Tag Archive for: Northpark South

From Green to Gone in Three Weeks

I took the first picture below two years ago before the clearing of Northpark South started. All the rest were taken during the three weeks between November 9 and December 1, 2023.

Looking west toward the San Jacinto West Fork from the west end of Northpark Drive at Sorters-McClellan Road, this is what you saw before clearing started.

Northpark South, October 31, 2021. Note pocket of wetlands in middle. Intersection in bottom left was under eight feet of water during Harvey.
Clearing starts in wetlands. November 9, 2023.
Eight days later. November 17, 2023.
Another seven days. November 24, 2023.
December 1, 2023.

In the pictures above, note a sister development in the upper right corner called Northpark Woods by the same developer, Century Land Holdings of Texas, LLC. The developer totally cleared it, too.

Of course, it’s easier to grade the land, fill in wetlands, and put in streets that way. But it doesn’t slow floodwaters down or soak them up. That will soon be the job of homes and carpets. Lots of them.

The developer asked the Houston Planning Commission for a variance to build 235 homes on lots as small as 5000 square feet here.

Getting Rid of Green

What do you do with all that timber? Turn it into 2x4s? Mulch? Paper? Pencils? Something socially useful?

Why not just burn it and save all that trouble?

Let people breathe it.

Close up of burn pit.

Not a problem if you’re a developer with headquarters in Colorado! You can save the hauling costs.

Looking east toward Kingwood and Northpark Drive at top of frame.

This is how you go from green to gone in three weeks. If it were the only such story, it might not be worthy of mentioning. But you can see this same story being played out relentlessly across the watershed.

For More Information

To learn more about the flood risks in this area, see these posts:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/2/23

2286 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.

40 Acres of Timber Turned into Toothpicks

In two weeks, approximately 40 acres timber has turned into toothpicks at the new Northpark South development. Clearing is now about two-thirds to three-quarters complete.

The development lies between Sorters-McClellan Road and the West Fork San Jacinto at the end of Northpark Drive. The developer, Century Land Holdings of Texas, LLC, hopes to build 236 homes, driveways, roads, and an 11.2 acre stormwater detention basin on a total of 54.4 acres.

If that sounds like a lot, Century has already applied for a variance from the City of Houston Planning Commission to create lots less than 5,000 square feet. Regardless, RG Miller Engineering still claims impervious cover will not exceed 66%. But that’s not the only curious takeaway from the RG Miller report.

No Mention of Wetlands

To achieve such density, Century will pave over wetlands. But the RG Miller report makes no mention of wetlands.

Northpark South Wetlands
National Wetlands Inventory shows wetlands in middle on far right.

USGS has documented wetlands on this property since at least 1961, as you can see in this topographic map viewer.

However the developer apparently has not received a wetland development permit from the Army Corps.

Red circle shows location of development. No wetland permits have been issued in this area and the drainage impact analysis does not contain the word “wetland.”

In addition, the imagery showing the wetlands (the empty crescent-wrench-shaped area in middle right of blue outline) is misdated.

The caption in the drainage analysis says the image is from 2018. But the homes in the top left of the frame were not built until late 2020. And the image itself is from late 2021. So why would the image below be dated two years earlier.

Shadows and vehicles in this image match a Google Earth Image from 12/11/2021, when the area was rated abnormally dry and drought was setting in.

Compare a Google Earth image taken on 2/23/2019 – before the onset of drought. When you zoom in a bit, you get a clearly different impression.

Scrolling back through 30 years of historical images in Google Earth shows evidence of periodic ponding in this location and distinctly different vegetation from the surrounding area.

Was the RG Miller image accidentally mislabeled or an attempt to show drier conditions that didn’t scream “wetlands”? We’ll probably never know.

According to one environmental expert I consulted, developers very often have consultants who assert that there are no wetlands on property. Therefore, they feel, there’s no need to involve USACE “because a permit isn’t necessary.”

The expert said, “In my mind, they are betting on not getting caught. They can save a lot of money by avoiding permits and those savings are apparently worth the risk.”

It’s also possible that the latest Supreme Court ruling on “Waters of the U.S.,” removed federal government protection for these wetlands. In that case, these wetlands would not require permitting.

Problems Building over Wetlands

The expert continued, “Comparing this information to the plans, it looks like there will be residential streets and houses on top of the historic wetlands. I would NOT feel safe living on top of a former wetland this close to the river. NO WAY! The land has a memory, deep in its soils, and I would expect future issues.”

Current Status of Clearing

I took the photos below on the afternoon of Friday, 11/24/23.

