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City of Houston

Turner And Council Members Emphasize Subdivision Facing Opposition Meets All Requirements, Some Disagree

Several residents are critical of an upcoming residential community in Spring Branch because it will be built on ground that lies within a floodplain


Image courtesy of Meritage Homes
This is a rendering of the future entrance to the Spring Brook Village subdivision, which will be built in the Spring Branch area.

It exceeds the new standards of flood mitigation. That’s how Mayor Sylvester Turner and members of the City Council explain the construction of a subdivision on ground that lies within a floodplain not even a year after Hurricane Harvey, even though some residents and local media have been critical of the project.

The subdivision is already being developed by Arizona-based Meritage Homes on what used to be a golf course, and the City Council unanimously approved last week creating a Municipal Utility District (MUD) that will help the company with the long term financing of the project: They will be able to issue bonds to pay for roads, water, sewer and drainage infrastructure.

Spring Brook Village, is in the Spring Branch area –specifically along Gessner Road near Clay Road, at the site of the former Pine Crest golf course— and Meritage projects building approximately 900 homes, according to a representative from the company, with prices ranging from $250,000 to $450,000.

The development began in spring of 2017 and the company says model homes will start being built soon.

The City of Houston couldn't prevent the development because the area where the subdivision will be built is private property.

Outside of the 500-year floodplain

According to Meritage, all the homes will be built outside of the 500-year floodplain, which satisfies the standards the City recently established by modifying Chapter 19 of the Code of Ordinances. The new standards entail the elevation of houses should be two feet above the 500-year floodplain level.

Specifically, the elevation in Spring Brook Village will be at least 2.78 feet above the 500-year floodplain, according to Meritage.

The concept of 500-year floodplain means that the probability of a storm that qualifies for that standard occurring in any given year in a given location is 0.2 percent, while in the case of the 100-year floodplain the probability is 1 percent.

The subdivision will have a 26-acre drainage system to keep rainwater contained in the center of the community away from homes and neighbors and one large interconnected detention pond.

“The drainage system will be able to hold the same amount of water and convey it at the same or lesser rate as when the property was a golf course,” noted in a news release Kyle Davison, Meritage's Houston division president.

Additionally, according to Meritage's representative, the subdivision's design will accommodate water run-off from the new homes and streets at a faster rate.

According to official documents from the City of Houston, the Utility District Review Committee has evaluated the project in regards to storm water conveyance.

‘Above the requirements'

Image captured from Houston Television HTV
During his April 25, 2018, post-Council meeting media availability, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the flood mitigation features for the Spring Brook Village subdivision are above the requirements established by the City of Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner defended the Council's decision to create the MUD and noted during his customary weekly media availability that the 2.78 feet elevation “is above the requirements.”

“We’ve looked at what the impact of drainage and flooding would be, not only at that development but even downstream, and we are very confident that there would not be a negative impact coming downstream. There’s more detention on the site,” underlined the Mayor, who added that “all of these things have occurred because of the emphasis that we’ve put on Chapter 19.”

The subdivision will be built in Houston's District A, which Brenda Stardig represents in the City Council.

Stardig said that she “double checked” the week before the vote with the City’s Department of Public Works and the Harris County Flood Control District to make sure the development met all the guidelines related to flood mitigation.

Stardig also stressed that representatives from Meritage “have met with the community leaders at least five times” and that the local super neighborhood gave her a letter of support for the project. “The local leadership supported moving forward with the MUD to ensure a higher level of drainage service, to protect the neighborhood and the neighborhood that’s being built,” the Council Member noted.

Council Member David Robinson, who holds the At-Large 2 seat and is an architect, said Meritage's project is “a development that is well above the standards that are currently established.”

Modification of the floodplain

Robinson also pointed out that, according to the studies the Council has received, the developer “will be modifying the floodplain,” which “will change the surface configuration of the ground, and that is what the City has reviewed.”

“They did everything we asked them to do,” indicated Council Member Mike Knox, who holds the At-Large 1 seat, in reference to Meritage, while adding that the water flow study “indicates that they’re going to be able to hold actually more water than runs through that area today, so it actually may be a benefit to the surrounding community.”

“I think it’s not gonna impact the drainage issue in the area,” concluded Knox, who also emphasized that the fact the Council voted in favor of creating the MUD “was not inconsistent with the Chapter 19 changes that we made.”

However, there isn’t total agreement among Spring Branch residents in regards to the development being a good idea.

Some expressed support for the subdivision during the meeting held the day before City Council members were scheduled to vote on approving the creation of the MUD.

Image captured from Houston Television HTV
Spring Branch resident David Durham addressed the Houston City Council on April 24, 2018, to support the construction of the Spring Brook Village subdivision.

Both David Durham, co-president of Spring Branch's super neighborhood north number 84, and David Van Bergen, who told the City Council he has worked in the civil engineering field for more than 30 years, supported that the Council members gave the green light to the MUD.

Another two residents of the Spring Branch area expressed their opposition.

Lois Myers had provided the Council members with information and research she had compiled concluding that the future subdivision might be at risk of flooding, and asked that a second engineering company would do another study about the project because, she said, the original study was not reliable.

Myers identified as one of the issues that the study included a drainage analysis of the 115 acres where the subdivision will be built, but not of the entire property where the golf course was located.

Additionally, Myers expressed her concern about the proximity of the subdivision to the Brickhouse Gully which, according to her, is the eighth lowest in Texas and, therefore, prone to flooding.

Myers explained she and others who have reviewed the engineering documents related to the project consider the subdivision wouldn’t provide enough water retention “to stop flooding massively in the area and further south.”

“You’re gonna flood out a lot of homes, I’m sorry to say, if you pass this,” Myers told the Council in reference to approving the creation of the MUD. The Spring Branch resident also noted that she is not necessarily against development in the area, but that she wants “proper (flood) mitigation.”

Image captured from Houston Television HTV
Spring Branch resident Ed Browne addressed the Houston City Council on April 24, 2018, to express his concerns about the construction of the Spring Brook Village subdivision.

Another resident, Ed Browne, assured the Council Members that, after speaking with hydrologists and other experts such as engineers and geophysicists, he also concluded the project to build the subdivision isn't reliable when it comes to flood risk.

“What you need to do is, rather than pass this MUD, you need to push back a little bit on Public Works, you need to push back a little bit on Harris County Flood Control,” Browne said.

Additional criticism

Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and founder of the Bayou City Initiative, formed by civic groups focusing on flooding and drainage issues, has also been critical of the project, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

For Blackburn, the City Council should have voted against creating the MUD and, by doing so, send a message that Houston will not make building in floodplains easy.

“It's not about whether they meet requirements,” Blackburn told the Houston Chronicle referring to Meritage. “It's about whether they ought to get some special arrangement that would help them develop this flood-prone area.”

On April 23rd, the newspaper also ran an editorial criticizing the project with the headline "Has City Hall learned nothing from Harvey?" Additionally, the Houston Chronicle published an opinion article that was also critical of the development planned by Meritage in November 2017.

Meritage said they anticipate that construction of the subdivision will be completed within two or three years.