Tag Archive for: purchase of Woodridge Village

Commissioner Ellis Tries to Add New Conditions to Woodridge Deal – Yet Again

In the Harris County Commissioners Court meeting on 8/25/2020, Commissioners again considered the purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes – at least one small aspect of it that would have allowed them to lock in the price while other details are worked out.

For months, the County has considered purchasing the property to create a regional flood detention facility along Taylor Gully. On Tuesday, County Engineer John Blount placed an item on the agenda requesting that Commissioners declare the purchase of the property north of Elm Grove a “public necessity.”

The declaration is a procedural formality that would allow the county to enter into an earnest money contract to lock in the price. The terms of the contract, however, would not have obligated the county to write a check until all conditions placed on the sale had been dealt with satisfactorily. After a half hour of debate, the Court took no action.

Ellis Goes On Attack Again

Once again, Commissioner Rodney Ellis used the opportunity to try to add two new conditions to the purchase. In the process, he exaggerated the cost of the deal and misrepresented the substance of previous votes.

The proposed new conditions were that the City should pay for half of any new lawsuits arising from the property and that the City should pay for half of the maintenance costs.

You can view the thirty minute discussion in the video of the meeting. Click on Departments (Part 2 of 2). Then advance to about 2:00:45 as Mr. Blount introduces Item 1T on the agenda.

Ellis’ Concerns

Ellis starts out by openly worrying that new assets would require additional funds for maintenance and operations. He also worries about:

  • Trusting the City to keep its promises.
  • Completing projects in the bond fund.
  • Committing cash to a deal he doesn’t like.
  • The City’s progress on reshaping regulations tied to Atlas-14 adoption.
  • Whether the City will continue to approve ill-conceived projects in its ETJ.
  • Timing of the commitment relative to a vote on whether to increase taxes.
  • How the project will affect the Flood Control District’s maintenance budget.
  • Whether the City is acting in good faith
  • Detracting from projects in his district
  • Spending taxpayer money in another county (even if it helps people in Harris County).

Previously, Commissioner Ellis introduced motions to make the City:

Highlights of Discussion

The following timecodes are approximate. This is a summary, not a transcript. These portions of the 30-minute discussion stood out because of their importance or inconsistencies.

2:00:45 County Engineer John Blount introduces Item 1T on page 4 of the agenda. It reads:

“Recommendation that the court find a public necessity exists for the Flood Control District to purchase Tracts G503-06-00-01-001.0 and G503-06-00-01-002.0 in Montgomery County from Figure Four Partners, Ltd., in the amount of $14,019,316 plus closing costs for the Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin, and that the Real Property Division Manager or Assistant Division Manager be authorized to sign any agreements or closing documents associated with this transaction.”

Ellis Leads Off Discussion With Leading Questions

2:01:12: Commissioner Ellis says “Judge, I have a few questions…” and the debate begins. As usual, Mr. Ellis begins by asking leading questions. And the answers are usually obvious. On this day he asked whether the purchase would lead to increased maintenance costs.

2:01:40: Russ Poppe, executive director of the Flood Control District replies, “Yes.”

2:01:50: Ellis asks how much the District’s maintenance budget would decrease should the county adopt a “no-new-revenue” tax rate for next year.

2:02:10: Poppe says that he has seen spreadsheets [which have not been made public] that indicate reductions to operations and maintenance budgets could begin next year, but he doesn’t mention a percentage.

2:02:37: Ellis says, “So the costs will go up” and “…It will be a significant increase.” [Editor’s note: the amount of the increase was never mentioned. You need to be a fast listener when Ellis has the floor.] “So my question is, ‘Why would the district proceed with construction of mitigation assets if we don’t know if we may be unable to maintain them?

Would it make more sense – if we adopt the no-new-revenue rate – to pause third and fourth quartile bond projects until revenue is sufficient to maintain?

Rodney Ellis

[Editor’s Note: by accelerating projects in LMI and SVI neighborhoods, Ellis has delayed projects, such as this one, in other precincts.]

Ellis continues. “Why will we keep starting more projects and we have no idea how we’re going to maintain them?” [Editor’s Note: He does not ask the same question of projects in his precinct.]

