Tag Archive for: permit

City Defends RV Park Permit Despite Deficiencies

The City of Houston defended its permitting of the Kingwood Area’s first RV Park despite deficiencies in the process. The City claims the Laurel Springs RV resort meets old “grandfathered” standards. But concerned Lakewood Cove residents worry that the development does not meet current needs. They expressed concerns that:

  • The developer filed false information
  • Is building a detention pond that will only hold half the volume of current requirements
  • Did not document the impact of overflow from that undersized pond in a two paragraph drainage impact analysis
  • Said that overflow from the undersized pond would be funneled toward Lakewood Cove despite a regulation requiring that excess stormwater not cross adjoining private property lines.
  • Is building 226 RV pads with a permit that allows 182.
  • The amount of impervious cover in the plans did not change despite the addition of 25 percent more spaces.
  • The volume of the detention pond decreased during the review process.
  • The plans were not reviewed by a professional engineer (PE).

Below, read a summary of the City’s responses to each of these alleged deficiencies. To verify my summary, I’ve also included a PDF of the City’s entire response.

Filed False Info

The City did not really address this concern except to say that false information was filed by an agent who had no hand in the engineering. Apparently, filing false information under penalty of perjury is not an issue if you hire an agent.

Half the Detention Volume of Current Requirements

Despite getting the plans approved in October 2021, after detention requirements increased, the developer only had to meet 2020 requirements under a grandfathering clause based on the submission date (not the approval date) of the plans. So plans comply with the old requirements but not the current ones. Despite building a half-sized detention pond, the City still insists overflow won’t be a problem – except in a 100-year storm. The City ignores the fact that the pond is designed to hold a 100-year rain under older, lower standards.

Several of the 380 Elm Grove homes that flooded on May 7, 2019, and a City High Water Rescue Vehicle.

This is the same problem that happened in Woodridge Village, Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest in 2019.

On May 7, 2019, Woodridge received 7.9 inches of rainfall – less than half of Atlas 14 expectations. Still 380 structures in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest flooded according to HCFCD.

In that case, the plans also met old requirements that had not increased to meet current rainfall expectations. The same Public Works Department that approved the drainage plans for Woodridge Village approved the Laurel Springs RV Resort plans.

Sketchy Drainage Impact Analysis

I’ve requested the full drainage impact analysis on three occasions. The City alludes to one, but still has not produced it. Instead, the City points to a two paragraph summary and seems satisfied with it. The City focuses primarily on the volume of water pumped into Lakewood Cove’s storm sewer system. It claims that if water overflows into people’s homes that will be due to a deficiency in how the Lakewood Cove lots were graded.

Where Will Overflow Go

The developer says that overflow from the undersized detention pond will go east toward Lakewood Cove (left in picture below) and then down a hill into Lakewood Cove’s detention pond near Hamblen Road. But the City says the opposite. It claims overflow will go west toward the Union Pacific railroad tracks (right in picture below). From there, sheet flow would go down into the County’s new Edgewater Park. The City did not express any concern about erosion of the track bed. But one wonders whether erosion could destabilize the railroad tracks which carry toxic chemicals.

Laurel Springs RV Resort next to UP Railroad tracks and Utility Easement. City says overflow from pond at far end of clearing will be funneled toward tracks, even though developer says the opposite.
Woodridge Village erosion caused by half of the estimated amount of a current 100-year rain.

Increase in RV Spaces

The developer changed the plans from 182 to 226 RV pads. The City approved with no further explanation. Nor did the City address the issue of a potential conflict with the permit.

No Increase in Impervious Cover

The City claims that when the number of spaces increased 25%, impervious cover did not and that calculations are still accurate. Public Works did not explain the apparent contradiction.

Decrease in Volume of Detention Pond

According to the City, the original detention-pond volume approved by the City must have been an “approximation” by the developer’s engineer. Even though the number decreased in final versions of the plans as the number of RV pads increased 25%, the City claims the developers still exceed the minimum detention requirements under the grandfathered 2020 regulations. They never address what will happen if rainfall exceeds 2020 assumptions, as it certainly will.

