South of Hamblen Road across from the Forest Cove neighborhood are the Riverview Townhomes at Forest Cove. Since Hurricane Harvey hit the Kingwood area in August 2017, the townhomes have been uninhabitable, and the site has become a dumping spot for old tires, mattresses and debris, Forest Cove residents said.

With parts of Harris County being targeted for home buyouts by the Harris County Flood Control District, including the townhomes, these spaces once occupied by flood-prone homes now offer opportunity for more flood-prevention projects. Since Harvey, the district has purchased 85 parcels in the Kingwood area, officials said.

However, James Wade, the district’s property acquisition department manager, said it is rare to have all homeowners in a neighborhood volunteer for the buyout program.

“It’s difficult to get 100% participation from owners,” he said. “You’re always going to have those owners who want to stay for whatever reason, so that can be a challenge.”

When the opportunity arises, Wade said the district prefers to transform the land into flood-prevention projects, such as detention basins to hold floodwaters during heavy rains, widening or deepening the channel to hold more water, or creating green spaces.

In the case of the townhome community, once the buildings are completely purchased, the Houston Parks Board will be able to turn the dilapidated townhomes into a 3.25-mile greenway trail that will tie into nearby trail systems in Kingwood and the Spring area that could debut in 2020.

Meanwhile, local nonprofits are also continuing efforts to preserve land in flood plains to help reduce flooding in the Lake Houston area.

Revitalizing a community

The Harris County Flood Control District hopes to have completed all home buyouts for the Riverview Townhomes by the end of 2020, Wade said.

So far, the district has purchased all units in seven of 13 townhomes in the subdivision. Of those, three of the buildings have been demolished, and the remaining four will be demolished by the end of November, he said.

“I’d like to say we’d have everything completely purchased by the middle of 2020 and have everything demolished before the end of 2020,” he said.

While the district finishes demolishing the townhomes, the Houston Parks Board will begin its $4.7 million San Jacinto River Greenway project in early 2020. Richard McNamara, the senior program manager for the Houston Parks Board, said the board hopes to finish the project in late 2020.

The project is funded by the board’s Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative that launched in 2012. The initiative aims to connect 150 miles of trail systems along nine bayous in the Greater Houston area.

The San Jacinto River Greenway project will begin west of the townhomes, moving east to connect with Kingwood’s Greenbelt Trails at River Grove Park, McNamara said. The greenway will include 10-foot walking trails, wayfinding signs and reforested areas, he said.

“The great thing is they become floodable parks, so if it floods, it’s not really detrimental to people and their property,” McNamara said.

For Forest Cove residents, demolishing the townhomes, which are located in the floodway, could not come soon enough, said Joy Sadler, the president of the Forest Cove Property Owners Association. Not only are the townhomes an eyesore, but the abandoned site has attracted criminal activity, such as arson and vandalism, Sadler said.

Moreover, Sadler said the criminal activity has spread into the adjacent Forest Cove Community Center, which received almost 13 feet of floodwater in Harvey. While residents have tried to repair the center, vandalism and theft in the center has driven community members to throw up their arms, deciding nothing can be done until the townhomes are demolished, she said.

“The board kind of believes that when the townhomes are cleared out ... and the area is green, our 6 acres right in the middle of all that will be a very nice asset to our community,” she said.

Prioritizing green space

Preserving land in the flood plain has been the Bayou Land Conservancy’s focus since its founding in 1996, said Jill Boullin, the executive director of the organization. The nonprofit conserves land in the Greater Houston area, with a special focus on flood plains.

By entering into a conservation easement agreement with willing landowners, the conservancy restricts land use along waterways, hunting or natural trails. Greenways, such as the future San Jacinto River Greenway, are powerful flood-mitigation tools, Boullin said.

“Our sweet spot for land conservation is flood plains,” she said. “Any project we look at is going to score higher for us if it includes land along a stream.”

Boullin said the nonprofit seeks to preserve 10,000 acres across the Lake Houston watershed over the next 20 years for conservation purposes, which could aid in flood prevention in the Lake Houston area.

Meanwhile, the organization is also working with local agencies, such as the flood control district, to make conservation a priority, she said. Boullin said about 100 of the 236 projects in Harris County’s $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond, which was approved by voters in August 2018, involve land conservation.

“[The projects] can be flood plain preservation, a mitigation bank, stormwater detention basins,” she said. “Instead of pouring concrete, we’re working with Mother Nature instead of against.”

Other parks projects

Meanwhile, two Harris County precincts are investing in preserving green space in the Lake Houston area. Edgewater Park directly west of the future San Jacinto River Greenway will open in 2021, while Atascocita Park just south of West Lake Houston and Will Clayton parkways will open early 2020.

Dennis Johnston, the parks director for Harris County Precinct 4, said it is important to the county to preserve green space for recreational and environmental purposes.

“As you put more rooftops and more parking lots on any watershed, you increase the velocity and the flow [of the river],” Johnston said.•Construction on Phase 1 of the $2.27 million Edgewater Park will begin in mid-2020 and be completed early 2021, Johnston said. The 19-acre site for Phase 1 will include a detention basin, restrooms, a fish cleaning station, a boat launch, and access to the Spring Creek Greenway.

Precinct 4 will also work on a separate project with the Houston Parks Board to extend Spring Creek Greenway through Edgewater Park to connect to the San Jacinto River Greenway, he said.

Harris County Precinct 2 is also continuing construction on the 21-acre Atascocita Park, set to open early 2020. The $5.3 million park will feature a path system, a playground, a 2-acre pond with a boardwalk and a dog park.

Atascocita Park is not in the floodway, but Project Manager Marco Montes said he believes it is an important preservation project, as the site would have likely been developed otherwise.

“There’s not a lot of green space left up there [in Atascocita],” he said. “We want to give constituents another option for outdoor recreation, so why not create a nature-themed park in the middle of all the development?”