2:03:27: Poppe replies, “You bring up a concern that I had, too, Commissioner. Because I know our funding is going to have to increase in order for us to take care of all this infrastructure to the level that our residents are going to expect us to make sure that it functions when we need it to function.”

Confusion over Previous Conditions

2:03:40: Ellis asks Blount or Poppe to restate the conditions previously imposed on the deal that should have preceded the County moving forward with the project. [Editor’s note: I submitted a FOIA request to the County asking for the exact text of that motion, approved in open court. The County denied the request. I appealed. The County submitted it to the State Attorney General’s office for review. The attorney general has not yet ruled on the issue.]

2:04:10: Poppe starts his reply by talking about the demand for half the purchase price. “The city has indicated they do not have the cash available to make up their half of the contribution to acquire the site, which is around 14 million dollars. And the city has indicated that they would rather transfer land assets in the value of at least half of the purchase price to us for use as flood-risk reduction projects. That was condition number one.”

“Condition number two was that the City of Houston adopt updated detention and mitigation rates commensurate with the Atlas-14 rainfall rates. And that was both to be adopted inside not only their city of Houston limits, but also their ETJ.”

“And then the third…”

2:04:45 Ellis interrupts. “And have they done that?”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis

2:04:50: Poppe replies, “No, there’s an ongoing task force or work group for which I think John’s office (County Engineer) and my office both have people who sit in and contribute to those conversations. But no, they have not adopted increased mitigation requirements yet.”

“And then the last piece that has to occur, Commissioner, is we have to execute an inter-local agreement that addresses those issues I just mentioned, as well as other details, as one might imagine, come up as you start developing a site of this magnitude.”

Ellis Reminds Poppe about Getting City to Pay for Half of Construction

2:05:17: Ellis, referring to a second motion to include construction costs in the City’s half of the deal, asks, “And wasn’t that talk about paying for half the cost to do something with it? I thought that was in the motion. And also paying for half the cost in the event there’s a lawsuit … and … a commitment to pay for half of what it takes to maintain?” (Editor’s note: Paying for half the construction costs was in a previous motion. But the motion did NOT include the City paying for half of legal or maintenance costs.)

2:05:54: Poppe replies. “Yes, Commissioner, those were all issues we’ve talked about, but I don’t believe those were actually directed by court. I know that’s your intention and I want to get those issues addressed with the City as part of our inter-local agreement, too, because those are real costs.”

2:06:54: Hidalgo incorrectly states that Ellis’ additional requirements WERE part of previous motions. “And they WERE, Russ. I remember this is about the fourth time we’re going back over what we agreed. Maybe someone ought to just go back and listen to the transcript and send it around, because as I remember, it was that half of both the purchase and whatever happens and then the detention requirements and there could be assets of land. But we’ve had the same discussion quite a few times. I think in the end we agreed.” (Editor’s note: this contradiction may have something to do with why the FOIA request was denied and appealed to the State AG.)

2:07:45: After a long diatribe about how the City can’t be trusted, Ellis states that he can’t support the deal unless there’s an inter-local agreement that specifies objectives IN WRITING. (Editor’s note: Ellis previously insisted that an inter-local agreement was worthless and that the City had to actually comply with all County demands BEFORE the County moved forward.)

Ellis then worries that there won’t be enough money to complete projects in his district.

Ellis Likens Project to Buying Brooklyn Bridge

2:16:46: Ellis likens the Woodridge Village project to acquiring the Brooklyn Bridge.

2:17:00 Poppe explains that the County provided an inter-local agreement to the City that addresses all the issues under discussion.

“We are still waiting to hear back from them to actually sit down and have a negotiation meeting to make sure that they’re on the same page as us with those initial concepts and the inter-local agreement.”

Russ Poppe, Exec Director, HCFCD

2:17:38: Hidalgo says, “So we can take no action on this item?”

County Attorney’s Office and Cagle Clarify Earnest Money Contract

2:18:43: Robert Soard from the County Attorney’s Office clarifies the purpose of the earnest money contract. It:

  • Commits the seller to the price.
  • Gives the County 120 days to work out an inter-local agreement with the City.
  • Specifically says the inter-local agreement has to be approved by Commissioners Court before the court has to buy the property.

