Below is a map showing where the apartments flooded in the Greenspoint area during the April 18, 2016 flood.  Note that all of the apartments that flooded are in the 100-year floodplain for Green’s Bayou and some of the apartments are actually within the floodway – the no build zone set up along bayous and streams.  While we understand that some of these apartments were built before the floodway ordinance, surely the 100-year floodplain was in place.  Look closely and you’ll see that there are no detention ponds associated with most, if not all, of these apartments.  Look around Houston.  How many apartments are built in areas close to bayous?  How many have installed detention?  Did they pay a fee in lieu of detention?  Was that fee used to build detention within the watershed where they were built or in some other unrelated watershed?  Were any of the residents of these apartments aware that they were in the floodway or the 100-year floodplain for Green’s Bayou?  Could the 1800 apartments here that flooded be called a man-made disaster?  You bet your wet a$$ they can!!

Yellow dots are the apartments that flooded in Greenpoint.

Yellow dots are the apartments that flooded in Greenpoint.

Floodway, 100-year flood plain and 500-year flood plain.

Floodway, 100-year flood plain and 500-year flood plain.


Don’t blame Mother Nature for flooding. Blame City Council.

The disasters are predictable. Why aren’t we preventing them?

By Cynthia Hand Neely and Ed Browne, Residents Against Flooding

April 19, 2016 Updated: April 20, 2016 12:37pm

Photo: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle920x920
Meital Harari pushes water out the back door at her Meyerland home, Monday, April 18. (For more photos from the Tax Day flood, scroll through the gallery.)

Man-made, preventable flooding has surged dirty, sewage-ridden water through Houston living rooms three times now in seven years, yet city government fails to prevent these recurring emergencies.

Really? If losing homes, livelihoods, retirement savings, health and sanity (and at least one life) aren’t reasons enough to make emergency detention and drainage improvements, what in the world does it take?

Right now, too many real-estate developments do not detain storm water run-off from their new construction, and instead allow it to flow downstream into other neighborhoods, into people’s homes. This new development is  responsible for unnecessary flooding of neighborhoods that previously weren’t flood plains, weren’t prone to flooding. That new development is also responsible for flood insurance rising 100 to 200 percent (before the Tax Day flood) in these non-flood plains.

City government is allowing this to happen. Developers use loopholes and grandfathering to avoid doing what the city’s laws require them to do. Is it ethical to allow a new office building to flood an entire neighborhood even if a loophole makes it legal?

Photo: Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronic920x1240le
Emergency personnel carry a woman from a rescue boat as people are evacuated from Arbor Court Apartments in the Greenspoint area Monday, April 18, 2016, in Houston.

And why on earth would a developer be allowed to use tax money (yours and mine) to build the stormwater detention required by law as part of a profit-making project? New development on the north side of I-10 and Gessner is using the already-stressed Conrad Sauer detention basin for a spiffy retail/residential complex under construction. The deal is an interesting card trick: They are making a few improvements to the basin, adding a little drainage near it and — especially important — are going to make the basin look pretty with trails and landscape for their future tenants/residents. They’ll get paid back $23 million (taxpayer dollars) for doing this. So they really didn’t pay for anything.

For seven years Houston homeowners have begged and pleaded with the mayor (previous and present) and City Council members to treat man-made flooding as urgent, as if it were a deadly fire to put out in a hurry. Yet despite hundreds of emails, calls, meetings, petitions from homeowners’ associations (at least 18), Super Neighborhoods, civic associations, and person-after-exhausted-person speaking at City Hall, there is more talk about bike trails and recycling than critical, focused action to address our flooding.

Photo: Venkat Ramamurthy, Reader-submitte3 920x1240d Photo
Rain floods streets in Spring Shadows neighborhood near Gessner and Kempwood in northwest Houston.

Years ago the city signed a contract promising several detention basins in the Memorial City TIRZ 17 area. (“TIRZ” stands for Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone. It’s an arrangement in which any growth in property taxes is reinvested directly into the area). This city contract is yet to be honored, and we are told it is not “legally” binding. (But isn’t it morally binding? People are losing everything — three major floods in those six years!)

