Tag Archive for: watch list

Development Watch List: Orchard Seeded Ranches From the Air

The Romerica high-rise project near the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork was reborn recently as Orchard Seeded Ranches. Same property. Same developer. Undisclosed concept as of this date.

When the developer sought approval of their general plan from the City of Houston Planning Commission, the City deferred approval. Instead they asked the developer to consult with the City Engineer and Harris County Flood Control, before coming back to the commission.

Despite the location of the development in the floodplain and floodway of the West Fork, ironically, the City had only procedural comments on the plans. The comments had to do with things like the spacing and labelling of streets. Incredibly, they did not refer to potential flooding or wetlands issues.

Pending Regulation Changes Could Affect Development

However, regulation changes are pending. Harris County has made adoption of its Atlas-14-based stormwater design and floodplain standards a condition of participating in all flood bond projects. Those standards would require elevation of any homes built on the Romerica property. In practical terms, that means building on stilts. And that, in turn, means dollars.

Specifically, the County wants the City to change Article III: Standards for Flood Hazard Reduction in the Houston Code of Ordinances, Chapter 19 Floodplain (September 2018):

  • 19-33(a) Base Flood Elevation Requirements –Must also include a provision that no fill will be allowed to elevate structures proposed for the 100-year floodplain.  These structures must be on open foundations designed by a structural engineer.

Where Property Is

Here’s where the property is. It wraps around the Barrington, which was elevated significantly and still flooded during Harvey. It also wraps around River Grove Park Kingwood Country Club, and Deer Ridge Park.

Purple area represents proposed site of Romerica’s Orchard Seeded Ranches Development.

Large Concentration of Forested Wetlands

All aerial photos below were taken on 5/11/2020.

Looking southeast from the southwest corner of Romerica’s property. Hamblen Road enters the from on the middle right. That’s the San Jacinto West Fork cutting through the top of the frame.
Looking southeast while hovering over Woodland Hills Drive. The northern part of Romerica’s property lies between the front and back nines of the Kingwood Country Club Lake Course. That’s the Barrington on the right.
Those same trees serve as a nesting ground for hundreds of great egrets.
Looking southwest from near the entrance from Barrington. Deer Ridge Park wraps around the water tower.
Looking SE over Woodland Hills and the Barrington entrance. The property contains three artificial lakes, which I believe were excavated to elevate the Barrington. Note how high lake level/water table is. River Grove soccer fields are on right. Look closely and you can also see the Kingwood Diversion Ditch entering the park from the lower right.

From the ground, beneath the dense canopy of trees, you can see palmettos galore. Palmetto plants are an important biologic indicator of wetlands. They only grow where the ground is underwater at least part of the year.

Source: USGS National Wetlands Inventory. Blue areas = lake. Green = Forested Wetlands.

Role of Wetlands in Reducing Flooding

The EPA cites flood protection as one of the primary benefits of wetlands.

“Wetlands function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, … and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the floodplain. This combined water storage an braking action lowers flood heights and reduces erosion,” says the Agency.

They continue: “Wetlands within and downstream of urban areas are particularly valuable, counteracting the greatly increased rate and volume of surface- water runoff from pavement and buildings. The holding capacity of wetlands helps control floods… Preserving and restoring wetlands together with other water retention can often provide the level of flood control otherwise provided by expensive dredge operations and levees. The bottomland hardwood- riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained.”

Reasons Romerica Application Previously Withdrawn

Last year, when Romerica tried to develop this area as condos and high rises, they ran into protests from US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps, environmental groups, and the Kingwood community. Major concerns included the filling of wetlands, nesting bald eagles, river migration, flood dangers to residents, and lack of evacuation routes.

Fence separating Romerica property from Hamblen road after Harvey.

All those concerns still exist. Romerica should take a cue from the Humble ISD. They’ve had two ag barns in this area. The District abandoned one (that was actually on Romerica property), moved to higher ground, is trying to abandon the second, and hopes to move to higher ground yet again.

As of this writing, Romerica has not yet reapplied to the City Planning Commission. Nor has the City adopted all of the County’s Atlas-14 regulations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/27/2020

1002 Days after 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.

Weekly Watch List: Perry, Romerica, Holley, Ryko

Those concerned about flooding in the Lake Houston Area should keep four potential developments on their watch lists. Here’s a brief update on each.

Perry Homes Woodridge Village

It’s back on the Harris County Commissioner’s Court Agenda again this week. Commissioners will discuss possible purchase of the 268 acres for a regional flood detention facility during an executive (closed) session on Tuesday.

Construction activity Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village north of Elm Grove Village.

At the last meeting, Commissioners deferred action while staff investigated: A) whether the City of Houston would donate land to the Harris County Flood Control District to help defray the cost of several flood mitigation projects, and B) whether Montgomery County would adopt Atlas-14 rainfall statistics and close a loophole in its drainage regulations that allowed developers to avoid building detention ponds. Commissioners also discussed harmonizing City of Houston and Harris County flood plain regulations.

Perry’s original deadline for a County purchase was April 1, 2020. The company subsequently extended the deadline to May 15 to give the County time to explore the requests. Meanwhile Perry resumed and accelerated construction activity on the site. I counted 32 pieces of earthmoving equipment on my April 21st flyover. Since then, spotters have reported the arrival of additional equipment.

