Tag Archive for: emily murphy

Houston Planning Commission defers approval of “Orchard Seeded Ranches”

In a meeting today, the Houston Planning Commission deferred automatic approval of the general plan for Orchard Seeded Ranches by taking the item off the consent agenda. 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.

Taking the item off today’s consent agenda 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.

History of Project

Last year, Romerica filed a permit application to build 5,000 condos and several high-rises up to 50 stories tall on 331 acres near the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. After a record number of people and groups filed protests with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps withdrew the application. But now the developer is back – with a different name – Orchard Seeded Ranches. However, Harris County Appraisal District indicates that the same people still own the land.

Location of Property

The property is identical to the property Romerica tried to develop as The Herons of Kingwood last year. The General Plan below was downloaded from the City of Houston’s PlatTracker website.

plat of orchard seeded ranches
General Plan of Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood filed on 4/20/2020. For high-resolution, printable PDF, click here.

For orientation, the developed area in the middle is the Barrington. The line down the west side is Woodland Hills Drive. And the river at the bottom is the West Fork.

Filing a “general plan” like this is the first step in developing property. The developer has not yet submitted detailed plats showing construction details.

Virtually Entire Development in Floodway or Floodplain

About half of the Orchard Seeded Ranches lies in the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. FEMA defines floodways as the main current of a river during a flood. In the map below, that includes everything beneath the red line.

Purple area = Orchard Seeded Ranches. Red line = extent of floodway north of San Jacinto West Fork. Virtually half of subdivision would be in floodway.

Virtually all of the purple area above the red line lies in the floodplain. FEMA defines a floodplain as “storage” for water during a flood. That means water covers the land without moving rapidly.

I created the map above by combining the area to be developed with the FEMA flood map below.

From FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer. Orchard Seeded Ranches is in middle. Virtually the entire project lies in floodway (crosshatched) or 100-year floodplain (aqua).

Wetlands Issues Also Abound

Every part of the proposed development contains wetlands to some extent.

Note how the areas around the Barrington and River Grove Park are filled with wetlands (green areas). From US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Mapper.
Active bald eagle nest on Kingwood Country Club Property adjacent to Romerica's planned high rise marina.
Active bald eagle nest adjacent to development. Photo courtesy of Emily Murphy.

US Fish and Wildlife documented another eagle’s nest on the developer’s property. And the Balcom family, which lives near the western edge of the developer’s property, regularly photographs eagles from their balcony.

What’s in a Name

The name sounds as if the development would be lower density than the 50-story high-rises previously planned. But you never know. In the development business, names often have more evocative than literal significance. Look at the Houston Heights. Bridgeland (on the prairie). Mount Houston. You get the idea.

Community Considerations

Whatever the development is, when and if the developer returns to the Planning Commission, we should not forget that:

High water during Harvey at Balcom house on River Bend reached the second story.

A Less Risky, Less Costly Alternative

All of these factors will increase the risk and cost of any development.

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 near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the “wet marks” several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.

The safest, sanest course for the developer – before putting more money at risk –would be to meet with community representatives about:

  • Purchasing this land
  • Putting a conservation easement on it
  • Letting it revert to nature and turning it into park land

Harris County Flood Control District has $175 million allocated in the flood bond for partnership projects with “Municipalities, Authorities, and Other Districts in Harris County.” See item Z100-00-00-MUNI.

That money could help purchase such property and turn it into green space forever. KSA, the Lake Houston Chamber, civic leaders and residents should get behind that idea. Judging by the response to Romerica’s last offering, it’s clear that residents would much rather see this area turned into parks than see the San Jacinto turn it into blight.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/30/2020

975 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Emily Murphy Photographs Active Eagle Nest Next to Romerica Property

Kingwood photographer and kayaker Emily Murphy has done it again. With her eagle eye, she spotted yet another eagle’s nest. This one is east of the stream that divides the Kingwood Country Club from Romerica property.

This nest clearly has two eaglets in it. Here you can see them both.