A capital improvement budget, including plans for detention and drainage projects, for the TIRZ 17 area, was submitted to Houston’s chief development officer, Andy Icken. And there it’s languished for almost a year, never presented it to the City for approval. Had Icken not “pocket vetoed” the budget, we would be a year closer to getting some relief.

Photo: Karen Warren, Houston Chro4 920x1240nicle
A Waugh Street exit sign is submerged on Memorial Drive, flooded by the over flowing Buffalo Bayou, Monday, April 18, 2016, in Houston.

At City Council Tuesday, the mayor made it appear that the budget delay was TIRZ 17 board member John Rickel’s fault. Not so. Mr. Rickel (the neighborhood representative for homes south of I-10) and the whole board passed the budget and handed it off to the city.

Underhanded, unethical things are being done to keep big developers happy while homeowners suffer needlessly. That’s why a nonprofit group called Residents Against Flooding was formed in 2009: to show the Houston-area public that  the cause of our troubles isn’t Mother Nature, but rather our city government’s failure to act.

After being ignored, Residents Against Flooding was forced to raise funds for a lawsuit. This is not for money or for damages but to get the City of Houston to protect its citizens. We expect the new mayor to wail that the city doesn’t have the money to address the problem. But for years, there has been money in the TIRZ 17 budget that could have been used toward our crisis. Please see that the TIRZ uses that money to build our detention basins!

And it should be noted that the problems weren’t addressed when the city’s finances were better. Incumbent council members, such as District A’s Brenda Stardig, have had ample opportunities to address the problems.

Stardig recently ignored pleas of hundreds of her district’s homeowners, as well as petitions from the Spring Branch West Super Neighborhood and Spring Branch Civic Association, to keep their choice of neighborhood rep on the TIRZ 17 board. Instead, last week Mayor Turner put his own “neighborhood” choice on the board with Ms. Stardig’s blessing.

The Mayor’s choice does not live in the TIRZ 17 area, is not affected by it, has never flooded. What kind of neighborhood representative is that? When Mayor Turner ran for office, one of his campaign promises was to address flooding. Yet after only three months in office, he is already letting us down.

We need your support to keep fighting the good fight, or more and more of our homes are going to flood — again, and again, and again.

Cynthia Hand Neely and Ed Browne are members of Residents Against Flooding. You can email them at

Other Gray Matters

Flooding? Don’t blame dense urban development. David Crossley, Houston Tomorrow

How policy fills Houston living rooms with water David Crossley, Houston Tomorrow

Disaster by design: Houston can’t keep developing this way John S. Jacob, for the Houston Chronicle

RAF 9_9_15

The photograph was taken by Leif Reigstad and is from a Houston Press article that ran the day after our meeting. The article missed that this is a joint issue among residents North and South of the freeway.  This is being driven by very concerned groups on both sides of I-10.

We had a good crowd, most of whom even stayed for public comments, donating both time and money.  If you made a pledge, please honor that pledge.  Even if our show of strength leads to more TIRZ 17 promises in order to placate us, without a  lawsuit or the credible threat of one, those can  evaporate just as easily as earlier promises have already.  Please keep in mind that Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding was in place for detention and drainage projects last year and removed this year in order to advance the construction of Gessner Road.  Our primary concern about the Gessner Road project is that its stormwater has no valid places to go and projects that would help alleviate additional homes being flooded have been delayed or removed from the CIP. Let’s make sure this time.

We heard first from our attorney, Jim Blackburn, then his associates, Charles Irvine and David Kahne, who spoke generally about our ability to make Constitutional arguments in federal court and who spoke in detail about a specific game plan.  Jim has donated tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees to the cause.  He can’t do it alone.  We need to support him.  He won’t really be getting much of the fees.  Lawsuits are pricey, but together we have plenty of people to fund this if everyone steps up to the plate.