No Review by Professional Engineer

The City says reviewers work under the supervision of a professional engineer (PE), but PE’s do not actually review plans.


In summary, the City claims it didn’t make any mistakes. If homes flood, homeowners will be at fault because their sites must not be graded properly.

I wrote the City weeks ago about the potential erosion of the Union Pacific railroad tracks and still have not received a reply.

This seems to be a case of bureaucrats reviewing plans for literal compliance and ignoring the dangers of real-world deficiencies. If the higher requirements in 2021 regulations are not important, why did the City adopt them?

Here is the entire text of the letter sent by Lakewood Cove residents and the City’s responses, embedded in colored type.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/8/2021

1562 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 Carriage Hills Sand Mine Halts Operations For Now

On March 24, Montgomery County Commissioners approved a resolution that allowed the County Attorney to sue a new Carriage Hills sand mine operating on the West Fork of the San Jacinto. The text of the lawsuit was vague as to actual violations. But on Monday, March 30, B.D. Griffin, the Montgomery County Attorney supplied more details about the complaint. He also discussed the status of the suit, what the mine is doing, and likely long-term outcomes. 

Operator Violated Floodplain Permit

According to Griffin, counties in Texas have few tools to regulate land use. However, floodplain regulations are one of them. Montgomery County alleges that the Carriage Hills sand mine operator, Skilled International, was in violation of the floodplain permit issued to MBM Sand Company, the landowner. 

Griffin says there were two main issues. First, MBM obtained the permit, but it was not transferrable to Skilled. Second, Skilled is operating in the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. The MBM permit allowed floodplain operations, but not floodway. 

Therefore, according to Griffin, they operated where they should not have. Floodway operations are subject to more regulations and more stringent regulations than floodplain operations. “They were operating outside the boundaries of their permit,” said Griffin. “That’s why we sought the authority to file suit against them. They were in violation of their floodplain permit.”

Mine Closes Voluntarily Until It Gets Proper Permit

The County, however, did not actually have to file the suit against the Carriage Hills sand mine. “They have complied voluntarily and shut down the sand pit operations until they get their approvals to operate in the special flood hazard area,” said Griffin.

He further stated that, “If you fail to enforce your regulations, then you jeopardize the county’s participation in the national flood insurance program. That’s major. But we try to enforce the regulations anyway because it’s the right thing to do. We’re not after fines necessarily, but we do have that ability if necessary.”

“The operator also told us in writing that they will cease operations until they get the proper permits,” said Griffin. Three officials from Montgomery County checked and found that the mine has, in fact, ceased operations.

What Mine Must Do to Comply

Basically, they need to show where they are operating. If it’s in the floodway, there are more regulation than if they are just in the flood plain. They need to show that they’re not increasing the base flood elevation and that there are no adverse impacts to adjoining properties. AND they have to have it all certified by engineers in order to get their permit.”

That means the engineer will need to conduct an H&H (Hydrologic and Hydraulic) study for the floodway portion of the mine’s permit. “They need that to show that they won’t raise the base flood elevation and that they won’t adversely impact adjoining properties.”

Truck Traffic Will Likely Return When Permits Obtained

While the threat of a County suit has eliminated all the truck traffic through Carriage Hills for now, in the long run, things may not change much. Griffin says, “You have to understand. Land use regulation by a county is fairly limited in Texas. We don’t have the powers of a municipality and we don’t have the powers of the State.”

Griffin continued, “So, we can only regulate land use with very limited means. One of those is floodplain regulations. The other is subdivision regulations. So, what we look to and require, is often not the same as what an adjoining landowner may want.”

We want compliance with our permitting process and with the actual regulations themselves. The Carriage Hills sand mine can’t increase water on adjoining property and they can’t raise the base flood elevation. Those are the two big ones,” said Griffin.

Regarding the heavy truck traffic on residential roads, Griffin says, “It’s a public road. Unfortunately, we can’t do much. The state can issue overload permits and they have the right to run on our roads. We can’t do anything about it. There’s a limit as to what the county can do. And, you know, we are in a fast-growing county. As population density increases, we can get more of these problems. There’s not always a win-win solution. But if we take some actions like this, it makes people think about being good corporate neighbors.”

