Tag Archive for: Marina Drive

Planning for Rebirth of West Fork

This past Sunday night, the Houston Fire Department battled a blaze in the abandoned townhomes on Aqua Vista Street in Forest Cove. Since Harvey, the townhomes have been uninhabitable. 240,000 cubic feet per second roaring down the West Fork of the San Jacinto destroyed their structural integrity, literally ripping some of the buildings in half.

Townhomes in Forest Cove on Aqua Vista St. burned on Sunday, July 1, 2019

Since then, the townhomes have borne the marks of looters, squatters, drug dealers, vandals and illegal dumpers. When FEMA came to Houston to create a video about the horrors of Harvey and the need for flood insurance, they used these townhomes as a backdrop.

Ironically, the townhomes have also become a case study in how quickly properties can deteriorate when left unattended.

Then on Sunday, someone or something reduced most of one complex to ashes. The cause of the fire has not been determined at this time. It is the second fire in this complex this year; in January, the Houston Chronicle reported another.

Remaining Buildings a Magnet for Decay

Flood-damaged and abandoned townhome at the intersection of Timberline Drive and Aqua Vista Street in Forest Cove.
Despite the City’s efforts to keep the area clean, it has become a major dumping ground.

In recent months, the once-attractive townhomes have become an embarrassment. Despite efforts by the City to clean up the area, it has become a fertile dumping ground for old tires, used furniture and landscape waste.

What Next for West Fork?

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) is buying out the townhomes and demolishing them, building by building, as quickly as they can. Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of HCFCD said, “HCFCD owns all but three units in the building that burned. We’ll expedite the remaining purchases and proceed with demolition ASAP.”

That raises the obvious question, “What will become of this area?”

The townhomes lie on the north side of the San Jacinto West Fork.

Planning a Rebirth…Within Some Limits

Flood Control notes that legal restrictions exist. Says Zeve, “The properties purchased with FEMA grant assistance must remain as open space in perpetuity.  Open space can include parks, flood reduction projects, grazing, and more.  (See the attached FEMA deed restrictions and compatible uses.)

HCFCD will own the land in perpetuity.  However, HCFCD has the ability to transfer the property to another public entity or conservation agency.  Maintenance agreement options also exist.

Community and natural values will factor into the process.  However, whatever is decided it must meet FEMA’s deed restrictions

FEMA deed restrictions define compatible uses.

“The Property shall be dedicated and maintained in perpetuity as open space for the conservation of natural floodplain functions. Such uses may include: parks for outdoor recreational activities; wetlands management; nature reserves; cultivation; grazing; camping (except where adequate warning time is not available to allow evacuation); unimproved, unpaved parking lots; buffer zones; and other uses consistent with FEMA guidance for open space acquisition, Hazard Mitigation Assistance, Requirements for Property Acquisition and Relocation for Open Space.”

Buildings Prohibited With a Few Exceptions

No new structures or improvements may be erected on the Property other than:

  • A public facility that is open on all sides and functionally related to a designated open space or recreational use;
  • A public restroom; or
  • A structure that is compatible with open space and conserves the natural function of the floodplain, including the uses described above, and approved by theFEMA Administrator in writing before construction of the structure begins.

Public May Be Part of Process

Because HCFCD owns the property, community values will be considered in its future. However, the question is larger than the land that HCFCD will own. It also involves land that Romerica currently owns as well as surrounding vacant properties along Hamblen. Many suggestions have come forward so far.

These are all great ideas. They could reduce flood risk AND re-establish the reputation of Kingwood and Forest Cove as two of the most enviable places to live in the City of Houston.

It’s time to start the conversation now. I hope all stakeholders can come together to create a master plan for the area bordering the West Fork along Hamblen.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/2/2019

672 Days after Hurricane Harvey

AP Story Highlights Efforts to Streamline Buyout Process

According to an Associated Press (AP) story published this weekend, “A recent study for the National Institute of Building Sciences found that society as a whole saves $7 in avoided costs for every $1 spent through federally funded grants to acquire or demolish flood-prone buildings.” 

