Situated on Lake Woodlands alongside the East Shore neighborhood, Mitchell Island is a 22-acre parcel of wooded land known to some locals as an area where eagles hunt and roost, East Shore resident Tami Houston said.

The island is also the subject of a recent variance request to the Houston Planning Commission from Howard Hughes Corp. for the development planned there. The initial land use designation for the property filed in 2012 shows an intent to build 19 single-family houses with no less than 7,000 square feet of living area. The variance request filed with the commission showed a replat with 58 units, more than half of which would be built at a higher density. The variance request deals with the setback for the buildings and garages.

The request was scheduled to go before the commission Sept. 17 but was postponed to allow the developer to address resident concerns, said John Powers, the assistant general manager for community services in The Woodlands Township. It can be resubmitted at a future date, but if it advances it must also go through an approval process that includes The Woodlands Development Standards Committee as well as Montgomery County, he said. It is also subject to covenants, or deed restrictions, within The Woodlands originally established by The Woodlands Community Association.

"The replat review and approval process is a multi-step process and involves multiple agencies," Power said in an email between township officials, several interested residents and members of the media. "In addition to the City review, Montgomery County and DSC must also approve," he said.

Although it is located in The Woodlands Township, the site must go through Houston Planning Commission for variance approvals because it is located in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, Powers said. A portion of The Woodlands Township is located within the ETJ for Houston, and some is within the ETJ for the city of Conroe, but agreements reached between the entities in 2007 prevent either city from annexing the township until 2057.

Resident opposition

Houston said she has been involved with a citizen effort to oppose the high-density plans for a variety of reasons, including the potential for an increase in traffic for the small neighborhood, demands on local infrastructure, threats to the habitat of the eagles seen there and the proximity to a floodway.

Houston said she was able to obtain more than 170 signatures from residents in the area opposing the plan, and about 55 people showed up to a homeowners association meeting last week with another 37 attending online to discuss the proposal. Houston spoke at the planning commission meeting, where she said her remarks were limited to two minutes. She provided her comments and concerns about the development in written form to Community Impact Newspaper.

“The replat variance refers to the safer, more appealing, pedestrian friendly environment that will be created by walking paths. These walking paths are nowhere to be seen on the replat,” Houston said. “One can assume that they will be located in a flood area that is located under a reserve of trees that is home and hunting ground to the Bald Eagle and their families. It is our understanding that Mitchell Island is protected by a threatened species permit until Aug. 23, 2032. The replat shows complete disregard by the Howard Hughes Corp. for the Texas Habitat Management Guidelines of a secondary management zone by clearcutting to provide space for constructing a high-density housing section on this island."

The variance itself requests a 17-foot setback for the garage and 10-foot setback for the principal structure—the standard for urban areas, according to the planning commission agenda.

According to the variance request, the lots will “overlook the pedestrian walkway system along the Lake Woodlands Canal and be connected to that system with internal sidewalks along the private street.” It states that the 17-foot setback will be clear of the sidewalks.

“The overall development plan for the subject property is designed to enhance the pedestrian district by creating an inviting and safe place to walk,” according to the variance request.

Powers said if the item advances to The Woodlands development committee, the board will mainly deal with the aesthetics and house size of the development.

Developer response

In a statement, the Howard Hughes Corp. did not address the resident concerns specifically but confirmed the replat consists of 58 high-end residential homesites, which it said will start at $1 million in cost.

“The evolution of the island began with George Mitchell, founder of The Woodlands, whose original development plan included high-density corporate headquarters, followed by condominiums,” according to the statement.

The statement said the company will keep residents updated and was committed to “maintaining a residential environment that complements the natural setting of East Shore.”