Following community backlash against Senate Bill 1964, The Woodlands Township on Wednesday voted to reaffirm its position against any development in W.G. Jones State Forest.
Township board Chairman Gordy Bunch said he thinks the initial bill—which would have allowed Texas A&M University to use or lease land in the forest for the construction of buildings for academic, research or commercial uses—got the reaction it deserved from the surrounding community. In response to the community concerns, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, introduced a committee substitute bill Wednesday that instead intends to protect 100 percent of the forest from future development.
“I think the sense of our community—those who signed the position and the commitment of this board—is to oppose development of any kind in the Jones Forest, whether it’s a road or campus or anything that alters the condition it’s in today,” Bunch said.
One of the reasons Creighton filed the original bill was to keep control of the issue local, township Director John Anthony Brown said.
“If this bill was pulled, then somebody else in the future could take this up and the constituents under Creighton wouldn’t have a say at all,” Brown said. “I think not doing anything would be more harmful than doing something.”
Although the township does not have jurisdiction over the forest, it sits adjacent to the community on more than 1,700 acres of land near FM 1488 and Hwy. 242, serving as a public asset for residents, visitors and students. Bunch said the township invited Texas A&M representatives to Wednesday night’s meeting to explain their future plans for the site, which they manage today, however, none were in attendance.
Township Director Bruce Rieser said while he will reserve judgment on the bill because it is not through the legislative process yet, he is fully prepared to oppose any effort to develop the park.
“The fact that Texas A&M will not face the public and explain what they intend to do with the forest makes me even more opposed to what they want to do,” he said. “They need to come down and explain themselves, frankly.”
Township Directors John McMullan and Ann Snyder both said there has not been enough public outreach throughout the process or prior to the bill being filed.
“It seems to me what happened is a bill was introduced initially without any public input on a community asset of great importance to all of us, and it just appeared,” McMullan said. “It looks like what happened, over time, is the text of the bill has shifted, but again, there hasn’t been proper public outreach before we got to this point.”
Brown said it was great to have a topic that all the communities in Montgomery County could join together to stand against.
“Before it was just The Woodlands versus all, so it was great to have a sense of real community where everybody had a stake in it,” he said.