2:24:05: Commissioner Jack Cagle says, “This is not nearly as complicated as we’re trying to make it. We have people in Harris County that are at risk of flooding because of the property that’s upstream. We have a chance to lock in a very good price to be able to acquire property to help people that live in Harris County.”

“Understand that we have all the criteria that have been added to the initial idea. And the ball has moved a little bit since our very first meeting. But with all of that in place, to be able to at least lock in the price – as opposed to letting that price float with someone on the other side who is trying to decide what they want to do – I think is a reasonable thing.”

“And if we can’t meet the three criteria or the five criteria or the seven criteria that might come down the pike, then we don’t meet those. But at least let’s give ourselves a locked-in price and a set of targets to move towards. These are people in Harris County that we’re trying to help in times when they’re concerned with things that are coming in to our area with regard to water – tropical storms, hurricanes, flooding.”

Ellis Drops New Bomb; Commissioners Take No Action

2:25:40: Ellis says that he won’t support the declaration of necessity because it raises “false hope that we’re going to do it,” meaning purchase the property. He also says, “And the city is telling us that they are not going to make a decision on those policy matters [Atlas-14 implementation], but they would like us to commit to this 50 to 70 million dollars.” During this part of the discussion, Ellis doubles previous estimates and ignores the fact that the City would be paying for half, but no one corrects him. He couples the Woodridge-Village purchase with setting the tax rate, as if he’s getting ready to blame a tax increase on Elm Grove.

And then he drops the big one. He admits, “those people who have gotten water in neighborhoods where there were no equity standards will be left out.”

Rodney Ellis, Harris County PRECINCT 1 COMMISSIONER

The reference to equity has to do with the application of poverty standards to the prioritization of bond funds. He explicitly states that if your neighborhood doesn’t meet LMI or SVI criteria – his definition of equity – you won’t benefit from the $2.5 billion bond fund.

The discussion ended shortly thereafter.

Commissioners decided to take no action and defer the motion to a later date.

Again, please don’t just accept my summary of Tuesday’s meeting; view the video yourself. The discussion was rambling, disjointed, and filled with “memory lapses.” But I believe this summary captures the main points.

Breaking a Golden Rule of Conflict Negotiation

It’s clear from Cagle’s cynical comment about the three, five, or seven conditions, that he despairs this deal will ever be finalized. Every time it comes up, Ellis tries to add more conditions. Most distressing is the fact that he’s also trying to redefine motions that the Court previously agreed to. And that the county refuses to produce the text of after a valid FOIA request.

Harris County Commissioners Court has a real transparency issue.

Ellis is diverting money to projects in his district with new conditions that evolve in each meeting.

A golden rule of conflict resolution states that if you agree to a deal three times and someone still keeps trying to add conditions, you should disengage. That person is just not being honest with you.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/27/2020

1094 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 343 since Imelda

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.

Harris County Commissioners to Consider Purchase of Woodridge Village Again in Tuesday Meeting

Harris County published the agenda for next Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting. Once again, the purchase of Woodridge Village is on the agenda. The Perry Homes property contributed to flooding in Elm Grove Village twice last year, after the developer clear cut the land but did not yet install detention. Now, even with detention installed, the amount will likely be insufficient to forestall future floods because the engineers calculated the volume needed based on pre-Atlas 14 rainfall estimates. The new Atlas-14 estimates are about 40% higher than the old ones.

Since the 2019 floods, both the City and anxious Elm Grove residents have been urging the county to purchase the property and turn it into a regional floodwater detention facility to help protect homes in the Taylor Gully Watershed.

Commissioners first considered the purchase in April. When they could not reach agreement then, the issue resurfaced in several other meetings, but Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis kept heaping new conditions on the deal. First he wanted the City of Houston to pay for half the purchase price. Then, half the construction cost of building additional detention. The the City also had to adopt Atlas 14. And the City had to upgrade multiple development regulations to become consistent with County regs. And the City couldn’t just promise to do those things in an interlocal agreement. Future tense. They had to actually do them. Present tense.

Agenda Item 1T Under County Engineer

Item 1T Reads:

Recommendation that the court find a public necessity exists for the Flood Control District to purchase Tracts G503-06-00-01-001.0 and G503-06-00-01-002.0 in Montgomery County from Figure Four Partners, Ltd., in the amount of $14,019,316 plus closing costs for the Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin, and that the Real Property Division Manager or Assistant Division Manager be authorized to sign any agreements or closing documents associated with this transaction.

