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.
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
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?
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
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/PublicMeetingPart1.jpg?fit=1500%2C836&ssl=18361500adminadmin2019-04-28 21:27:122019-04-28 21:36:11Zura Productions Posts Interview with High-Rise Developer and Q&A From Public Meeting
For weeks, Barbara Hilburn (Kingwood Lakes President), Bill Fowler and Dianne Lansden (Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative leaders) and I have been calling and emailing Manlove Marketing and Communications. We asked whether the high-rise developer would take questions from the audience tonight. We were consistently ignored. No answer. None. Nada. Silence.
Barrington Resident Finally Breaks Through
This morning, a Barrington resident called Manlove. She actually managed to speak to someone. Here’s how her conversation went:
“I called the PR contact for the Romerica project, Manlove Marketing, to make sure they were including a question and answer portion in tonight’s “free” meeting. The receptionist gave me a very enthusiastic ‘Oh yes, of course you can ask questions!’ Then she trailed off with something to the effect of ‘before and after the presentation.’ To clarify, I asked ‘Questions won’t be addressed during the meeting?’ The receptionist said, ‘Oh no. That’s not necessary!’”
The resident replied, “‘It absolutely IS necessary.’ The receptionist then offered to let me talk directly with the woman handling this project. I was transferred to her voicemail.”
“I followed up with a FaceBook message asking why they weren’t planning to answer questions in a public forum,” said the resident. “The message has been read, but no one has responded.”
Later this afternoon, Manlove added several paragraphs of copy to the developer’s home page that confirm the resident’s report.
“Dialog At Every Level”
Manlove’s website boasts that, “Romerica believes in collaboration which includes a dialog with stakeholders at every level.”
Memo to Manlove: answering questions and emails, and returning phone calls would be a great way to start collaborating. I believe they don’t really want to address people’s concerns. If they did, they would have had a meeting long ago at the start of the Corps’ public comment period, not after it closed.
One wonders why they’re even bothering to have a meeting tonight. As my friend John Knoezer asked this morning, “Are they going to read a brochure for two hours?”
As always, these thoughts represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak, Mandi Thornhill Lokey and John Knoezer on March 18, 2019
566 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Screen-Shot-2019-02-20-at-7.09.38-PM-copy.jpg?fit=1500%2C1971&ssl=119711500adminadmin2019-03-18 16:30:312022-10-05 19:34:03Manlove Says Questions “Won’t Be Necessary” at Romerica’s Public Meeting
Neither did Manlove return telephone calls or emails to discuss the meeting format and whether they would take questions from the audience. Manlove also has not responded to inquiries from local videographer Jim Zura and the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative about taping the meeting.
Manlove originally tried to give themselves the most generous disclaimer in the history of words and websites when they printed this in small type at the bottom of TheHeronsKingwood.com: “DISCLAIMER: Users agree that John Manlove Marketing & Communications and parties involved have no responsibility for any deficiencies, inaccuracies, errors and/or omissions contained in this site or the data and/or information contained therein.”
I then pointed out that as the official point of contact for the permit, they would be held to a slightly higher standard of truth. 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 states that: “Whoever, in any manner within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up any trick, scheme, or disguises a material fact or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or entry, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years or both.” That’s when the lights went out.
So Many Questions Remain
I’m suspect the panel will do its best to avoid the real questions surrounding this development Monday night. For instance:
Why did Manlove list the “Romerica Group” and then plain “Romerica” as the developer in their website when neither is registered with the Texas Secretary of State and “Romerica Investments” filed the permit application?
How will the Developer provide the mitigation (i.e., Detention ponds) for fill and impervious cover that is required to obtain the City of Houston and/or Harris County Development permits?
Kingwood Community Center, 6:30 PM
I’m guessing that they won’t allow real questions tomorrow night. They’ll probably make people submit questions in writing before hand and then cherry pick those they want to answer. I hope I’m wrong on that point, but we’ll know for sure when its over.
As always, these thoughts represent my opinions on matters of public interest. They are protected under the first amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/17/19
365 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Woodland-hills-map.png?fit=1061%2C1024&ssl=110241061adminadmin2019-03-17 23:26:332019-03-18 14:46:07Reminder: High-Rise Developers’ Meeting Monday Night at 6:30
Searches have revealed 35 companies so far that are registered with the Texas Secretary of State that belong to Gabriel M. Haddad and Fabio M. Covarrubias. Both men use multiple variations on their names, making it difficult to nail down a precise number of companies and partnerships that they control. They also register additional companies and partnerships in other states and countries, making ownership and accountability even more difficult to track.
Romerica Group’s website says they have 12 projects currently “running” in the U.S. and Mexico. However, a review of the company’s many websites found only two related to real-estate development – one in each country. The US project in Kingwood has not been constructed and the website for the development in Mexico shows only conceptual drawings. The Romerica Group website shows nine related entities, discussed below.