Up to 600 trucks per day were disturbing these quiet residential streets in Carriage Hills, a Conroe subdivision near the West Fork San Jacinto.

Threat of County Lawsuit Remains

Skilled International, the mine’s operator has not given a timetable for compliance yet. But Griffin says they have hired a consultant who is working directly with the County Engineers office. In the meantime, they have agreed to suspend operations until they get their proper permits.

Says Griffin, “We have the lawsuit prepared to be filed. As long as they cease operations, we won’t file a lawsuit. If we see them starting up the operations again and there’s no permit, we will file the suit.”

The complaint approved by Commissioners required remediation for any dirt Skilled International may have brought into the Carriage Hills sand mine. Griffin says, “If they ultimately do NOT get a permit, we will require them to remove anything they may have brought into the floodway.”

This could prove substantial. New draft FEMA floodplain maps show the floodway has expanded. The new floodway now takes in the vast majority of the area being mined.

Approximate location of Carriage Hills sand mine
Black oval shows approximate location of new Carriage Hills sand mine relative to the new draft FEMA flood plain maps. The vast majority of the mine is within the floodway represented by the red crosshatched area.

It is unclear whether the County Engineer and Attorney will apply the new floodplain map when considering the mine’s permit or use the old map.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/31/2020

945 Days after Hurricane Harvey

TCEQ Lists Water-Quality Concerns About Romerica High-Rise Permit

Last week, SWCA, Romerica’s environmental consultant, requested more time to respond to concerns about the proposed high-rise development in Kingwood. On April 30, the Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application. The Corps suggested that Romerica resubmit a new application once they worked out issues with the first submittal.

Eight Pages of Concerns

All along, Kingwood residents have expressed skepticism about the suitability of this project for the Kingwood location. Turns out the 727 residents and groups that submitted protest letters weren’t the only ones with questions.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) letter to the Corps expresses eight pages of concerns. Keep in mind that it was dated March 1. So the developer had it for TWO MONTHS. Also remember! TCEQ was reviewing ONLY water-quality issues posed by the development.

Full Text of Letter

Reading the TCEQ letter makes one realize how deficient the original application must have been. Here is the complete text for those who want all the detail.

Summary of Key Points

For everyone else, I have summarized the main concerns below.

  1. Title 30, Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 279.ll(c)(l), states that “No discharge shall be certified if there is a practicable alternative to the proposed discharge which would have less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem, … ” “Please have the applicant clarify the purpose and need for the project, as portions of the proposed project are not aquatic-dependent.”
  2. From the public notice, the applicant states that “they have avoided and minimized environmental impacts by configuring the location of the proposed structures and reducing the size of the lakes within each district.” “This statement does not detail how and where wetland and stream impacts were avoided or minimized. Please have the applicant explain how and where impacts to stream and wetland resources were minimized and avoided.”
  3. “The applicant proposes to develop a mitigation site or purchase credits but says nothing more…The compensatory mitigation plan must include the objectives, site selection, the site protection instrument, baseline information, how the compensatory mitigation will provide required compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, a mitigation work plan, maintenance plan, ecological performance standards, monitoring requirements, long-term management plan, adaptive management plan, financial assurances, and other information per the mitigation rule requirements.”
  4. “During the site visit, the resource agencies and the applicant’s representative noticed several streams that were not accounted for in the impacts tables. Please have the applicant incorporate the additional streams and revise the total amount of project impacts accordingly.”
  5. “There are several impacts within the commercial district that appear to be unaccounted for or are unidentified. Please have the applicant revise the impacts table to account for all resources that will be converted.”
  6. “Please have the applicant determine if project specific locations (PSLs) such as borrow, stockpiling, staging, and equipment parking areas associated with the project will impact wetlands. These PSL impacts should be included in the accounting of total project impacts.”
  7. “Several wetlands within the proposed project boundary will be hydrologically disconnected from the current floodplain. Please have the applicant revise the impacts tables to include wetland and stream resources that will be affected secondarily by the proposed project and address the cumulative effect of each district on the interconnectedness of the onsite wetlands.”
  8. “Please have the applicant explain in detail what measures will be taken to avoid groundwater and surface water contamination from construction activities.”
  9. “Please have the applicant provide a hydraulic analysis of the site to account for current site conditions, projected increased impervious surface runoff, as well as drainage patterns for the site, and describe how water quality on and off the project site will be protected from impacts such as erosion.”
  10. “Stormwater drainage from residential and commercial lots should be routed away from the West Fork San Jacinto River, the marina, and stream resources onsite. Stormwater should be redirected and routed to stormwater treatment features before entering the aforementioned resources. Please have the applicant provide details on how the replacement of lost onsite water quality functions will be addressed.”