While we have an easy-to-use credit card links on our website, there is a usage fee, so  we would prefer a check in order to maximize our dollars. Here is the address for sending tax-deductible contributions:

RESIDENTS AGAINST FLOODING (a 501c[3] organization)
P.O. Box 430574
Houston, Texas 77243-0574

There were a number of things that we promised neighbors that we would post on our website:

What can you do to help?

Please talk to your neighbors and direct them to our website or printout some of the literature that we passed out at the meeting along with pledge sheets and take them to your HOA, Super Neighborhood, or Civic Association meeting and ask for their help.  Contact your Council Member and the 5 At-Large Council Members to enlist their support.  Speak at City Council “pop-off” session on Tuesday afternoon to voice concerns.  Contact newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and post on social media.

After the meeting, we found out that our neighborhood representative, Dr. Bob Tucker, was not being reappointed to the TIRZ Board.  As a retired Reverend, Bob has provided a moral compass for the Board.  Apparently, he incurred the wrath of one of the larger area developers when he suggested that Klotz and Associates had a conflict of interest working for both Metro National in the redevelopment of the Conrad-Sauer detention pond and as TIRZ design engineers for projects on the north side of I-10.   We are soliciting the help of CM Stardig to keep Bob on the Board.

Important email contacts:

Mayor – Annise Parker —
ReBuild Houston —
PW&E Director – Dale Rudick —  832.395.2500
District A – Brenda Stardig — 832.393.3010
District G – Oliver Pennington — 832.393.3007
At-Large 1 – Stephen Costello — 832.393.3014
At-Large 2 – David Robinson — 832.393.3013
At-Large 3 – Michael Kubosh — 832.393.3005
At-Large 4 – C.O. Bradford — 832.393.3012
At-Large 5 – Jack Christie — 832.393.3017

When Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual on Stormwater was released after 2 years of haranguing between the City of Houston (COH) Public Works and Engineering (PW&E), the Houston Builders Association (HBA), the Super Neighborhood Alliance (SNA), and Andy Ichen and Steven Costello, we were disappointed that some of the pieces we had worked so hard to get added had been dropped by Dale Rudick, new PW&E director.  Imagine our surprise to find that the first sentence of 9.02.c had been changed with no warning, no review, apparently by Andy Ichen some time after publishing.

Prior to the change the section read as follows:

9.02.C. Overland Run-off (Sheet Flow): Proposed New Development, Redevelopment, or In-fill Development shall not alter existing overland flow patterns and shall not increase or redirect existing Sheet Flow to adjacent private or public property. Sheet Flow from the developed property shall discharge only to the abutting public right-of-way. Where the existing Sheet Flow pattern is blocked by construction (i.e. raising the site elevation) of the Development, the Sheet Flow shall be re-routed within the developed property to return flow to original configuration or to the public right-of-way. Except under special circumstances dictated by natural drainage patterns, no Sheet Flow from the developed property will be allowed to drain onto adjacent private property.

Now it reads:

9.02.C. Proposed New Development or Redevelopment greater than 1 acre shall not alter existing overland flow patterns and shall not increase or redirect existing sheet flow to adjacent private or public property. Sheet flow from the developed property shall discharge only to the abutting public R.O.W. Where the existing sheet flow pattern is blocked by construction (i.e. raising the site elevation) of the Development, the sheet flow shall be re-routed within the developed property to return flow to original configuration or to the public R.O.W. Except under special circumstances dictated by natural drainage patterns, no sheet flow from the developed property will be allowed to drain onto adjacent private property.

This subtle change serves to protect the City from lawsuits from one property owner to another after raised property causes flooding of nearby structures.  It allows developers of in-fill tracts less than an acre to elevate their property to avoid flooding and not be concerned that the City will do anything to prevent them.  The subtlety is that in court the City can claim that its policy doesn’t say anything about allowing properties to be elevated – it simply defines allowed actions for properties greater than one acre because these obviously cause more damage.  The fallacy is that the overwhelming majority of single family residential properties are less than one acre, so the effect in aggregate far exceeds the effect of large lot properties.

