Tag Archive for: mitigation bank

3738-Acre Property Developing Near Huffman

On 7/22/22, I photographed two new developments at different stages of completion east of Huffman-Cleveland Road and south of the Grand Parkway. Both are being carved out of a 3,738-ac tract owned by LH Ranch LTD.

A third part of that tract, west of Huffman-Cleveland Road, is in the planning stages and submitting plats for approval.

General Location

The first two developments are immediately east of Huffman-Cleveland Road and south of Meyer Road. See red area below.

Red outlined area contains the two new developments. The third area is to the west (left) of the red box.

One of the new developments will become a “lagoon community” called Saint Tropez. Another will become a residential community called Los Pinos. The third will also become a residential community.

Saint Tropez

Megatel Homes has begun clearing land for what it says will become a $2 billion lagoon community spanning 1,000 acres.

Looking SW from over Meyer Road at the first part of what will become Saint Tropez.

According to Megatel, the development will eventually feature 4,500 homes, an enormous manmade lagoon with white sand beaches, paddle-boarding, kayaking, a swim-up bar, surf simulator, a water slide tower, a playground, cabanas, soundstage, splash park, and more.

An entertainment district will offer a restaurant, bar, teen arcade, bowling alley, and a children’s immersive indoor play area. That will certainly change the character of the rural Huffman area.

The development will feature both single and multi-family housing. Single-family homes will range in size from 1,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet and sell for between $350,000 to $700,000 each.

Full construction plans and a drainage analysis are not yet available. At this time, the Harris County Engineering Department has only issued a permit for clearing the land, but it shows a general layout.

Plan submitted to Harris County Engineering to obtain clearing permit. Intersection of Meyer Rd. and FM2100 in upper left.

Los Pinos

South of Saint Tropez, the second development is much further along. For it, I have obtained both construction plans and a drainage analysis via a FOIA Request.

Looking SE from over FM 2100. Note the large, linear detention basin in the foreground running diagonally through the frame.
Drainage Features

Phase One of the 130-acre Los Pinos Project will have approximately 250 single-family residential lots. The 1/3rd-acre lots will have about 30% impervious cover.

Plans claim that the total detention storage will exceed Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) minimum storage requirements. They require 270.4 acre feet, but the developer will provide 366.3 – 26% more.

Phase One sits in the FEMA’s unshaded X zone (higher than the 500-year flood plain). So there is no requirement for floodplain mitigation.

Preston Hydrologic, Inc., which conducted the drainage analysis, says, “The proposed detention basin will reduce the maximum sheet flow depths downstream of the development, for storm events up to and including the 1% AEP storm.” AEP means annual exceedance probability. And 1% refers to a 100-year storm.

The tract drains to Key Gully and two unnamed tributaries within the Luce Bayou watershed. This development falls outside Houston’s city limits in unincorporated Harris County.

Looking east from over FM 2100. Note a second large linear detention pond on the right bracketing the development.

Water in this area naturally flows toward the southeast where it enters Luce Bayou. The detention ponds that bracket the development are designed to contain rain falling on the development and water trying to flow across it.

Map from Preston Hydrologic’s drainage analysis shows layout of detention basins.

Six interconnected, dry-bottom detention basins will mitigate the impacts of development, according to hydrologists. The lots in proposed Phase 1 will drain into Ponds 2 and 6. Ponds 1, 3, 4, and 5 will intercept runoff from undeveloped land.

Peak flow estimate indicates ponds should hold a 100-year rainfall and cut peak outflow roughly in half (red vs. blue curve)
Claims No Adverse Impact

Hydrologists claim the development will cause “no adverse impacts” compared to the pre-project drainage conditions of the receiving streams in the Luce Bayou watershed. That includes downstream properties within the City of Houston.

They also estimate that overland sheet flow will not cause any adverse impacts downstream of the project site. In fact, the hydrologists claim that the proposed project will reduce peak flow rates and runoff volumes to areas downstream. That, they say, will result in reduced ponding depths in the Huffman Hills subdivision and adjacent properties.