Woodridge Village contributed to Elm Grove flooding twice last year. According to Perry, a regional flood detention facility would reduce flood risk for approximately 800 homes.

The offer to sell while construction activity accelerates has many observers scratching their heads.

Precinct Four Commissioner Jack Cagle says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the sale will go through.

Romerica is Baaaa-aaaack

Last year, after the Army Corps withdrew Romerica’s application to develop 5,000 condos and 50-story high-rises in the floodplain of the San Jacinto, the company swore it would retool its application. Shortly after that, they fell off the radar. Romerica took down its many websites and its spokespeople did not return phone calls, but the company never sold the land.

Looking northwest across Romerica land. River Grove soccer fields are in upper left and Barrington is in upper right. San Jacinto West Fork in foreground. Harvey deposited the sand in the foreground which killed many trees.

Now, under the cover of Corona Virus, “they’re baaaa-aaaack.” But with a different name. Instead of The Heron’s Kingwood, they now call the development Orchard Seeded Ranches. I was reviewing the City of Houston’s PlatTracker website and noticed this item pop up on 4/20/2020.

Orchard Seeded Ranches2020-067604/20/2020General plan A-ConsentHarrisCityE;H4336H25100077339Humble ISD   KINGWOOD AREA3WOODLAND HILLS; HAMBLEN; KINGWOODGeneral Plan361.679600410470000014,0410470000028,0410470000143,0410470000144,0410470000145,0410470000161,0410470004001,0410470004007,0410470004012,0410470004016,0410470004017,0451270000001,0451270000005,0451270000006,0451270000012,0451270000018,0451270000026,0451270000029,045EIC SurveyingE.I.C. Surveying CompanyEmil Haddad281-955-2772Orchard Seeded Ranches

The location, Council district, acreage, street intersections, and applicant name all fit the previous application. Instead of Gregory Haddad, however, this time, it’s Emil Haddad.

The development name is a bit odd. But then, development names rarely have anything to do with reality. Look at Houston’s Heights. And what, after all, did the Heron’s have to do with 50-story high rises?

“Orchard Seeded Ranches” is in the very preliminary phases. Until we see a plat and construction drawings, we can’t know exactly what they plan. It could be 1200-square-foot gerbil ranches. Or it could be Times Square in the Floodway again.

The company does not yet have a web site up. Nor has the Army Corps/Galveston issued a Public Notice associated with a permit application. Kingwood residents should follow this one closely.

Anyone civic-minded groups want to make them an offer on the land? It really should remain wetlands and be dedicated to park land or forest that protects Kingwood from future flooding.

Forest Cove Golf Course and Ron Holley

Earlier this month, Lake Houston Area developer Ron Holley appeared on KPRC to discuss the re-development of the Kingwood Cove Golf Course in Forest Cove. Holley was in the process of revising his engineering plans to address neighbors concerns about flooding when I interviewed him. A Freedom of Information Act request to the City of Houston revealed that he had not yet filed any plans for the subdivision. PlatTracker confirms that. Holley’s name does not appear anywhere in the current six pages of new developments at various stages.

Regardless, Holley has a formidable record as a developer. You may remember that he successfully challenged the City over building in the floodway of the West Fork, before he sold his land east of River Grove Park to Romerica.

Ryko Between Spring Creek and West Fork

One of the largest undeveloped tracts of land remaining in the Lake Houston area lies northwest of the confluence of Spring Creek and the West Fork near US59. Wetlands cover much of the area. But it’s in Montgomery County. And you know what that means. No detention ponds may be required.

Looking southeast across Ryko land toward the US59 Bridge in background (center).

Pacific Indio Properties, Inc., a sister company of Ryko Development, owns more than 7,400 acres in the triangle below. To put that in perspective, that’s exactly half the size of Kingwood.

National Wetlands Inventory shows the site to be pockmarked with wetlands.

A Community Impact article from 2016 (before Harvey) says Ryko planned to build 7,000 homes in this area. Community Impact said at the time that the project had no timeline. Things may have changed since then, especially after Hurricane Harvey inundated the area.

A drainage analysis, soil survey, and environmental study usually come before plan submittal. And the Montgomery County Engineers office says no plans, studies, or surveys have yet been submitted for the property, though one source in Montgomery County believes the developer has had preliminary discussions with the county.

FEMA’s Flood Hazard Layer Viewer shows that virtually all of the land is in floodway or floodplain.

Ryko property lies in the floodways of both the West Fork and Spring Creek. Cross-hatched equals floodway, Aqua = 100 year floodplain, and Brown = 500 year floodplain.

Note that the floodplain map above is pre-Harvey. New floodplain maps using Atlas-14 data are likely to show an even grimmer picture when they become available in a year or two.

If the developer puts high-density homes on this property with no detention, people downstream can break out their scuba gear. All the more reason for The City of Houston, Harris County and Montgomery County to synchronize their flood plain regs.

That’s the roundup for my first weekly watch list. I hope this becomes a regular weekly feature. More news to follow the commissioner’s court meeting on Tuesday.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/25/2020

970 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.