Other Issues Outlined in Letter

  1. How an expanded Woodland Hills Drive would affect stream crossings
  2. The purpose and design of the so-called “water-quality ponds”
  3. The design of channels and marinas; their connectivity to the San Jacinto; and their impact on water quality
  4. The impact of boat channels on water-oxygen levels
  5. Channels that cross wetland habitat
  6. Box culverts instead of bridges
  7. Channel widths (100-foot wide for a channel 4-feet deep)
  8. Channels crossing property Romerica doesn’t own
  9. Slope of channels
  10. Diversion of stormwater from roads and parking lots away from channels
  11. Dead-end channels
  12. How domestic wastewater will be collected and treated
  13. Dissolved oxygen monitoring and reporting
  14. Applicants characterization of stream types (intermittent vs. perennial); requests “an accurate assessment.”
  15. Conservation easements on the property. (21.90 acres of wetlands are covered by a conservation easement located within the residential and commercial portions of the proposed development. “Please have the applicant verify that the conservation easement will be protected from potential development and ensure the preserved wetlands will not be impacted, directly or indirectly, from the construction of the proposed project.”

Start Over?

There may be no good answers to some of these questions and concerns. SWCA, CivilTech and Romerica must be re-evaluating the impact of these questions on the economics of their project.

This isn’t the type of stuff you need another week to figure out. These questions will make the developers rethink their commitment to the entire project.

Finding answers will likely involve a redesign of the project and that could cost more than the land itself.

Keep in mind that water quality was just one of 20 different areas that the Corps is evaluating.

TCEQ Didn’t Have Enough Info to Make Decision

I asked Peter Schaefer, a team leader within the TCEQ Water Quality Assessment Section, whether the TCEQ had made a recommendation to the Corps on this project. He said “No.”

The reason: “Because TCEQ did not receive a response to our comment letter, and the applicant had not begun the process of working with us and the Corps to address the concerns raised in the letter, TCEQ was not in a position to make a decision on the project,” said Schaeffer. Hence the detailed requests for more information.

Schaefer added, “A typical 404/401 permitting process would normally take several months, if not a year or more, for the applicant to address comments from TCEQ, Corps, resource agencies, and the public. Because of the magnitude and nature of this project, it would likely have required much more time, coordination, discussion, project revision(s), and perhaps additional public notice(s) to get to the point where the Corps was prepared to complete a Decision Document.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/1/2019

610 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Search for Owners of High-Rise Properties Leads to Maze of More Than 30 Companies in Texas Alone

Romerica Investments LLC has filed permit applications with the Army Corps, City of Houston, and Harris County Flood Control. Romerica Investments hopes to build 5,000 mid-rise condos, a series of high-rise towers ranging from 25 to 50 stories, and a marina to hold 800 40-foot boats and 200 jet skis – all on property deed-restricted to “single-family residential” in a bald-eagle habitat protection zone. The property is near River Grove Park in the floodplain and floodway of the San Jacinto’s West Fork.

However, a title search revealed that Romerica Investments does not own the property on which it intends to build. A search for who does own the property led through a maze of more than 30 other entities in Texas. Two individuals run virtually all of them. The individuals sometimes use different names and different spellings of their names when registering their businesses with the Texas Secretary of State. They also list offices that are sometimes vacant; phone numbers that have been disconnected; and an address on a street that does not exist. In the case of the land in question, they even registered the company under the first name of one man and the last name of the other. Innocent mistakes or part of a pattern? You judge.