Small Part of Future Development

The 130-acre Los Pinos Phase One tract represents only 0.34% of the larger LH Ranch Tract from which it is carved. The hydrologists caution that future phases will require future studies of their own. They indicate that future uses of the LH Ranch tract may include additional single-family residential development, commercial development, and a wetlands mitigation bank.

Wetlands Mitigation

Plans considered by the Army Corps in January of 2021 show wetland mitigation areas on both the west and east.

The mitigation bank proposal showed that 25% of the LH Ranch tract would be set aside for mitigation.

The LH Ranch tract bridges two watersheds. The western portion drains to the East Fork. The eastern portion drains to Luce Bayou. Both eventually drain into Lake Houston. Much of the land was originally wetlands.

Image from same general area taken on January 2021 when tree canopy did not obscure ground. Note standing water.
Will Increased Runoff Increase Erosion?

The side slopes of the ponds will be grass lined and have backslope interceptor swales to reduce erosion.

Preston Hydrologic believes that the increased runoff from Los Pinos Phase One will not increase erosion in Key Gully. They base that opinion on three factors: a USGS estimate of soil-erosion potential in the area, reduced peak flow, and slower water velocity at the peak.

Potential Problems

Section 5.3 of the drainage analysis cites an inventory of potential problems. Among them: Colony Ridge. Preston’s report says, “Currently, a large developing area adjacent to the Harris-Liberty County line may create problems for water quantity and quality. This development is large-lot rural and uses underground septic systems located in the effective floodplain area of Luce Bayou. Additionally, it is possible that inadequate drainage infrastructure is being provided in the area, which could lead to a possible increase of floodwater peak flow rates downstream in Harris County.”

For the complete drainage analysis, click here.

Other LH Ranch Property West of FM 2100

West of FM 2100, LH Ranch LTD and Friendswood Development applied to the Houston Planning Commission for plat approval of a 927-acre parcel on 8/4/22. This parcel is immediately west of the two projects discussed above. It drains into the East Fork on the left edge of the map below.

No further details are available at this time. I will watch it closely in the future months. One thing is clear: Huffman will never be the same.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/9/22

1806 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.

New Wetland Mitigation Bank Proposed for Areas Upstream from Lake Houston

LH Ranch, Ltd has proposed a new wetland mitigation bank for the area upstream from Lake Houston. Part of the land borders the San Jacinto East Fork, opposite Lake Houston Park. Another part to the east stretches across Luces Bayou.

Why Have Mitigation Banks in General?

Such banks provide a way to encourage conservation. They do that by giving ranchers, farmers and other landowners economic incentives, usually in the form of tax breaks, not to develop land. This page by the Texas Agricultural Land Trust explains how the process works. (The Bayou Land Conservancy also offers advice for those interested.)

Developers, pipelines, etc., whose projects will cause unavoidable resource losses elsewhere, negotiate “credits” with such organizations to offset the impacts of their developments.

About the Proposed Lake Houston Mitigation Bank

LH Ranch would put conservation easements on 952 acres to create two wetland mitigation banks.

Threatened and Endangered Species

Preliminary indications are that no known threatened and/or endangered species, or their critical habitat will be affected by the proposed work.

Goals of Mitigation Bank

The primary goals of the Lake Houston Mitigation Bank are to protect the water quality of the San Jacinto River system including Luce Bayou and Lake Houston.

From a conservation perspective, restoration projects within the proposed bank could:

  • Reduce sediment flowing into Lake Houston by 4,000 – 6,000 tons per year
  • Increase flood storage and reduce pulse flows that exit the property
  • Restore the ability to transport an amount of sediment adequate for the stream’s watershed
  • Provide habitat and refuge to wildlife
  • Establish a dynamically stable forest both resistant and resilient to disturbance
  • Ensure the longevity and function of the system through long-term conservation measures.

From a mitigation perspective, the bank would also:

  • Provide resources to allow for compensation of unavoidable (but authorized) impacts to aquatic resources elsewhere
  • Meet the need for stream and wetland mitigation credits within the service area of the Bank
  • Meet the need for mitigation outside the service area when approved by USACE.