Documentation attached to the agenda item mentions the previous conditions put on the sale, but also focuses on “public necessity.” Declaring a property a public necessity is necessary before the county could purchase it. Even if commissioners approve this agenda item, they would need to revisit the issue to ensure the City has complied with all conditions the commissioners previously imposed on the sale.

The letter from the County Engineer to commissioners also proposes an inter-local agreement, which Commissioner Ellis previously objected to.

Status of Perry Detention Ponds

Excavation of all five detention ponds on the Perry site is complete, although some finish word remains on N3. Contractors finished S1 and S2 earlier this year. Since then, they have also virtually completed N1, N2 and N3. All pictures below were taken within the last two weeks.

N1 in the northwest corner of Woodridge.
N2 in the middle part of the western perimeter.
N3 along the eastern border of the site.

Together, these three ponds comprise 77% of the total acre/feet of detention on the site.

The newly excavated increase of capacity will help protect Elm Grove residents in rainfalls up to 12.17 inches. But complying with the new Atlas-14 regulations would require protection from a 17.3 inch rain in 24 hours. That’s about 40% more. Hence the need to purchase the property before it is developed into homesites.

TD 14 could test LJA’s design of the ponds when the tropical system makes landfall next Tuesday.

Latest Update on Tropics

At 7 p.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center issued updates on the two tropical systems that threaten the northern Gulf. Both could affect the Texas/Louisiana area on Tuesday. That should be around the exact time commissioners are scheduled to meet virtually. I’m assuming the meeting could be postponed if the storm turns into an emergency.

I’ve heard rainfall estimates ranging from 3 to 18 inches for the storm(s). Here’s what the storms are currently doing according to the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical Depression 14 is currently dumping three to six inches of rain in the eastern portions of the Mexican states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches.

Tropical Storm Laura is also expected to dump three to six inches of rain in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, with isolated totals up to eight inches.

NHC predicts both storms will intensify into hurricanes in coming days.

Only this morning, the cone was centered on Mississippi and Alabama.
Tropical-storm-force winds currently extend outward up to 115 miles (185 km) from the center, but the storm is projected to intensify into a hurricane before making landfall.

If these two storms merge, things could get interesting. Compared to the last two days, the cone of uncertainty for TS Laura keeps shifting to the west. And its wind field now includes the Houston Area.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/21/2020

1088 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.

Detention Pond Work Continues at Woodridge Village Despite Change in County Purchase Offer

Two days ago, Harris County Commissioner’s voted to heap another demand on the Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village purchase offer. Even though they had already sent a formal offer to Perry last week! Now, before Commissioners cut a check for $14 million to Perry Homes, they want the City of Houston to contribute up to half the construction costs of a regional detention basin, not just half the purchase price of the land. So the City’s costs went from half of $14 million to half of (potentially) $44 million. In other words, they tripled.

Despite the hiccup, however, construction crews at Woodridge Village are back in high gear. After a short rain delay, they continue to excavate all three detention ponds on the northern section.

Martin Provides Text of County’s Original Offer to Perry

Separately, City of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin sent ReduceFlooding.com the County’s original offer letter on the property dated 5/14/2020. Even though the letter has been superseded by changes made in Commissioner’s Court last Tuesday, it’s interesting to note two provisions in the original purchase offer.

  • “If the parties are unable to execute a mutually agreeable earnest money contract within 75 days after the date of this letter then this offer will be considered withdrawn and void.”
  • “If this proposed transaction is successful, the City and District (HCFCD) will work together to secure partnership funding from others to include, but not be limited to, the state and federal government in order to build the maximum flood risk reduction benefits at this site.”

The 75-day limit may be ambitious now that the City has to come up with more land (in lieu of cash) – and transfer it to the county before the deal becomes effective. (See below.)

And if other levels of government get involved, such as the State and Federal governments, that could create more delays. It took approximately 950 days to get all levels of government to the point where preliminary engineering could begin on more gates for the Lake Houston Dam. And it will take at least another three years to complete the project, assuming FEMA approves construction.

