During executive session at a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting April 7, commissioners deliberated purchasing property in south Montgomery County that officials want to turn into a detention area.
Following the session, commissioners voted to continue negotiating with Woodridge Village property owners on the purchase price as well as negotiate two interlocal agreements with Montgomery County and the city of Houston.
Woodridge Village is a 268-acre residential development from Figure Four Partners—a subsidiary of Perry Homes—accused of causing flooding in Kingwood neighborhoods in Harris County, such as Elm Grove Village, in a May rainstorm and during Tropical Storm Imelda in September. Figure Four Partners has reportedly offered to let city and county entities purchase the land for $10 million for flood-mitigation purposes.
"We believe that from some of the stats ... that we can actually impact 1,306 homes, and we could actually take 850 of the 1,306 homes out of the 500-year flood plain," Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said prior to the session.
An interlocal agreement with Montgomery County
The interlocal agreement with Montgomery County will request officials increase development regulations and adopt Atlas 14 guidelines, or rainfall data adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that shows storm events have gotten more intense in recent decades. Cagle said these efforts will help prevent future development in Montgomery County from negatively impacting property downstream in Harris County.
Harris County Engineer John Blount said county officials believe it is important for Montgomery County to update its minimum detention standards and its development regulations in the 500-year flood plain, which is an area that has a 0.2% chance of flooding in any given year.
"It's very critical that our partners adopt similar criteria, so that all the work that we're doing isn't undone by future development that's not putting in the appropriate detention," Blount said.
After the meeting on April 8, Alisa Max, chief operations officer for the Harris County Engineering Department, clarified that Montgomery County has already adopted some Atlas 14 data, but without the minimum detention requirements Harris County has in place.
While Harris County requires property built in the 500-year flood plain to meet the 500-year storm elevation, Montgomery County does not have elevation requirements in the 500-year flood plain. Additionally, Montgomery County does not have minimum detention requirements, while Harris County requires 0.65 acre-feet of detention per acre of development, according to county standards.
Terms of agreement with city of Houston
Additionally, commissioners directed county officials to negotiate an interlocal agreement with the city of Houston requesting the city partner with the county by offering "assets" to the Harris County Flood Control District. While commissioners did not explain further what the assets were, Cagle said the partnership would keep the district from spending money on something it may otherwise have to rent from the city or buy.
"So instead of us having them to contribute cash, having them contribute assets that are necessary for us to be able to protect the public, which would also benefit our joint constituents that we serve," Cagle said.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia asked for an amendment to the agreement stating that the county would still like the city's help in paying for the property, but the county would accept assets as well.
Prior to executive session, HCFCD Executive Director Russ Poppe proposed the property could be paid for by funds from the county's $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond approved by voters in August 2018. Poppe said the flood control district could use $18 million of the bond reserved for flood plain acquisitions; however, he said the district would prefer to have a purchase partner.
In an April 8 emailed statement from Figure Four Partners, the company said the result of the meeting was a positive step the regional detention concept. The company also stated that construction was continuing on detention ponds for the residential development, which will not hold as much capacity as the regional detention area the county is proposing.
"Construction of the approved northern detention ponds started a couple of weeks ago, consistent with our prior announcements that work would begin around March 31," the statement read. "In addition, the property remains available for sale to the private market."