Maze Haze

I searched websites of the Harris County District Clerk and Appraisal District; the Texas Secretary of State; CorporationWiki; Dun & Bradstreet; and Google. The search revealed at least 32 companies in Texas associated with variations on Fabio M. Covarrubias’ name and 24 under variations of Gabriel M. Haddad’s name. A large degree of overlap exists between the companies controlled by the two men. See below.

Spider diagram courtesy of CorporationWiki showing the maze of relationships between companies and people in this post.

Covarrubias Companies

The name Fabio M. Covarrubias pulls up the following:

  • B US TOTAL INVESTOR, LLC, aka American Vision Regional Center
  • Cova Capital Inc.
  • Fama Design Corporation
  • Lake Como Properties LLC
  • Pacifica Properties Inc.
  • Pacifica Properties LLC
  • Romerica Insurance LLC
  • Romerica Investments LLC
  • Romerica Real Estate LLC

The name Fabio M. Covarrubias Piffer (without a hyphen in the last names) is associated with:

  • Cova Assets Inc.
  • FAMA Ranch Company
  • MSR Serials LLC
  • North American Phosphates and Supplies Co.
  • Romerica Assets LLC
  • Romerica GP, LLC
  • Romerica Investments LLC
  • Romerica CW 3 LLC
  • Romerica E 6 LLC
  • Romerica R 1 LLC
  • Romerica RMR 4 LLC
  • Trio Sports Developments LLC

The name Fabio M. Covarrubias-Piffer (with a hyphen) is associated with:


Fabio Massimo Covarrubias-Piffer (full middle name with hyphen) is associated with:

  • Romerica Title, LLC

Haddad Companies

Gabriel Miguel Haddad’s name appears with:

  • B US TOTAL INVESTOR, LLC, aka American Vision Regional Center
  • Fama Design Corporation
  • Paban Corporate Services Inc.
  • Romerica Assets LLC
  • Romerica Insurance, LLC
  • Romerica Investments, LLC
  • Romerica Real Estate, LLC

The name Gabriel M. Haddad Giorgi appears with nine more LLCs in Texas:

  • Emprende Management, LLC
  • Romerica C.L. 2, LLC
  • Romerica CW 3, LLC
  • Romerica E 6, LLC
  • Romerica GP, LLC
  • Romerica RMR 4, LLC
  • Romerica M 5, LLC
  • Romerica R 1, LLC
  • Romerica Team, LLC

Gabriel Miguel (middle name spelled out) Haddad Giorgi is listed as the manager of:

  • Romerica Title, LLC

And finally, in a class all its own, the name Fabio M. Haddad Giorgi appears on the Certificate of Formation of:

In case you’re doing a double take, that’s the first name of one man with the last name of another. They amended that filing last year so that their names now appear as Fabio M. Covarrubias Piffer and Gabriel M. Haddad Giorgi.

Filing for Permit to Develop

Whew! Got all that? Now get this. Romerica Investments, the company that filed the permit application with the Corps, lists Mr. Covarrubias as both manager and director under two different names. Also note that the address on “Nuntucket” for Mr. Haddad does not exist; there is no such street. (Many of their filings use this misspelling. A Nantucket street does exist in Houston.)

Romerica Investments’ management information. Note the different names, addresses and positions for Mr. Covarrubias. Also note the different positions for Mr. Haddad and the misspelling of his street name. Google Maps street view shows rather expensive homes at this address, so “Suite C” seems odd.

Gabriel Miguel Haddad even registered Romerica Investments under the name Miguel Gabriel Haddad, flipping his first and middle names.

Company with Disconnected Phone Number Now Developing Multi-Billion Dollar Project

Dun & Bradstreet shows Romerica Investments as out of business. The company’s web site home page has shown “Future Home of…” for the last six years. After I pointed out some of these problems in previous posts, Manlove Advertising created a website suggesting that the Romerica Group will now develop the Kingwood Marina Project. See below.

Kingwood Marina website suggests that Romerica Group, not Romerica Investments will develop property. It also states that developers believe in “dialog with stakeholders,” but they have refused to meet publicly.

