Colony Ridge Land, LLC, developer of the world’s largest trailer park in Liberty County, is buying up Harris County property in the floodplain of the East Fork San Jacinto. Since the property in the Cypress Point subdivision was originally platted, flood maps changed in 2001 and are in the process of changing again. Most of the properties face serious flood risk that the current flood maps may not communicate.
Land Remains Uncleared
Development has not yet started. The land is still heavily wooded…so much so, in fact, that dirt roads developed in the 1980s have become overtaken by trees and undergrowth. They are barely passable according to one person I talked to.
Back in the late 1980s, the original developer cleared space for roads and platted the land going down to the East Fork. But today, paved roads stop about a quarter mile short of the river. From the air, those old dirt roads look like a slight indentation in the forest canopy.
The Big Question
Why did the original developers stop short of paving roads all the way to the river? The answer likely has something to do with floodplains. Note in the image below how several of the lots border or lay within the floodway. Many more lay within the 100- and 500-year floodplains.
How Bad Could Flooding Be?
But those floodplain maps are outdated and can mislead. High-water marks established by HCFCD and contour maps by the U.S. Geological Survey suggest this property has flooded seriously at least 8 times in the last 20 years.
From the East Fork to the end of Oaknoll Drive, the elevation rises from approximately 42.5 feet to 67 feet. The 24.5-foot difference might sound like a lot. But consider this.
In 1994, the flood of record for the East Fork in this area (before Harvey), crested at 76.2 feet. That would have put the highest property near Oaknoll under 9 feet of water. The lowest property near the river would have been under 33.7 feet of water.
Then came Harvey. At the nearest gage, the East Fork crested at 81.2 feet.
All figures were computed using the elevation profile function in the USGS National Map, and cross referencing the results with the Harris County Flood Warning System gage at FM1485.
Even though most of the acquired properties are shown in the 500-year flood plain, most of them have been under water eight times in the 20 years since 1994.
In fact, most of the undeveloped lots likely flooded in an unnamed and already forgotten flood in April of this year.
Official Floodplains Expanding
Floodplains change with better understanding of the climate, upstream development, and better measurement technologies, such as LIDAR. Our current flood maps were developed after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. But we’ve gotten a lot smarter about flood mapping since then.
That’s why Harris County Flood Control District and FEMA are updating flood maps for this area. The floodplains you see above will likely expand by 50% to 100% according to preliminary guidance from Harris County Flood Control. FEMA is in the process of certifying revised maps and should release them later this year or early next for public comment.
Are Readings from FM1485 Analogous to Cypress Point?
Give or take few feet, the flood depths cited above are probably in the ballpark. Even if the high-water marks at Cypress Point are a few feet lower, they still represent serious flooding.
One of the region’s leading hydrologists who has studied this area extensively felt the flood heights at FM1485 would translate well to Cypress Point where Colony Ridge is acquiring property. Colony Ridge has purchased at least 19 properties in the affected area. The map below shows where they are.
Another property valuation report shows how the land value decreased 73% after Imelda in 2019. Colony Ridge purchased most of the properties in 2020. Bargain hunting?
Homes on Stilts Likely Unaffordable for Colony Ridge Target Market
It’s not clear what Colony Ridge plans to build on this property. However, the company has a history of selling land to Hispanic immigrants, then letting them clear their own lots and bring in trailer homes.
Many may not have a firm grasp of English. Few likely understand flood risk, especially the nuances of flood maps in flux. And Colony Ridge typically “owner finances,” meaning buyers don’t go through banks which would require flood studies and flood insurance before making a mortgage loan.
Alleged abuses are so common that whole websites have been set up to chronicle them.
Under today’s guidelines for developing land in floodplains, especially this deep in floodplains, homebuilders would likely have to elevate homes on stilts. And elevating homes 35 feet high would likely make them cost prohibitive for most of Colony Ridge’s primary target market.
Watch this one closely to make sure that no rules get broken.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/4/23
2166 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.