Idea Behind Buyouts

Buyouts are a strategy used by FEMA to avoid multiple payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program for properties that flood over and over again. At some point, it becomes cheaper to buy the home and tear it down than to fix it repeatedly. However, buyouts can take years to process and they are always voluntary. Moreover, even if a homeowner decides not to sell, the government continues to underwrite his/her insurance.

The AP story by David A. Lieb cited the case of Mosby, Mo. Residents there flooded three times in six weeks in 2015. Many quickly signed up for buyouts, but are still waiting for offers years later.

With 7/1 savings, one wonders why it takes government so long to acquire these homes? Buyout experts that I talked to say that one of the keys to successfully negotiating a buyout is making people offers BEFORE they rebuild their homes. That observation argues for the need to streamline the buyout process, not drag it out for years.

Attempt to Streamline Buyouts

The AP story quotes U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His committee has jurisdiction over FEMA. He questions why “….[we] keep selling them (flooded homeowners) insurance and building in the same place?”

The article continues: “DeFazio wants to expand and revamp a buyout process that he describes as inefficient and irrational. He’s backing a proposed pilot project that would give homeowners a break on their flood insurance premiums, as long as they agree in advance to a buyout that would turn their property into green space if their homes are substantially damaged by a flood.”

What 240,000 cubic feet of water per second does to a dream home with a river view. Next building is scheduled for demolition on June 3.

Status of Forest Cove Townhome Buyouts on Marina Drive

The buyout process from Harvey is just getting started in some parts of Texas. Harris County Flood Control has already bought out many homes in the Forest Cove area. “We’ve purchased three entire buildings. One has been demolished and two more are in process,” said James Wade of the Flood Control District.  “We have about 65% of the units along Marina Drive purchased and are working through the remaining units.”

But over in Liberty County, officials have just started the buyout process. Buyouts require cooperation between the federal government which funds them, and city or county officials which negotiate them. Therefore, the success of buyout programs often depends on the interest level of cities and counties.

Buyout Success Often Depends on City or County

Counties that aggressively pursue buyout dollars from the federal government can offer residents an option that other counties can’t or don’t.

While most of the Marina Drive townhomes in Forest Cove are structurally unsound and therefore uninhabitable, residents elsewhere, such as Tammy Gunnels in unincorporated Montgomery County, have clamored for buyouts with no luck for years. With the May 7th rains, her home has flooded now 11 times in 10 years.

I applaud Representative DeFazio’s attempt to reform the buyout system. It seems like one of those rare instances when the humane thing to do is also the most cost-effective thing to do.

Turning Problems into Natural Retention and Recreation

A more efficient buyout process will also help rejuvenate and beautify neighborhoods. In the case of Forest Cove, the City of Houston Parks Board and Harris County Precinct Four are already working together to build a greenbelt trail. The trail would connect the County’s new Edgewater Park, under development at Hamblen and US59 with Kingwood’s trail system. That could also open up the entire Spring Creek greenbelt system to Kingwood and Forest Cove hikers and bikers. I can’t wait!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/28/19

638 days since Hurricane Harvey

City Begins Cleanup of Marina Drive Townhomes in Forest Cove

Around noon today, I received news that the City of Houston Solid Waste Department had cleaned up two parking lots filled with trash on Marina Drive in Forest Cove. The lots were between three rows of townhomes opposite the Forest Cove Community Room and Pool. The cleanup is a huge boon to the Forest Cove community. It was the last area in this part of Houston to have trash removed from Harvey and was featured in a FEMA video.

The two lots in question contained – by far – the worst piles of debris.

Before Cleanup

Before pick up. Trash littered the parking lot of townhomes on Marina Drive in Forest Cove.

Before pick up. More debris opposite the Community Center in Forest Cove.

After Clean Up

Here’s what the parking lots look like now – a huge improvement. Houston Police have said they are stepping up patrols in the area to help stop illegal dumping.

Townhomes on Marina Drive after Trash Pickup

Townhomes on Marina Drive after Trash Pickup

Still Work Yet to Do

The uncollected trash made the area a prime target for vandals, looters, graffiti, squatters and illegal dumping. Our thanks for work so far go out to City of H0uston Solid Waste Department, Council Member Dave Martin and his chief of staff Jessica Beemer for work to date.

