In an open letter to residents of The Woodlands, Jim Carman, president of the Houston region of The Howard Hughes Corp., said on Aug. 23 the company is taking a position against the incorporation measure that will be on the ballot Nov. 2.

Carman said a website was launched with the letter to residents and information on its position.

The Woodlands Township recently announced upcoming community information forums with one scheduled for Sept. 23 at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center.

Residents and community groups have voiced opinions for and against the measure and the timing of the election at township meetings in recent months.

At the same time, The Woodlands was named the No. 1 city to live in the country by the website, despite it not being a city.

Carman said among the reasons the company has taken a position is its belief the current system of government is successful and does not need to be changed at this time. If the community incorporates into a city, it would not be able to change back into a township under state law.

“Incorporation represents the most profound decision that has confronted our community,” Carman said. “Our quality of life is at stake, and there are no second chances, no turning back. ... We don’t feel the risks or downsides have been appropriately discussed. ... [The Woodlands] has thrived because we are not a city. The system of government we enjoy should be replicated, not eliminated.”

The township's incorporation study is available to view online. The 322-page study outlines existing services including law enforcement, administration and other community services as well as services provided by outside agencies, new revenue opportunities, future projected service requirements and costs. It also includes a "pros and cons" section with information about some of the advantages and disadvantages of a change in government structure.

Recent developments

On Aug. 13, The Woodlands Township board of directors voted to put incorporation on the ballot Nov. 2. If approved by voters, The Woodlands would become the city of The Woodlands, a general-law city with the option to become a home-rule city in a subsequent election.

The ballot will include a maximum initial tax rate of $0.2231 per $100 assessment, the same as the township’s current tax rate. When the incorporation study paused in early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the township had previously set a provisional maximum initial tax rate of $0.2862 per $100 assessment.

As of Aug. 13, changes in some financial factors included in the incorporation study led the township to re-evaluate its projections, including 2021 appraised property values as well as higher estimates for sales and property tax revenue. The result was the lower maximum initial tax rate now slated to be on the ballot.

Carman said concerns about future costs of running a city as well as fees not currently paid under the township governing structure were among the company’s concerns.

“We believe [incorporation] represents a risky change to the budget and forecasting models that have served The Woodlands well ... a very real scenario is a higher cost for the inferior level of services to what we have come to enjoy in our community,” he said.

Information about the financial projections used in the township's revised financial model can be viewed in a video of the Aug. 13 meeting on the township's website.

Company history

The Howard Hughes Corp. acquired The Woodlands Development Co. in 2011 and develops land in The Woodlands for residential and commercial purposes and owns and manages real estate assets in the township. Two years ago, it decided to move its national headquarters to The Woodlands. According to Carman’s letter, the company is the largest property taxpayer in The Woodlands.

Community Impact Newspaper has previously reported the company is looking at potentially completing single-family residential build-out by 2023. About 2.5% of the township’s remaining acreage owned by Howard Hughes is developable, mostly in Town Center and along transportation corridors in the area, according to the company.

Carman added the company’s relationship with the governing structure would not change if voters were to approve incorporation. In the past the company has donated land for parks and nature trails as well as facilities at Hughes Landing.

“We would work collaboratively with the future mayor, council members, police chief and other department heads; this is our hometown, and that isn’t changing,” he said.