Here’s where the plot thickens. The Romerica Group does not legally exist in Texas. The Texas Secretary of State lists no such company. Romerica Group’s phone has been disconnected. The Group’s website contains broken links to other supposedly related companies, such as Romerica Real Estate. The Texas Real Estate Commission lists Romerica Real Estate as inactive. And their American Vision site as been linked by International Appraiser to fake projects seeking investments from foreigners in exchange for visas.

So Many Questions, So Little Time; Developers Refuse to Meet

These observations raise many questions. Despite the developers’ claimed “commitment to dialog with stakeholders at every level,” they have refused to meet publicly to answer questions before the end of the Army Corps’ comment period. I have personally requested a meeting by phone, email, or certified mail seven times in the last seven weeks – all to no avail.

Developers commonly use different companies to acquire, sell, or subdivide land. That doesn’t bother me. The fact that registrations for so many of these companies contain inconsistencies, inaccuracies, misspellings, wrong addresses, aliases, broken links, dead ends and disconnected phone numbers does concern me.

None of the companies shows projects they have completed. Sometimes one company lists another as the owner, but the companies may be incorporated in different states or different countries. Plus they’re selling:

My advice: Buyers beware. I use the term “buyers” in a global sense to include officials granting permits. I’m not buying any of this.

As always, these posts contain my opinions on matters of public policy which 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 14, 2019

534 Days since Hurricane Harvey

High-Rise Developers Make New Claims, Give Themselves Most Generous Disclaimer in History of Words

The developers of the proposed high-rise development near River Grove Park launched a new web site today, TheHeronsKingwood.com. In it, they make many new claims designed to put the public’s concerns to rest. It had the opposite effect on me. Why?

  • They told the Corps the Marina would hold 640 boats. It’s 160 boats larger now. The website video states 800.
  • The Army Corps thinks the development is 331 acres. The website claims 364.
  • After telling community leaders they would hold a public meeting before the close of the comment period, they now say after.
  • After previously touting their connections to an Italian architectural firm, Torrisi and Procopio (which I suspected was a fake site), they now say Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) developed the design. But SOM in San Francisco referred me to their legal department, which did not take my calls. The Italian site was developed in English and registered in Aruba by a Canadian Company.
  • They now claim that a subsidiary of Romerica Investments, the Romerica Group, will develop the project. They claim Romerica Group has existed since 2007 and is located in Houston. The Texas Secretary of State has no listing for Romerica Group. Neither do Florida, Delaware or Alberta, Canada – other known locations where the developers have incorporated. The phone number listed on the Romerica Group website is disconnected. The office was unoccupied last time I checked several weeks ago.
  • “Romerica Group” does not appear on any of the permit applications associated with this project at the Army Corps, City of Houston or Harris County Flood Control.
  • Romerica Investments does not own the property being permitted.
  • They claim that 25-story condominium towers are single family homes. That’s the world’s largest family!
  • They say that only the northern half of the development is subject to height restrictions without offering any proof that “single-family residential” deed restrictions have been removed from the southern half.
  • They claim they’re creating a connection to Hamblin Road (sic), which the Corps Public Notice does not mention and no one in Forest Cove seems to know about.
  • They claim that “Both the city and county have approved construction and permits have been issued, they have determined that the community will not have an adverse effect on surrounding communities.” This makes it sound like they have been given permits for the entire development. Not true. Neither is the second half of the statement. Developers requested a permit to start excavating the marina. They promised they would haul excavated material offsite. However, things changed by the time the Corps issued its public notice. The public notice states that they will use the fill to raise the elevation 12 feet. Hmmm. Sounds like cause to revoke those permits to me!
  • They again claim that raising elevations to 57 feet will make the buildings flood safe when the area has flooded over 57 feet at least six times in the last 25 years.
  • They call roads an alternative mode of transportation!
  • They think ExxonMobil is spelled Exxon Mobile.

But the best part is this! Read the disclaimer. It’s the most self-generous disclaimer in the history of words. Nobody is responsible for anything the site says. Make sure you read the fine print.

Ain’t nobody responsible for nothin’.

As always, this post represents my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on February 12, 2019

532 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Will High-Rise Marina Project Meet Army Corps’ Criteria for “Needed”?