Looking west at extent of clearing in last two weeks. West Fork is beyond sand pits near top of frame. NorthPark Drive runs off bottom of frame.
Looking E toward Kingwood. Detention basin will stretch between the woods on left and the road on right in the area close to camera. Basin will drain into pond in lower right foreground.
Looking N toward a sister development (Northpark Woods) by same developer. Sand pit middle left belongs to another company.

High-Water Mark Shows Potential Danger

The image below shows where the new development sits in relation to the river and the high-water mark during Harvey.

Extent of flooding during Harvey relative to new development, according to nearby resident. Looking west down Northpark toward San Jacinto West Fork.

While Harvey was an extreme storm, keep in mind that pre-Harvey flood maps show inundation potential across most of Northpark South. And the new post-Harvey flood maps, which have not yet been released, will take in even more of the new development.

Buyer beware. There’s plenty here to chew on. Toothpick anyone?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/25/23

2279 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.

Northpark South Starts Clearing Wetlands, Floodplain

Colorado-based Century Land Holdings of Texas, LLC has started clearing land for Northpark South in Porter along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River at the west end of Northpark Drive.

Documents from the Houston Planning Commission, USGS, and FEMA; eyewitness accounts from nearby residents and flood professionals; and aerial photos indicate:

  • Most of the area is in floodplains defined decades ago and not updated since.
  • The entire area – and then some – went underwater during Harvey.
  • The entrance to the property near Northpark Drive and Sorters-McClellan Road sits in a bowl that rescue trucks could not get through during Harvey. That would make evacuation difficult in the event of another large flood.
  • Wetlands dot the property.
  • Abandoned sand mines may pose safety threats.

The same developer just completed a sister development called Northpark Woods across a drainage channel from this one. But so far, the gutsy developer has avoided any consequences for its risky gamble thanks in large part to a multi-year drought and interminable delays at FEMA releasing the new post-Harvey flood maps.

All Underwater During Harvey

Eyewitness accounts and damage reports indicate that Harvey floodwaters stretched about a third of a mile east of Sorters-McClellan to Northpark and Kingwood Place Drive. That’s on the high side of Sorters-McClellan; the new development will be on the low side.

Floodwaters in this area stopped at about 83 feet above sea level. However, the entrance to the new subdivision is at 75 feet, according to the USGS National Map. That means the water was an estimated 8 feet deep at the entrance.

One long-time resident in the area said, “The intersection of Sorters and Northpark sits in a bowl. It was not passable by Montgomery County Precinct 4 constables in an Army deuce and a half [used for high-water rescue]. Water from the river came right up past that intersection and continued up Northpark to just past the intersection of Kingwood Place Dr.”

Also on the high side of Sorters-McClellan, six of nine buildings at nearby Kingwood College flooded during Harvey. Restoration cost: $60 million!

And then there’s Tammy Gunnels‘ former home a quarter mile south of the new development. It flooded 13 times in 11 years and had to be bought out by Montgomery County and FEMA.

Documents obtained from the Houston Planning Commission indicate that RG Miller is the engineer of record for Northpark South.

Bordering River and Sand Mines

During Harvey, 160,000 cubic feet per second rampaged down the West Fork behind this property.

Looking west past Sorters-McClellan Road toward what will become Northpark South. Note clearing starting in the middle in what used to be wetlands (see below).
From the National Wetlands Inventory. Dark green area on right corresponds to cleared area above.
Looking NW. Intersection of Northpark and Sorters-McClellan in lower left. Another subdivision called Northpark Woods by the same developer is in the upper right. West Fork San Jacinto and sand mines at top of frame.

Here’s what they hope to build on this property.

General plan submitted to Houston Planning Commission in 2021.

Current Floodplains Will Soon Expand

Most of the property already sits in floodway or floodplains. But the FEMA map below has not yet been updated to reflect new knowledge gained as a result of Memorial Day, Tax Day, Harvey and Imelda floods.

In fact, the 2014 date on the map below is misleading. It reflects an update of the base map, but the data that determines the extent of floodplains has not been updated since the 1980s, according to an expert familiar with Montgomery County flood maps.

From FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer.

FEMA and Harris County Flood Control have warned people that when new “post-Harvey” flood maps are released in the next year or two, floodplains will expand 50-100%. The floodway (striped area above) will likely expand into the 100-year floodplain (aqua). In turn, the 100-year will expand into the 500-year (tan). And the 500-year floodplain will extend past any of the colored areas.

That’s consistent with eyewitness accounts. And that could potentially put the entire property in floodplains.

