted.

City Still Needs to Meet Two Conditions

Perry Homes swears that the work being done now will not affect the purchase price if the County makes a decision on the property by May 15th. At their last meeting, commissioners made the purchase contingent on the City of Houston:

  • Adopting Atlas-14 rainfall statistics
  • Donating $7 million worth of land to HCFCD for flood control projects and to help offset the purchase price of Perry’s property.

No items relating to the purchase appeared on this week’s City Council agenda. But Council meets again next week before the deadline expires.

The County hopes to meet with the City next week to discuss the donation of land. The County also reportedly feels that the four days between Perry Homes’ extended deadline (May 15) and the next commissioners’ court meeting (May 19) will not present a problem if the the City meets the conditions.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/2020 with thanks to Jeff Miller

981 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.

Planning Commission Concerns About Romerica Land Seem More Procedural than Flood-Related

Last week, the Houston Planning Commission deferred approval of the General Plan for Romerica’s Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood. A City of Houston Planning and Development Department document obtained this afternoon suggests that concerns about the West Fork development may have been more procedural than flood-related.

Much of Romerica’s land lies between the Barrington in foreground and San Jacinto River in background. All 283 homes in Barrington flooded during Harvey.

Of the ten concerns listed in a letter to the permit applicant, only one had to do with flooding. And that came from Harris County Flood Control, not the City. Nine other concerns had to do with street spacing and layouts or labelling.

Half of Land in Floodway

Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork.
Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork. That line will shift north on new flood maps.

Half of the land lies in the floodway of the West Fork. The other half lies in the hundred-year floodplain. The development would be built on the same property that Romerica tried to get approved last year. The company wanted to build a series of high rises and 5,000 condominiums. That proposal drew a record 770 letters of protest to the Army Corps. Despite all that…

The Planning Commission document indicates that the City Engineer had no comments on the proposal.

Last week it appeared that the balance of power might be shifting at City Hall from developers to flood-weary residents. This week, it appears the other way around.

Only Harris County Flood Control Raises Serious Objections

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended deferral of any approvals until the master drainage plan for the development is reviewed. HCFCD also said, “This area has historically been prone to flooding with numerous home buyouts immediately to the west. The Flood Control District, City of Houston, Montgomery County, and San Jacinto River Authority are working on a planning study to reduce flood risk in this area.”

Those partners should complete the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan final report by September this year.

Part of that plan will include new flood surveys. They will likely show the floodway expanding to take in an even greater percentage of Romerica’s property.

Gear Up for Another Lengthy Fight

It should not take the developer much time to address City’s concerns. It’s unclear at this time whether the City will heed the HCFCD’s concerns.

As a result, this controversy could wind up back in the hands of the Army Corps and/or the US Fish and Wildlife Service again. Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote an uncharacteristically frank recommendation to the Corps, urging the Corps to deny Romerica’s permit. Their reasoning had to do with the value of wetlands on the property and the presence of American Bald Eagles, a protected species.

Bald eagle photographed adjacent to Romerica property in February, 2020.

In the meantime, the developer may realize that it still faces an uphill struggle even with City approval. Perhaps they will come to their senses and sell this land to a group or groups that wish to preserve it as green space for flood control and recreation.

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.
Light pole by westernmost Romerica property as Harvey receded. Photo by Jim Balcom.

As if to underscore the value of that proposition, the Bayou City Initiative today announced a virtual meeting to discuss the difficulty of mass evacuations and sheltering during the hurricane season as the COVID crisis continues. Remember that most of this land was under 20+ feet of water during Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/5/2020

980 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Development Watchlist: Perry, Romerica, Colony Ridge and More

Here’s an update to last week’s watchlist. It includes seven Lake Houston Area developments – four from last week and three new.

Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village

On April 28, 2020, Harris County Commissioners approved the purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes with two conditions: 1) that the City of Houston would defray half the cost by contributing $7mm worth of land that HCFCD needed for other flood control costs, 2) that the City would adopt new Atlas-14 rainfall statistics.

The next day, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin discussed the deal on a Facebook live “virtual lunch” with the Lake Houston Area Chamber. At about 26:20 into the video, he said that the stipulations had already been agreed to. He said the City had already identified 11 pieces of property, 6 of which were presented to the County during its consideration of the deal in executive session the previous night. He also said the City would divert water from Taylor Gully to the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and build a barrier between Elm Grove and Woodridge, while the county built a regional detention facility.

Perry contractors went back to work the next day before Martin spoke. They continued working all week. They worked near Mace in Porter, on N2 (the large detention pond in the middle of the western border), and N3 (another detention pond on the eastern border).

A reliable source who needs to remain anonymous told me that the work was at the request of Perry’s lawyers. The source said that Perry and its contractors were simply complying with their contract.