As we saw in a previous post, Army Corps regulations stipulate that a developer must prove there is a need for his/her project before destroying wetlands. Further, the Corps assumes that the developer has done due diligence in assessing market conditions.

“Has Romerica Investments done due diligence? Is this project needed?” In my opinion, the answer is no. It consists of condominiums 65-feet high in the flood plain, plus 25-50 story retail, commercial and hotel structures arranged around a marina. That marina is in the floodway of the San Jacinto River’s West Fork.

Looking northwest from the southeastern tip of the proposed high-rise marina district Imagine 50-story high rises in the narrow strip of land between the lake and the Barrington in the background. Look below to see the scale.

But growth in the Humble ISD has slowed from 6% to 1% because of concerns over flooding. The number-one need we have now is to restore safety by mitigating flood risk. This project will worsen flood risk and there is little demand for it – especially in this location. The Corps should deny this permit until the safety of the community can be assured.

Drawn to vertical scale.

The developer plans to build more than 3 million square feet of hotel, commercial, retail and residential space in the floodplain. Yet, since Harvey, we can’t fill all the homes we have – even those on higher ground. About a quarter of the retail space in Town Center and King’s Harbor is still vacant. There’s little demand for commercial space. And existing hotels can handle travelers just fine, thank you.

Previous Attempt to Build Retail Mall in Kingwood Failed

It’s also hard to see how Kingwood’s population would support another shopping mall and theater. We already have a major 1.2 million SF regional mall right across the river in Humble. We also have three theaters with 44 screens within 5 miles. Also, consider that online shopping and streaming services, such as Amazon and Netflix, are stealing market share from malls and movie theaters all over America.

A previous attempt to build a small mall in Kingwood resulted in abject failure. The mall was on the southwest corner of Kingwood Drive and US59. After sitting vacant for years, HCA bought the structure and converted it into a community hospital.

Market Review Does Not Consider Location-Specific Factors

The market review conducted by the applicant mentioned none of this. It focused on job growth in Texas and Houston. It totally ignored the local Kingwood market and site-specific considerations. Conducted before Harvey, the survey has NOT been updated to reflect flooding concerns.

That said, most existing homes and businesses in Kingwood are on much higher ground. Raising this project 12 feet above its current elevation to 57′ won’t raise it out of harms way. Far from it. We’ve had six floods higher than that since 1994 – an average of one every FOUR years. That’s an increase over the previous 65 years when we had just three – one every 22 years..

The build-it-and-they-will-come mentality in post-Harvey Houston invites disappointment down the road. It will create white elephants that leave permanent scars on the landscape after destroying the fragile wetlands that we so desperately need to absorb and store floodwaters.

Raising Elevation Will Raise Costs

However, raising the entire project 12 feet WILL raise costs. And therefore, it will price sales and rentals far above the rest of the market – in an area (i.e., floodplain) that people are wary of after Harvey.

In my opinion, the combination of higher costs, less demand, less traffic, remote location, and local opposition will doom this project from the start.

Incomplete Market Analysis

The developer’s market conditions report looks only at economic growth projections for the State of Texas and City of Houston.

  • It does not include any evaluation of local Kingwood-specific factors, such as occupancy rates. 
  • It includes no staples of market analysis such as traffic counts or trading radius.
  • It does not consider the feasibility of anchor attractions, such as the marina and retail mall. For instance, can the West Fork even accommodate the volume and size of boats in the marina? Will retailers support a mall at the end of a dead-end road, four miles from the nearest highway, devoid of any through traffic, that floods every time we get four inches of rain?
  • It says comparable projects around the country were surveyed, but makes no mention of them. It contains no competitive analysis.
  • It reads like a prospectus targeted at investors, but contains no mention of risk.
  • The authorship of the analysis is redacted; we do not know who conducted the survey or what credentials they have.
  • Finally, it contains no mention of flooding or Harvey. 

These omissions feel like serious flaws in Romerica’s market analysis. The Corps should not approve a permit based on such work. There is no demonstrable need to destroy these wetlands.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/1/2019

521 Days since Hurricane Harvey