Two eaglets in nest on Kingwood Country Club Property immediately adjacent to the property where Romerica wants to build its high-rise marina. Photo by Emily Murphy.

It usually takes 10-12 weeks for bald eagles to leave the nest. However, fledglings then often stay around learning from their parents and honing their flying and feeding skills for another 1-2 months. Their heads gradually turn white over a period of up to five years.

Eaglet tests its wings on the edge of the nest. Photograph courtesy of Emily Murphy.

Emily got out of her kayak to examine the area below the nest. She found droppings and bones, both clear signs of feeding in the nest.

Bone below eagle’s nest on golf course. If anyone recognizes what type of bone this is, please contact me through this web site.Photograph courtesy of Emily Murphy.

Romerica’s Wish Comes True

The Romerica developers said they hoped someone would find eagles near their property at their March 18 meeting at the Kingwood Community Center; they got their wish. Now we will see how sincere they were.

Eagles can live up to 30 years and often return to the same nest year after year. They even build multiple nests in the same area, like the one Emily photographed from the river a couple weeks ago ON the Romerica property.

Please note: this is even closer than the nest I photographed in January. Texas Parks and Wildlife defines bald eagle habitat protection zones spreading outward from the nest. They prohibit certain construction activities within defined distances. Almost the entire Romerica property would fall within some kind of protection zone around this nest.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/10/19

589 Days since Hurricane Harvey

May You Always Walk in Beauty

A highly talented Kingwood photographer named Emily Murphy contacted me this week. The proposal to build high-rises near the river alarmed her. The impact on wildlife terrified her.

The Seldom-Seen World In Your Backyard

Emily often kayaks on the river with her camera. She has documented a world that few of us will ever see in person. But it’s there for everyone to see…with a little bit of effort. When she showed me her work, the beauty she revealed took my breath away.

It reminded me of a quote from Ansel Adams, America’s greatest landscape photographer. Adams, who died in 1984, was also one of the early leaders of the Sierra Club. He said…

“If you want to preserve something, inspire people with its beauty.”

– Ansel Adams

Below are some of the quiet, peaceful moments Emily Murphy experienced while paddling the San Jacinto River. All of these photos were taken within a few minutes of River Grove Park and the proposed site of the high-rise development.

Eagle photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy. Taken across the West Fork from where the proposed new high-rise development would go.
Taken from River Grove Park, looking east in morning mist toward the site of the proposed high-rise development. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy
American white pelicans and double-crested cormorants on the West Fork. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy
Quiet morning light in the backwaters of the West Fork. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy
Eagle flying near West Fork and Lake Houston, downstream from proposed high-rise development. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy.
Juvenile eagle easting fish east of River Grove Park. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy.
Roseate spoonbill on West Fork. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy

Feel Free to Use Images for Letters to Corps and TCEQ

Emily Murphy encourages people to submit her photos with their letters to the TCEQ and Army Corps of Engineers. They illustrate why these wetlands are unique and irreplaceable. (However, please do not use them for any other purposes; respect the photographer’s copyright.)

A mitigation-bank credit purchased by the developer in some far-off watershed cannot begin to compensate for the loss of a unique habitat like this…inside the limits of America’s fourth largest city.

A Community Living in Harmony with Nature

Murphy’s photography reminds me of two things. First, it reminds me of why I moved to Kingwood 35 years ago. The fact that Emily can still photograph moments like these is eloquent testimony to the founding vision for Kingwood – a community living in harmony with nature. The density of development was sufficiently low that wild animals such as these still live among us.

Second, it reminds me of a Navajo prayer that I first learned in Canyon De Chelley (pronounced ‘de SHAY’) in northeastern Arizona. The title of the prayer was inscribed on a plaque at Spider Rock, another of the world’s most beautiful places. The inscription simply said, “May you always walk in beauty.” No matter how beautiful architecture is, it can’t match the beauty of nature.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/18/2019

507 Days since Hurricane Harvey