A quick check of the area, however, shows that much trash remains. Hopefully, the cleanup will continue.

Trash still remains uncollected in places.

More still uncollected. Smaller trash piles like this exist throughout the area.

Long-Term Plans For This Area

Gary Bezemek, Harris County Precinct 4 Coordinator, says that the County is in the process of buying out these townhomes. When buyouts are complete, the County will tear them down tear out the parking lots, and even tear out the streets. It’s not clear yet whether the county intends to let the land revert to nature or turn it into part of their new Edgewater Park which begins at Hamblen and U.S. 59.

Bezemek says that another option is to build soccer and baseball fields on the land if the community desires them. “The beauty of such facilities for land in the floodway like this is that when the floodwaters go down, there’s very little cleanup to do.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 31, 2018

428 Days since Hurricane Harvey


Harvey Time Capsule: Marina Drive in Forest Cove

It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Harvey. Much of Houston has improved remarkably since then. But one neighborhood near the San Jacinto West Fork seems frozen in time: Marina Drive in Forest Cove. It’s the land that Solid Waste forgot.

Forest Cove Townhomes destroyed by Harvey and swallowed by sand. Photograph from 9/14/17, two weeks after Harvey. Not much has changed since then. 

Featured in FEMA Video Filmed Last Month

When FEMA came to Houston last month to shoot a video about Harvey, they asked ReduceFlooding.com for location recommendations. They wanted a place that told the story of the storm. It took me about a nanosecond to recommend the apartments/townhomes on Marina Drive.

Forest Cove Townhomes destroyed by Harvey. This and following photos taken a year later on September 28, 2018.

The Forest Cove Property Owners Association has fixed up the community swimming pool. But everything around it still triggers memories of the terror that night in August, 2017, when Harvey dealt the final death blow to these ill-fated townhomes.

Forest Cove Townhomes now targets for vandals, looters and squatters.

Ravaged by Numerous Floods, but Killed by Harvey

The townhomes had been ravaged by previous floods, but Harvey was different. Three residents I talked to told me the water reached 17-23 feet high – well up into the second story. To put that in perspective, joists in the garage level are set at 11 feet.

You can see holes chopped in roofs where thieves stole roof-mounted AC condensers. One building appears to have been swept off its foundation. Bedsheets spray-painted with “FEMA HELP” still flutter from second story balconies. Sand clogs the streets and storm drains. Five foot high dunes cover fences and shoreline. Trash litters the parking lots. Graffiti and mold cover what’s left of the homes. An old oil pumper supports vines. Oil storage tanks sit twisted and lonely, off kilter. Not one person still lives there. The homes are uninhabitable.

Forest Cove Townhome destroyed by Harvey. Area is now a target for graffiti artists. 

More Marina Drive Townhomes destroyed by Harvey. In addition to the trash in the parking lot, note the hole chopped in the roof to rescue people in the middle of the photo.

Reportedly, these properties are being bought out by FEMA and Harris County Flood Control to reduce future flood risk. Some offers have already been made according to Glen Allison, a member of the Homeowners Association. Allison also said that “Three units were swept away. Two more completely collapsed. There was tremendous structural damage throughout.”

Someday the area may be turned into parkland. The county has been trying to buy this land and convert it into a linear park since 1994 – almost 25 years ago. Not much has happened since then. The last section in a document from Harris County Flood Control titled 2018 Federal Briefing: Unprecedented Opportunity discusses progress of various buyout programs going back 29 years.


Excerpt from HCFCD map showing historical buyout programs in Forest Cove.

FEMA and HCFCD completed voluntary buyout programs in 1994 (pink), 1998 (blue), 2005 (yellow) and 2008 (lavender).  However, as of this spring, they were still trying to complete buyouts from 2014 and 2016 (see table below, also from 2018 Federal Briefing referenced above).

Forest Cove properties were part of the 2014 and 2016 buyout programs that were still not completed at the time of Harvey and HCFCD’s Federal Briefing last spring.

Maybe this time! Meanwhile, someone please call for a trash pickup.

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 7, 2018

404 Days since Hurricane Harvey