This week marks the anniversary of the first storm (May 7th) that landed Perry in hot water. And forecasters predict an above-average hurricane season, which starts in four weeks. The lawyers may have had that on their minds, too. As they say in legal circles, “The third time is the pen.” Woodridge contributed to flooding Elm Grove twice last year, in May and September.

Excavator working near Mace in Porter on April 29, 2020.

Romerica’s “Orchard Seeded Ranches”

This is the 331-acre project formerly known as the Heron’s Kingwood. It wound around the Barrington and River Grove Park. Romerica is now trying to develop the same land under a different name, “Orchard Seeded Ranches.”

However, on Thursday, 4/30/2020, the Houston Planning Commission deferred approval of the developer’s General Plan.

plat of orchard seeded ranches
General Plan of Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood Texas

The Commission then asked the developer to consult with the City Engineer; the Planning and Development Department; and Harris County Flood Control before bringing further requests back to the Commission.

That should send a strong signal to the developer that rough waters lie ahead. Any proposal will likely be debated publicly when/if the developer returns.

The development is still listed in CoH’s PlatTracker. So we will continue to watch this one.

Holley’s Kingwood Cove Golf Course Redevelopment

A review of the City of Houston’s PlatTracker Plus Map indicates that Holley has not yet applied for any permits on the golf course in Forest Cove. City of Houston confirmed that via a FOIA request (Freedom of Information Act).

Note how golf course on left is unshaded. That indicates no activity with the Planning Commission. Compare that to the purple area on the right for Romerica’s property. That indicates approval of a General Plan is still pending.

A review of the Harris County Appraisal District website indicates a limited liability company in Pittsburgh, PA, actually owns the golf course.

Harris County Appraisal District info for property at 805 Hamblen, aka Kingwood Cove Golf Course.

It’s not unusual for developers to use other people’s money. I shall continue to watch this. Holley says his engineer is reworking plans based on input from people surrounding the course.

Ryko Property Near Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork

This property is in Montgomery County and the City of Houston’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction. The Montgomery County Engineers office says the company has not yet filed any plans that have been approved. The City of Houston PlatTracker Plus Map also shows the owner has not yet filed any applications.

US FWS Wetlands Map shows wetlands throughout the Ryko property between Spring Creek and the West Fork.

New Caney ISD High School #3

Dark green area in center between Sorters Rd. and 59 is future home of New Caney ISD High School #3.

The New Caney Independed School District plans to build a third high school south of the HCA Kingwood Medical Center and behind the car dealerships that front US59. I don’t know much more about this except that they plan to extend roads into the area that is now forest. High schools usually have large parking lots. And that means rapid drainage. It is unclear at this time whether MoCo will require detention ponds.

Northpark Woods

Looking northwest at Northpark Woods from over Sorters/McClellan Road. The drainage ditch on the left parallels Northpark Drive. Sand mines and the West Fork are in the background. Photo 4/21/2020.

This high-density development along the West Fork San Jacinto River in Montgomery County is now about one-third to one-half built. Construction continues.

The Colonies in Plum Grove

North of SH99 in Plum Grove and east of the East Fork in Liberty County, lies one of the largest developments in the Houston region without detention ponds.

In January of 2017, the Houston Chronicle wrote about how La Colonia was transforming Plum Grove. They interviewed local residents who lamented the loss of forests. ABC13 ran a story about the squalid living conditions. Yet the area continues to expand.

Formally known as Colony Ridge, some locals call it “The Colonies.” Colony Ridge bills itself as a “master-planned” community with six major subdivisions: Sante Fe, Camino Real, Grand San Jacinto, Rancho San Vincente, Montebello, and Bella Vista. Together they comprise 30,478 lots on approximately 10,000 acres at present. And they’re still growing!

The Colonies currently cover an area almost as large as Kingwood. Photo 4/21/2020.
Drainage empties into the East Fork San Jacinto. While flying over the area, I did not see one detention pond.
 Mobil homes make up most of the housing stock. Note open-ditch drainage.

Colony Ridge advertises itself as “an escape from the city, land on which to grow and build a home, no restrictions and easy credit.” Aerial photos reveal people scratching out hardscrabble lives on barren lots.

This is a blue collar neighborhood. The developer says his target market is poor Latino laborers. They see this as a step up from apartment living and a chance to own a part of the American dream.

But while flying over it, I did not see one detention pond.

As SH99, the Grand Parkway, pushes east from 59, this area will boom. Without better drainage regulations, Liberty County and Plum Grove will heap their drainage problems on those downstream.

FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer shows East Fork Flood Plains relative to Colony Ridge (right).

The good news is that Liberty County has joined with seven other counties to form a Southeast Texas Drainage District. The bad news is that Harris County is not one of the seven.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/3/2020

978 Days after Hurricane Harvey