Conditions Must be Met Before Deal

Time is crucial because Commissioners made it clear Tuesday night that they want to see the City meet conditions on the sale before writing a check. They are not taking the City’s word that the City will fulfill its end of the bargain at some unspecified point in the future. They worry that could take 20 years. This was yet another crucial change in the offer that will require more time.

The County wants the money or land upfront so that it can begin work immediately and limit its potential liability.

Martin Insists Conditions are “No Problem”

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin insists that the City has no problem with updating drainage and floodplain regulations related to Atlas 14. Nor, he insists, will the City have a problem coming up with land in lieu of cash. However, the City Council has not yet approved either.

“It’s not necessary to take up any issue with this through a City Council vote as there is no Interlocal Agreement to vote on,” says Martin. “Until Harris County Flood Control sends us an Interlocal Agreement to vote on, we don’t take action. We understand HCFC is working on this document as we have daily communication with them.”

Perry Plows Ahead

Meanwhile, Perry contractors continue to excavate detention ponds. Here’s where things stand as of this afternoon.

  • N1 Pond – Contractors are excavating in a northerly direction to connect the tail of N1 to the main body of the pond.
  • N2 Pond – Contractors continue to expand and deepen it.
  • N3 Pond – Contractors are extending it south to where it connects to Taylor Gully. They’re also sloping edges.
Contractors excavating the N3 pond on the northeastern border of Woodridge. Photo taken 4/21/2020 by Jeff Miller. Miller estimates that, weather permitting, they may finish excavating N3 early next month. Of course, it will take longer than that to make the pond fully functional.
Contractors excavating the N1 pond in the northwestern corner of Woodridge Village.
General layout of detention ponds on Perry Homes’ property.

In addition, contractors are:

  • Lining more of Taylor Gully with concrete
  • Getting ready to connect N1 and N2
  • Using dirt excavated from ponds to raise other areas.

This afternoon, Perry had approximately two dozen pieces of earth-moving equipment hard at work on the site. Perry has said that if the County and City couldn’t come up with a deal by its May 15th deadline, they would continue to try to sell the property on the private market or finish developing it themselves.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/21/2020 with thanks to Jeff Miller for reporting and photography

996 Days since Hurricane Harvey

County Commissioners Add New Condition to Purchase of Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village

In Tuesday’s Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, while HCFCD Executive Director Russ Poppe was talking about buyouts, Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis used the opportunity to go off on a rant about the County’s proposal to buy Woodridge Village from Perry Homes. The result: yet another condition added to the purchase.

City Must Now Cover Portion of Construction Cost, Too

The City of Houston now must come up with land or cash for part of the construction costs for any additional detention ponds built on Perry Homes’ property – not just the purchase price.

The actual amount would equal whatever the County contributes. For instance, if developing the property into a regional detention basin costs $20 million, and the county puts in $10 million, the City would need to put in $10 million also. But if either partner can find Federal or State funding to pay for part of the project, that amount would go down. For instance, if the the Feds or State put in 80% then the City and County would each pay 10%.

Other Conditions Remain the Same

The first two conditions remain the same:

  1. City must contribute land or cash worth half the purchase price.
  2. City must adopt County’s Atlas-14 provisions. Those would apply to the City’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) as well as the City itself.

Raddick Predicts City Won’t Meet Conditions

Commissioner Raddick predicted there was no way the City would adopt the Atlas-14 requirements.

He also observed that the County would be forcing the City to commit to an expenditure of an unknown size. And that the City wouldn’t know the size for several months because the County has not yet drawn up plans for improvements.

For Elm Grove residents, this is especially worrisome. That’s because, by law, the City Council must approve every City expenditure over $50,000.

So basically, the County is asking for an unknown commitment. Meanwhile, the City cannot make such a commitment until it knows the exact amount. However, Commissioners did not discuss this dilemma in their debate.

Unanimous Vote to Add Extra Condition

The vote by commissioners on the three conditions was unanimous. The motion carried 5-0.

This hill becomes steeper to climb every week.

Perry Site Quiet for Last Two Days

Meanwhile, Jeff Miller reported today that no dump trucks were moving on the Perry Homes’ site. That may have been due to the rains last weekend that are still filling at least the one detention pond and likely filling the others too.

Video of the Commissioners Court meeting won’t be posted until tomorrow. I will link the relevant sections when video becomes available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/20/2020

995 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 244 since Imelda