Taking Advantage of Map-Update Window

The developer seems to be taking advantage of a window between post-Harvey flood surveys and release of the new maps.

I’m sure the developer’s lawyers would argue that they are complying with all current, applicable laws. But an ethical question arises. Will the new development expose unsuspecting homebuyers to greater-than-expected risk?

If so, why aren’t officials pushing to update maps and floodplain regs faster?

Could some officials be prioritizing economic development now over public safety later?

Certainly not all are. But many flood professionals worry about that.

Next to 5-Square Miles of Sand Mines

The new development sits next to the largest sand-mining complex on the San Jacinto West Fork. Sand mines in this area occupy almost five square miles. However, not all the mines are active. But they still show signs of heavy sediment pollution.

Looking E toward Sorters-McClellan from over West Fork. Northpark South is at top of frame beyond the sand pits.
The operator of this mine decided not to fish its equipment out when they abandoned the site.
More colors than Crayola. No telling what’s growing in these ponds.

Will routing drainage from Northpark South through these sand mines pose a safety risk for people downstream?

Will it be safe for kids to play or fish near these steep-sided pits?

Floodplain Development Called New Form of Redlining

This is an example of why the population of Texas floodplains is greater than the populations of 30 entire states. Yep. Thirty entire states have populations smaller than that of Texas floodplains.

One former floodplain administrator, who requested to remain anonymous, characterized these types of developments as a new form of redlining.

More than a few floodplain and wetland developers target minorities who may not fully understand the flood risk.

Owner financing often accompanies floodplain developments. Such financing can bypass many flood-risk detection procedures that accompany traditional bank financing.

Then, when floods come, the people who can least afford to repair homes suffer the most and longest. Neighborhoods decay faster. And that makes it harder for people to recover their investments.

Years later, the public is left holding the bag. We are asked to fund expensive flood-mitigation projects that would not be necessary had the developer built in a safer area.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/11/2023

2265 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.

More West Fork Wetlands near Northpark Drive Could Soon Be Developed

Take Northpark Drive all the way west to where it ends at Sorters-McClellan and you will run into a 279-acre tract that the Houston Planning Commission will consider at its November 18th meeting. Sand mining has already destroyed most of the 279 acres. Now a developer wants to fill in the wetlands and build homes on the rest.

This is like “death by a thousand cuts.” Or the the Parable of the Rivet Poppers.

Parable of Rivet Poppers

Imagine you’re getting on an airplane and you see someone popping rivets out of the wing. You ask the pilot, “What’s that guy doing!?”

The pilot says, “Oh, he’s popping rivets. Our accountants have found that can eliminate weight and improve fuel economy.”

“But won’t that increase risk?” you ask.

The pilot replies, “Somewhat, but our engineers believe it won’t bring the plane down.”

Would you get on that airplane? Would you live in this proposed development? Or downstream from it? See details below.

Details of Northpark South

Here are the plans presented to the Planning Commission last Thursday for a plat of Northpark South. The commission deferred action on them until the next meeting. The developer is Hannover Estates, LTD. RG Miller engineered the development.

Pretty location! Just don’t let your kids go fishing there.
Of course, the homes will be built on the highest ground. But look how far the floodplain (dotted line) cuts into them.
Northpark South floodplain
Northpark South floodplains. Of course, these are based on 1980s data. Don’t be fooled by the data on the map. That’s the date of the background image. In Harris County, the new flood maps will reportedly expand the floodplains by 50% as a rule of thumb. But this is MoCo and the last update was much longer ago.
Here’s how that area looked during Harvey.
US Fish & Wildlife Service Map of wetlands (and former wetlands) on the site (center of frame).
Looking W from over end of Northpark Drive. Sorters-McClellan cuts through bottom of frame from left to right. West Fork cuts through sand mines in the background.
The barren spot just right of center is the wetland area that will be filled in to make home sites.
Meet the neighbors.
Where the subdivision drainage will go…straight into the West Fork.
Water flowed so quickly through this area during Harvey that it moved and sunk this excavator within the mine.

Another Development Targeted at the Uninitiated?

The shame of it is that if Northpark South gets built, the developer will likely build starter homes and market them to couples with young children. They’re the least knowledgeable about flood risk.

Of course, the people downstream won’t get to make a decision about this. But you can testify about it at the next Planning Commission meeting on November 18. Here are details.

Pop. There goes another rivet.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/31/2021 with thanks to Paul Ehrlich for the parable and Mai Truong for the heads up on this

1524 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.