Motor Sports Resort
In November 2014, Covarrubias and Haddad bought a race track in Angleton at One Performance Drive in the middle of farmland (see below). Built in 2005, it was originally called MSR Houston. MSR stood for Motor Speedway Ranch. Photos on the site suggest that the tallest building on the property is two to three stories. It sold memberships and track time to owners of high-performance vehicles who wanted to drive fast legally in a controlled environment.
The Motor Sports Resort site mentions a real-estate company, MSR Houston Real Estate, that was supposedly introducing a master plan for the track by the summer of 2018. The MSR Houston web site does say, “Coming Soon,” but the Texas Secretary of State shows no record of such a company and a google search for it returned no results except the one below. I can find no details of a master plan on the website.
Tramontana and Lotus Driving Academy
The Romerica Group website also claims to have two other automotive related ventures:
MSR Tramontana LLC features a high-performance car. However, the site does not say what the group’s contribution to the vehicle is. It says that they are one-of-a-kind vehicles with “excellent levels of production and development” but doesn’t say how many have been built or how to buy one. Tramontana has a separate, dedicated website. That offers a little more detail. But on their partner page, they list a branding company, two fashion designers, and a web developer. I could find no references to manufacturing partners or where the vehicles were made.
Romerica Insurance does not have its own web site. However, it does have several Facebook pages. They sell many different types of insurance, including – ironically – flood insurance. FaceBook also lists an office for the insurance company at the Angleton racetrack.
Romerica Real Estate
Romerica Real Estate does not have its own web site either. The link to Romerica Real Estate from the Romerica Groups Home Page is broken. HAR.com (Houston Area Realors) says that the Romerica Real Estate “page is no longer active.” Same for FaceBook. A Google search returns dozens of other “page not found” error messages. The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) shows that the company’s account is “inactive.” TREC also lists the real estate company’s address as the racetrack in Angleton.
Another link from the Romerica Group Home Page goes to Torrenova Cuernavaca. The subhead says it deals with Romerica land in Mexico. Last month, clicking on the link yielded another dead-end search.
However, the Torrenova-Cueranvaca site has since been updated to include concept drawings. It shows no actual photos of anything the “company” has constructed, though the site does list prices. Like the Romerica Group itself, Torrenova Cuernavaca is not registered to do business in the state of Texas (though in fairness, the site is in Spanish).
Foreign investors are suing the developers for fraud in Houston district court. (See MARIA DEL CARMEN BORBOLLA AND MARIA DEL CARMEN GOMEZ, CAUSE NO. 2018 – 07276, 157th Judicial Court, Harris County, Tx.)
Clicking on the home page of AmericanVision.com takes the viewer to an unrelated site (AmericanVision.org) that sells religious books. AmericanVision.org is registered to a seemingly unrelated company in Paris, France.
The landing page for AmericanVision.com shows links to four sub-pages: Why EB-5?, Info For Investors, FAQs, and Our Parters. Links to each page are broken. They take you to a “page not found” error message on the bookstore site.
The SEC’s first warning sign: “Promises of a visa or becoming a lawful permanent resident.” The text explains, “Investing through EB-5 makes you eligible to apply for a conditional visa, but there is no guarantee that USCIS will grant you a conditional visa or subsequently remove the conditions on your lawful permanent residency. USCIS carefully reviews each case and denies cases where eligibility rules are not met. Guarantees of the receipt or timing of a visa or green card are warning signs of fraud.”
Copy on the AmericanVision.com About Us Page clearly states that their program was “…designated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to offer Investor Visa / Green Card through the EB5 Immigrant Investor Program.”
To be clear, I am not accusing Romerica or its management of fraud. I am merely repeating US government advice for investors to be cautious in these circumstances.
Numerous questions exist about the people applying for permits to build high-rises feet away from the floodway of the San Jacinto? They surely know that the area where they want to build 25-50 story high rises will soon be INCLUDED in the floodway when new flood maps are approved. Who would build there? Why?
I do not wish to speculate on the motives of the developers. I can only point out inconsistencies that do not inspire confidence. Especially for someone developing what Houston City Council Member Dave Martin has described as a $2.5 billion project. Especially when they’ve shown no evidence that they have ever built anything.
Despite my seven requests for a meeting, the developers have refused to meet publicly to answer questions. Their official point of contact at the Manlove Advertising and PR agency has stated that they may consider one AFTER the public comment period closes.
One can only hope that the Army Corps and TCEQ will exercise due diligence in consideration of these permit requests.
As always, these comments represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on February 17, 2019
538 Days After Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/MSR-Houston-Track.jpg?fit=1500%2C885&ssl=18851500adminadmin2019-02-17 23:27:032019-02-18 11:17:57More Questions than Answers About Romerica Group, Romerica Investments, and Their Supposed $2.5 Billion Project
Last night, I posted about some problems with the copy in the new website for the high-rise Kingwood Marina project. This morning, The Manlove Agency started changing the copy in many of the FAQs without explanation. Their disclaimer did not change, however.
I have screen captures of the original text. If anyone wants to see it, please email me.
Rather than do an hourly critique of the website, I’m going to give them a day or two to vet their facts. Then I will revisit it. Use extreme caution in the meantime. For instance,:
Their video still says they will have slips for 800 boats. But the Army Corps’ public notice states 640. A huge “disconnect”!
