Tag Archive for: USFWS

Houston Planning Commission defers approval of “Orchard Seeded Ranches”

In a meeting today, the Houston Planning Commission deferred automatic approval of the general plan for Orchard Seeded Ranches by taking the item off the consent agenda. The Commission then asked the developer to consult with the City Engineer; the Planning and Development Department; and Harris County Flood Control before bringing further requests back to the Commission.

Taking the item off today’s consent agenda should send a strong signal to the developer that rough waters lie ahead. Any proposal will likely be debated publicly when/if the developer returns.

History of Project

Last year, Romerica filed a permit application to build 5,000 condos and several high-rises up to 50 stories tall on 331 acres near the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. After a record number of people and groups filed protests with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps withdrew the application. But now the developer is back – with a different name – Orchard Seeded Ranches. However, Harris County Appraisal District indicates that the same people still own the land.

Location of Property

The property is identical to the property Romerica tried to develop as The Herons of Kingwood last year. The General Plan below was downloaded from the City of Houston’s PlatTracker website.

plat of orchard seeded ranches
General Plan of Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood filed on 4/20/2020. For high-resolution, printable PDF, click here.

For orientation, the developed area in the middle is the Barrington. The line down the west side is Woodland Hills Drive. And the river at the bottom is the West Fork.

Filing a “general plan” like this is the first step in developing property. The developer has not yet submitted detailed plats showing construction details.

Virtually Entire Development in Floodway or Floodplain

About half of the Orchard Seeded Ranches lies in the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. FEMA defines floodways as the main current of a river during a flood. In the map below, that includes everything beneath the red line.

Purple area = Orchard Seeded Ranches. Red line = extent of floodway north of San Jacinto West Fork. Virtually half of subdivision would be in floodway.

Virtually all of the purple area above the red line lies in the floodplain. FEMA defines a floodplain as “storage” for water during a flood. That means water covers the land without moving rapidly.

I created the map above by combining the area to be developed with the FEMA flood map below.

From FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer. Orchard Seeded Ranches is in middle. Virtually the entire project lies in floodway (crosshatched) or 100-year floodplain (aqua).

Wetlands Issues Also Abound

Every part of the proposed development contains wetlands to some extent.

Note how the areas around the Barrington and River Grove Park are filled with wetlands (green areas). From US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Mapper.
Active bald eagle nest on Kingwood Country Club Property adjacent to Romerica's planned high rise marina.
Active bald eagle nest adjacent to development. Photo courtesy of Emily Murphy.

US Fish and Wildlife documented another eagle’s nest on the developer’s property. And the Balcom family, which lives near the western edge of the developer’s property, regularly photographs eagles from their balcony.

What’s in a Name

The name sounds as if the development would be lower density than the 50-story high-rises previously planned. But you never know. In the development business, names often have more evocative than literal significance. Look at the Houston Heights. Bridgeland (on the prairie). Mount Houston. You get the idea.

Community Considerations

Whatever the development is, when and if the developer returns to the Planning Commission, we should not forget that:

High water during Harvey at Balcom house on River Bend reached the second story.

A Less Risky, Less Costly Alternative

All of these factors will increase the risk and cost of any development.

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.
Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the “wet marks” several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.

The safest, sanest course for the developer – before putting more money at risk –would be to meet with community representatives about:

  • Purchasing this land
  • Putting a conservation easement on it
  • Letting it revert to nature and turning it into park land

Harris County Flood Control District has $175 million allocated in the flood bond for partnership projects with “Municipalities, Authorities, and Other Districts in Harris County.” See item Z100-00-00-MUNI.

That money could help purchase such property and turn it into green space forever. KSA, the Lake Houston Chamber, civic leaders and residents should get behind that idea. Judging by the response to Romerica’s last offering, it’s clear that residents would much rather see this area turned into parks than see the San Jacinto turn it into blight.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/30/2020

975 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Why You Never Want to Buy a Home Built Over Wetlands

The pictures below show why you should never, ever buy a home built over wetlands.

Standing water after one month with only an inch of rain. Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village in Montgomery County, Texas.

Standing Water One Inch of Rain A Month Before

I took these shots while circling Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village construction site in Montgomery County, Texas, on 12/3/2019. At that point, the nearest USGS rain gage (at US59 and the San Jacinto West Fork) indicated we had only had one inch of rain in the previous month. The most recent rain at the time was a quarter inch three weeks prior!

That’s far below the normal 4.3 inches of rainfall for November in Houston. So it was less than one quarter of the normal rainfall. Still, the land held standing water in numerous places, despite having been cleared and graded for months.

Soupy soil on the northeast portion of Perry Homes Woodridge Village.

Standing water should have soaked in long before I took these shots. But when you build a development on wetlands, that’s not always true.

