Opposition to high-density housing on Mitchell Island spurs discussion at The Woodlands meeting

Materials for the Houston Planning Commission meeting scheduled Sept. 17 showed map views of Mitchell Island, where The Howard Hughes Corp. has plans to build 58 houses. (Courtesy Houston Planning Commission)
Materials for the Houston Planning Commission meeting scheduled Sept. 17 showed map views of Mitchell Island, where The Howard Hughes Corp. has plans to build 58 houses. (Courtesy Houston Planning Commission)

Materials for the Houston Planning Commission meeting scheduled Sept. 17 showed map views of Mitchell Island, where The Howard Hughes Corp. has plans to build 58 houses. (Courtesy Houston Planning Commission)

Although The Woodlands Township board of directors lacks the power to grant approvals for a proposed 58-home development on a Lake Woodlands island, residents nonetheless called into its virtual meeting Sept. 23 to ask the board to intercede in the project.

About a half-dozen callers spoke during the board meeting to weigh in on issue of Mitchell Island, which was the subject of a variance request from The Howard Hughes Corp. before the Houston Planning Commission this month showing a replat with 58 units, most of them smaller and at a higher density than the original plan for 19 units. The variance request itself dealt with the setback for the buildings and garages, not the number of houses. It must go before the city of Houston because The Woodlands is an unincorporated area partially within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The variance was postponed from its original Sept. 17 date, but if it is approved it will still have to go through an approval process with The Woodlands Township’s covenant-enforcing Development Standards Committee as well as Montgomery County, township officials have said. The committee largely deals with issues such as aesthetics and size, however, said John Powers, the township’s assistant general manager for community services.

One of the callers, Ned Chapman, is also president of the Grogan’s Mill Village Association. Chapman said more than 200 residents had signed a letter opposing the development, with concerns about density and environmental effects.

“High-density housing on this small island will overburden the infrastructure and have an adverse environmental impact,” he said.

Chapman also mentioned concerns about potential flooding on Lake Woodlands as well as the reported presence of eagles on the island. He said residents also questioned the aesthetics of a higher-density residential development.

“This will certainly be an eyesore architecturally ... for what is the centerpiece of our community,” he said.

Residents of the East Shore neighborhood across from the island were among those calling to oppose the development.

Stan Hewitt said the potential for increased traffic was also a concern.

“Obviously [the higher density] will come with triple the construction traffic, and in perpetuity, triple the residential traffic going to and from all of our homes ... there is only on road onto and off the island,” he said.

Tami Houston, who said she spoke representing other East Shore residents opposed to the project, described the proposal as “draconian,” noting it was in conflict with the Initial Land Use Designation for the property. The 2012 designation was for 19 homes with no less than 7,000 square feet of living area each. She described the new plan as “houses stacked like matches in a matchbox.”

The township’s ability to control issues such as roads and development was debated widely while the township went through an incorporation study last year. A vote on incorporation had been anticipated for November but was dismissed by the board this year in light of economic concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

“It’s annoying and frustrating when we know that The Woodlands as a special-purpose district cannot really defend us and be out there for us,” Windsor Hills resident Ana Cosio said. “Some people may not want to be a city. But we need to put something about being a city in order to control our future, control our roads and have more of a say in what is left to be developed.”

Residents opposed to incorporating have cited a range of concerns, such as the expenses of incorporation and the potential for higher taxes, and many expressed satisfaction with the township's current form of governance.

Because the issue was not an agenda item, the board could not comment on the residents’ concerns, nor was anyone representing The Howard Hughes Corp. present at the meeting. At the end of the meeting, board members discussed putting it on the agenda for an October meeting. A town hall-style event, whether in-person or virtual, was also discussed.

“I would think if we wanted to have a presentation from Howard Hughes and representatives from the community come in, I think it would be a separate town hall-type environment, where that is the singular agenda item,” board Chair Gordy Bunch said.

With current social distancing rules in place, a facility such as The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion would be needed to accommodate the large turnout that could occur for an in-person event, Vice Chair Bruce Rieser said. Ultimately, the board decided to list the East Shore issue as an agenda item so it can be discussed in public session and explain the township’s role.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


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