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Zura Productions Posts Interview with High-Rise Developer and Q&A From Public Meeting

Jim Zura has posted three videos he shot at Romerica’s public meeting in the Kingwood Community Center on March 18, 2019. The first covers questions I asked Gabriel Haddad, one of Romerica’s two principles, before the meeting officially started. The next two cover questions and answers asked by community members after the formal presentations by Romerica and its suppliers.

Additional Videos to Follow

Zura says additional video will follow. He does national quality work from his base right here in Kingwood. Zura volunteered his services to the community on this project out of concern for the impact the development could have on the community. Please note: Zura fought a high level of ambient crowd noise to obtain these videos. While they won’t win an Emmy for sound quality, they very adequately capture the responses and promises made to the community regarding this controversial development.

The first video is me going one-on-one with Romerica developer Gabriel Haddad.

Rehak (left) interviewing Haddad (right) at the Kingwood Community Center Public Meeting. That’s Dianne Lansden of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative in the background.

Click here to see the Rehak-Haddad discussion on vimeo.com. It should open up in a new tab.

After presentations by Romerica and its associates, the audience got a chance to ask questions from the floor. Below is the first thirty minutes of the Q&A session.

See the Herons Meeting Kingwood Q&A Part 1 of 2 on vimeo.com.

The last part of the Q&A session runs for another 20 minutes.

See the Herons Meeting Kingwood Q&A Part 2 of 2 on vimeo.com.

Summary: Rehak Interview with Haddad

I ask Mr. Haddad how his development will generate $135 million in tax revenues and point out that that’s more than the rest of Kingwood combined contributes to the City of Houston or Harris County. He responds that that’s only if it’s all built out. I ask, “How likely is that?” He responds: “Not very.” Mr. Haddad then goes on to describe why and blames sedimentation in the river.

Other topics we discussed included:

  • How he plans to get around the deed restrictions by Friendswood
  • Long-range plans if he can’t get a permit
  • Evacuation in the event of a flood
  • Noise
  • School district overcrowding
  • His maze of companies
  • Changing architectural firms in mid-stream, no pun intended

Mr. Haddad answers one or two questions somewhat directly, pivots on others, and claims they’re still working out details on the rest.

Audience Q&A: Part 1

Audience Q&A went for a total of 50 minutes. Unfortunately, some people turned questions into rants. Other people shouted questions from the floor that were not picked up by the microphone. So I’m not going to attempt to transcribe the entire session, but will provide time codes for the questions I could understand. That way you can fast forward to specific segments that may interest you. All time codes are approximate:

  • 0:00 Concern about impact on land adjacent to the Romerica development
  • 2:00 Concern about flooding and how it will be mitigated
  • 3:15 Statement by lady who says she wants “Livable Forest,” not high-rises.
  • 3:45 Are you not worried about building high-rises at ground zero for the worst natural disaster in U.S. history?
  • 6:45 How are you getting around single-family residential deed restrictions?
  • 8:45 Who do you expect to invest and what kind of businesses do you expect to attract? Concerned about inaccessibility of location. Says they will find other locations more attractive. (No response from developer.)
  • 10:20. Gentleman asks for vote from floor about who approves/disapproves of development.
  • 13:50 Lady observes that every home that flooded had surveys done assuring the owners that it would not. What makes your development different?
  • 15:00 Have you engaged hydrologists and do you have money set aside to restore the property if the development fails.
  • 17:30 Lady doesn’t like comparison to Woodlands. Says she moved here because it wasn’t so commercial.
  • 18:20 Concern about lack of plans for traffic and noise mitigation.
  • 22:20 Are you willing to pay for dredging?
  • 24:15 How are you going to evacuate people from a dead-end road? Are you going to elevate Woodland Hills Drive?

Audience Q&A: Part 2

The same caveats apply here:

  • 0:00 Concerns about loss of view and quiet?
  • 2:50 Will you listen to and respect the will of the community?
  • 3:30 Will ALL construction be postponed until solution is found for flooding? How will new flood maps and watershed study affect your plans? What’s the time frame for your development? (Hint: Answer: We will not do anything until there is a flooding solution.)
  • 9:10 What is the source of your funding?
  • 12:15 Do you have backup and failsafe plans?
  • 13:15 How will you address flood levels that get worse with time?

Next Steps

As in my interview questions, sometimes the answers were direct and sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes, they just let people rant and didn’t answer at all. By the time Romerica wrapped everything up, most of the audience had left and they were turning out the lights.

Since the meeting, they have had more than a month to address the concerns that more than 700 people and groups submitted in protest letters to the Army Corps.

Now the Corps needs to sift through all their responses and make sure they addressed valid concerns. You can expect plans to change. Romerica has already posted online that they are planning to elevate the entire development another six to ten feet. That will likely involve more fill and stimulate more concerns about flooding.

Thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 28, 2019

607 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Clock Starts Ticking on Army Corps Dredging Project

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced yesterday afternoon that representatives from Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, LLC of Oak Brook, IL, met with Corps’ contracting and project managers for a pre-construction conference. The meeting finalized project requirements for the $69,814,060 dredging and debris removal emergency operation and the clock has started ticking on the project.

The easterly limit of the U.S. Army Corps’ emergency dredging project on the West Fork of the San Jacinto.

The FEMA-funded project covers about two miles of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River near the West Lake Houston Parkway and Lake Houston. FEMA guidelines limit the operation to restoring pre-Harvey conditions.

Beginning of First Phase

“This is the beginning of the first phase of a very challenging project,” said Al Meyer, a USACE Galveston District administrative contracting officer.  “This project involves dredging and debris removal of 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment that has contributed to recent flooding in that area.”

The Focus for Next Week

He said the community should start to see activity within the next two-weeks. According to Corps Colonel Mark Williford, next week  teams will be engaged in:

  • Pre-dredge hazard surveys
  • Before-cut surveys
  • Disposal-area surveys
  • Staging-area set up

Meyer, a professional engineer with more than 35 years’ experience with the Corps, says the conference allowed project team members to interact with Great Lakes representatives to ensure a complete understanding of contract requirements.

“The clock starts today; our contractors have 270 days to complete the project that will work to reduce, but not eliminate flooding, and return the area to pre-Harvey conditions.” said Meyers.

Less than 4 Months from Survey to Dredging

This will be one of the first projects initiated as a direct consequence of Hurricane Harvey.

Corps surveying began in April to determine sediment levels within the West Fork of the San Jacinto River after FEMA responded to a State of Texas request under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act of 1988. Since then, the Corps has developed models based on their survey findings, evaluated several different dredging plans, finalized specifications, bid the project, vetted the bids, awarded the job and started mobilizing for it.

The USACE Galveston District was established in 1880 as the first engineer district in Texas to oversee river and harbor improvements. The district is directly responsible for maintaining more than 1,000 miles of channel, including 250 miles of deep draft and 750 miles of shallow draft as well as the Colorado River Locks and Brazos River Floodgates.

Posted 7/19/2018 by Bob Rehak

324 Days since Hurricane Harvey