Specific Actions to Enhance Property

If this proposal is approved, the applicant would:

  • Place the entire 952.65 Ac. mitigation bank within a perpetual conservation easement held by an accredited land trust.
  • Restore 53,264 linear feet (ten miles) of severely entrenched, intermittent stream channels that currently have limited access to a floodplain and are actively eroding an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 tons/yr. into the Luce Bayou/San Jacinto/Lake Houston system.
  • Enhance 1,342 linear feet of severely entrenched, intermittent stream channels.
  • Protect more than over 10,000 linear feet of Luce Bayou, 10,000 feet of high-quality, unimpaired intermittent tributaries to Luce Bayou, and nearly 5,000 linear feet of ephemeral streams.
  • Enhance 315.44 acres of stream buffers to reduce erosion, increase flood storage, improve wildlife habitat, and enhance intermittent stream channels.
  • Establish 150.64 acres of wetlands, approximately half of which are forested, to increase flood storage, water quality, and wildlife habitat.
  • Restore 6.58 acres of isolated, non-jurisdictional wetlands and reconnect them to intermittent stream channels.
  • Enhance 107.75 acres of wetlands impacted by previous silviculture operations and invasive species infestation.
  • Preserve 53.46 acres of high-quality forested wetland habitat associated with the floodplain of Luce Bayou.
  • Enhance 280.07 Ac. of forested upland buffer habitat to provide additional protection for wetlands and streams within the Bank.

Why This Is Needed

This area has experienced tremendous population growth. Counties within the proposed service area have added nearly 1-million people with an average 16% growth rate from 2010 to 2017.

The extension of SH 99 (the Grand Parkway) will open up vast new areas to development, including a large portion of the mitigation bank’s proposed service area. Additional mitigation banks are necessary to meet increasing demand because of this growth.

This geographic area also possesses a high degree of low-lying wetland areas and streams compared to higher areas. Here are some aerial photos of the area taken January 1, 2021. Timber on the property was recently thinned, something mentioned in the project’s prospectus.

Army Corps Seeking Public Comment

The US Army Corps of Engineers seeks public comment on the LH Ranch proposal which you can find here.

The applicant proposes the establishment and operation of western and eastern tracts within a larger parent tract of the Lake Houston Mitigation Bank (LHMB). The Western Tract is 351.46 acres. The Eastern Tract is 601.19 Acres. The combined tracts total 952.65 acres.

The restoration and enhancement of wetlands and streams would serve as compensatory mitigation for unavoidable, permitted impacts to “waters of the United States.” That designation triggers Corps involvement in the permitting process.

Currently, the site is undeveloped.

Army Corps of Engineers

The Corps has issued a public notice based on information furnished by the applicant. This project information has not yet been verified by the Corps.

A preliminary review of this application indicates that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not required. However, that could change depending on input received.

The applicant’s prospectus contains hundreds of maps, photos and descriptions of what they intend to do. (Caution: 151 megabyte, 418 page file.) But don’t let that scare you. For those who want to understand how this fascinating process works, it’s a good read.

CLOSE OF COMMENT PERIOD: All comments pertaining to this Public Notice must reach this office on or before 29 January 2021. If no comments are received by that date, it will be considered that there are no objections.

Comments and requests for additional information should reference file number, SWG-2019-00077 Lake Houston MB, and should be submitted to:

  • Mitigation Banking Program / Policy Branch Regulatory Division
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • P.O. Box 1229
  • Galveston, Texas 77553-1229 409-766-3869
  • Phone 409-766-6301 Fax
  • Email: swg_public_notice@usace.army.mil

Rehak’s Take

Personally, I feel this project would benefit the Lake Houston Area. There’s little downside, because it’s directly upstream from us. It ensures sensitive wetlands will never be developed. That will help reduce flooding.

That’s especially important with Colony Ridge upstream us. And with a proposed new 8,000 acre development called Kingland just north of the mitigation bank about to kick off. (More on that tomorrow.)

There’s only one potential drawback. In the future, if the Flood Control District ever wanted to do a major drainage project in those areas, it couldn’t because they will be protected by a conservation easement. However, the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study did not identify either of the areas in this mitigation bank as a priority for a regional detention basin.

All things considered, I’d lock this in now. When the areas north of the mitigation bank are developed, the wetlands will provide some insurance against flooding … sooner rather than later.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/10/2021

1230 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 479 since Imelda