The copy still states that Romerica Group will now develop the property. The Texas Secretary of State has no listing for a Romerica Group. The phone number listed in their website is disconnected. And their name appears nowhere on the permit application.
The copy still says the development will be 364 acres although the Corps Public Notice states 331.
Fixing One Problem Creates Another
Yesterday, I pointed out that raising the property to 57 feet would not make them flood safe. Manlove revised yesterday’s copy to suggest that the buildings will now have an additional five feet of fill beneath them. The developer will now raise them 17 feet above their current elevation, not 12 as stated in the original permit application. This would result in the loss of more than 1800 acre-feet of floodplain storage capacity and could impact surrounding communities.
Offending Copy About Permit Approval Removed
Manlove removed the copy about the City, County and Corps permitting the site for construction after finding no impact on surrounding communities. I confirmed with Harris County Flood Control that they never issued a permit for the property. The Corps is currently evaluating a permit. Hence, this public comment period. I’m confirming whether the City issued a permit to begin excavation.
No Public Meeting
The developers have refused to meet with the community to address the many concerns surrounding this project. I have personally tried SIX times to set up such a meeting. They agreed to have a private meeting with me. I said I would agree if I could videotape it. They refused. So the private meeting was cancelled, too.
As always, the content of this post represents my opinions on matters of public policy. Those opinions are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted on February 13, 2019, by Bob Rehak
533 Days after Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Woodland-hills-map.png?fit=1061%2C1024&ssl=110241061adminadmin2019-02-13 11:44:352019-02-13 12:52:35Manlove Changing High-Rise Website, but Problems Remain
A search for deed restrictions on property proposed for high-rise development turned up some huge surprises today. I had previously posted about height restrictions within Friendswood Commercial Development Guidelines. It turns out that the Friendswood Commercial Development Guidelines do not apply in this case – because the property was restricted to single-family residential. Specifically, I’m talking about the section of land circled below. It’s just south of the Barrington subdivision in Kingwood.
Relevant Property History Starts in 1994
Some concerned residents and I conducted a title search with the help of the County Clerk’s website and a friendly title company. The land in the circle has changed hands twice since 1994. Friendswood Development company sold it to Holley-Strother Kingwood Lake Estates, Ltd. on December 30, 1994. Holley and Strother sold it to the current owners in 2012. The land has actually been sold more than twice, but only among companies controlled by the same individuals. It’s also been the subject of an eight year law suit related to flood plain issues. More on those items in subsequent posts.
Key Elements of Deed Restrictions
Deed restrictions in the first sale specify four key elements:
Compatible architecture in harmony with structures on adjoining land.
No alteration of drainage for surrounding areas
Applies to all subsequent buyers for a period of at least 40 years (until 2036)
That hardly looks like single-family residential housing. I talked to experts in city planning, real estate and sales. They all agreed that “single family residential” usually means “one family in one structure on one lot.”
Drainage Deed Restrictions, Too.
Hindering or obstructing existing drainage channels or ditches, which serve adjoining property owners – without the written consent of the owners – is also prohibited. (See Paragraph 8.)
The Corps’ public notice also states that the developer plans to put “285 cubic yards of fill into 771 linear feet of streams adjacent to the West Fork of the San Jacinto.” That would seem to be another deed restriction violation.
I’m not sure about you, but I moved to Kingwood, a master-planned community, because deed restrictions ensured these kinds of things did not happen.
To my knowledge, the developers have not even attempted to gain permission to disrupt drainage from other villages, such as Kingwood Lakes, Deer Cove, Trailwood and Barrington.
Deed Restrictions Binding on Successors
Another key clause in the deed restrictions reads:
Deed restrictions normally “run” with the land. Said another way, when the first buyer sells the land to a second buyer, the second buyer must abide by the same restrictions that the first buyer had, and so forth in perpetuity. Subsequent buyers may add restrictions, but notremove them without the consent of the ORIGINAL grantor. The original grantor in this case was Friendswood Development Company.
We could find no recorded documents on the County Clerk’s web site or in a title search that removed deed restrictions on this property. A former Friendswood executive told me, “If there is not a recorded document removing the restrictions, then they have not been removed.” So…
The Burden of Proof is on the Developers
I am requesting the developers to show the legally recorded document that removes the deed restrictions. However, so far they have not responded to my certified mail or phone calls requesting a public meeting.
The Corps informed me yesterday that the developer has designated Leah Manlove Howard of Manlove Advertising and PR as their new point of contact. Her contact information is:
Romerica Investments, LLC One Performance Drive Angleton, TX 77515 Telephone: 281-487-6767 POC: Ms. Leah Manlove Howard
This raises so many questions that I hope the Corps extends the public comment period yet again. The community needs to understand who we are dealing with.
As always, these are my opinions on matters of public interest. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on February 6, 2019
526 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/SectionDHilighted.jpg?fit=1500%2C1153&ssl=111531500adminadmin2019-02-06 20:09:542019-02-06 20:22:46High-Rise Property May Be Deed Restricted to Single-Family Residential