This article by the National Wildlife Federation details the problems of building homes over wetlands: shifting slabs, damp basements, cracked driveways, mold, erosion, clogged storm drains, downstream flooding and more.

These pictures vividly illustrate how unstable wetlands soil can be.

Looking west over the northern portion of Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village
Southwestern portion of Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village fronting Woodland Hills Drive.

They remind me of the famous saying the Bible.

Matthew 7:24-27: Build Your House on the Rock

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Area classified as wetlands in the USGS National Wetlands Inventory within Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village.
Perry Homes’ contractors mired in more muck on the northern portion of Woodridge Village where wetlands once stood.

Five Previous Developers Passed on This Property

When Perry Homes bought this property, five other developers had previously bought and sold it without developing anything. Perhaps they realized the dangers once they investigated it more thoroughly. Regardless, one of Perry Homes’ subsidiaries bought the land and the company wound up in a literal quagmire.

That sinking feeling you get when you try to build over wetlands

Environmental Survey Not on File with Montgomery County

Perry Homes claims to have done an environmental survey. But if they did, they did not file it with Montgomery County. A FOIA request with the county turned up no such document. A survey, performed by a private consultant, cleared the way for developing this property.

Normally, the Army Corps would investigate wetlands and determine whether they fell under their jurisdiction. If so, developing them would have required permitting and possible mitigation.

That process would have taken much longer and Perry Homes was trying to beat the clock. They were trying to start development before new, stricter Atlas-14 regulations took effect that would have required 40% more detention.

The Corps is currently investigating this case but has not yet issued a decision as to whether Perry Homes’ consultant erred.

Regardless of what the Army Corps decides, these pictures should be a sobering reminder of the dangers of building over wetlands.

Beware of Dry-Season Sales

Wetlands do not necessarily remain wet year around. Unscrupulous developers often sell homes in the dry season without revealing the presence of former wetlands. But water naturally drains to these low-lying areas. Buying a home in one could turn into a perpetual headache.

If you are concerned about investing your life savings in such an area, both the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keep national databases of wetlands.

USGS National Wetlands Inventory showing Perry Homes Woodridge Village

Be a wise man or woman. Consult these databases before you buy a home to determine whether your property was once wetlands.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/15/2019

838 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 87 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.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Urged Corps to Deny Romerica Permit

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serivice (USFWS) has urged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny outright Romerica’s application to build high rises and a marina in the floodplain and floodway of the San Jacinto.

Bald eaglets photographed by Emily Murphy within a protection zone relative to most of the Romerica development. The USFWS criticized the Romerica application for an inadequate bald eagle survey.

From the date on the USFWS letter, February 28, it appears that USFWS arrived at its recommendation even before the close of the public comment period on March 1.

Read the full text of the five-page letter here or the summary below.

Summary of USFWS Concerns

The letter states that:

  • The applicant understated the likely impact on waters and wetlands resulting from fill material, raised buildings, infrastructure development and construction activities. They called the applicant’s proposal “misleading.”
  • USFWS expressed concerns about:
  • Bird strikes and mortalities associated with the high-rise buildings
  • The loss of highly functioning forested wetlands
  • Significant reduction in biological functions, particularly those related to fish and wildlife habitat
  • Water quality issues
  • A marina district built entirely within the floodway
  • The absence of appropriate stormwater management
  • Failure to fully disclose impacts on wetlands and surrounding properties
  • Inconsistencies in access road descriptions
  • Failure to fully disclose the project’s footprint impacts
  • Failure to provide an analysis of practicable alternatives to the proposed wetland and stream fill
  • Failure to demonstrate that the project meets the requirements of the EPA’s CWA 404(b)(1) guidelines
  • An incomplete compensatory mitigation plan
  • Improper assessment of the high level of functions of the onsite aquatic resources and surrounding upland habitats
  • An inadequate bald eagle survey
  • Disturbance and loss of bald eagle habitat.

Conclusion and Recommendation of USFWS

The USFWS recommended “permit denial due to the application’s deficiencies.”


I’m happy that a government agency validated the concerns of residents, especially the numerous deficiencies that became so glaringly obvious during the public comment period. Example: when I asked one of the engineers at the March 18th public meeting where all the fill would be put, he couldn’t tell me. It seemed like a simple, but important question. Turns out it was.

Jill Boullion, Executive Director of the Bayou Land Conservancy said, “The Bayou Land Conservancy is gratified that US Fish & Wildlife service has confirmed our opinion that the Romerica project site is ecologically rich and diverse.  It is, in its natural state, already providing the community immeasurable services. We believe the highest good for the community is to preserve this valuable resource, not develop it.” 

Romerica’s spokesperson, Leah Howard Manlove, contacted me earlier this week to say that the Romerica team would meet next week to discuss their options and a plan of action. At this point, Romerica has two options: answer all the questions and concerns raised during the public comment period or quietly let the project die.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 10, 2019

619 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and are protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.