More subtle is that feuding homeowners, convinced that a neighboring elevated property is responsible for their flooding, will overlook the large development nearby that raised an entire tract of land a foot or more without adding detention.  This obfuscation is malicious, and the offending wording needs to be removed, but it underlines our assertion that the COH is working to intentionally flood neighborhoods – particularly older neighborhoods – in order to cause redevelopment.


RAF Special Meeting

August 29, 2015


When: Wednesday, September 9, 2015,  7:00-8:00 PM

Where: Memorial Middle School Auditorium; 12550 Vindon Dr., Houston, TX 77024

Who: Meet Our Legal Team and Hear Their Strategy – Jim Blackburn, Charles Irvine, Mary Conner, David Kahne, Larry Dunbar

Topic:  What can we as homeowners do about flooding?

There is good reason for neighborhoods in the TIRZ 17 area (both north and south of I-10) to worry about being flooded, even if they haven’t flooded yet.  As impervious cover from new development increases without mitigation for storm water run-off, our neighborhoods have become detention ponds for displaced water.

Over 500 homes in this area (which is NOT designated as a flood plain) flooded last Memorial Day, many for the second time in six years.  Despite this, drainage and detention HAVE NOT BECOME A PRIORITY of TIRZ 17 nor the City of Houston to whom they directly report.  THIS ISSUE HAS NOT BEEN RECOGNIZED AS THE CRISIS THAT IT REALLY IS.

Property owners in these affected areas should seek remedy from both the City and TIRZ 17 to prevent further property damages, financial loss, lowered property values, health impairment, and anxiety brought about by the City’s irresponsible decisions and policies.

A contract was signed in January 2003 between the City of Houston and TIRZ 17, describing a Project Plan which promised FOUR detention ponds — two south of I-10 and two north of I-10.  To date, ONE detention pond has been constructed but it is also being used by development south of the pond and it overflowed during the Memorial Day rain event.  There is not another detention pond currently on the TIRZ Capital Improvement Plan.

Attend this meeting to hear what these experts have to say.  If we don’t unite and act now, we can only expect more of the same. Please share this message with your contacts who are concerned about the City’s drainage and flooding issues.


Sometime in the late evening of Memorial Day, 2015, and into the wee hours on May 26th, much of Houston flooded.  Most of the news centered around spectacular vistas of Brays Bayou overflowing and inundating homes in Meyerland or the confluence of Buffalo and White Oak Bayous forming an “ocean” of water near downtown.  As spectacular as those were, many other areas flooded, including the area around Memorial City TIRZ.   A similar rain event in 2009 had prompted the formation of this organization.  Most of the same homes flooded in the recent event that flooded in 2009; some flooded that hadn’t before, and some were dry this time, although many that were dry had been rebuilt with higher slab elevations.  Many of you will be asking us one of two questions: 1) Why did you stop the lawsuit in the first place? and 2) Why restart it now?

When we stopped the lawsuit, Houston was in the throes of a drought and nearly everyone was praying for rain, not donating money to stop flooding.  Our funding depends upon contributions from the public and like the parched ground, our donations had dried up.  Although Jim Blackburn’s legal team  had our claims identified and our legal arguments solidified, to move forward we would need enough money both to file the lawsuit and to fend off the onslaught of legal actions from the City that our lawsuit would prompt.  Unfortunately, some of the claims also required a new flood event to re-trigger a two-year statute of limitations.  I have often quoted statistics that Houston typically has a 100-year event every 5 years and a 500-year event every 8 years – this one took just over 6 years.   It wasn’t a matter of if the next flood would occur; it was when.

We didn’t feel badly about stopping our lawsuit because former District A CM Helena Brown and District G CM Oliver Pennington were able to successfully remove the TIRZ Chair and Co-Chair while appointing true neighborhood representatives: Reverend Bob Tucker and John Rickel.  TIRZ 17 seemed to have begun to seriously address flooding issues and it seemed reasonable to take a hiatus and work with John and Bob to move projects along that are important to our neighborhoods.

So why have we restarted it now?  Contrary to the obvious –  that homes flooded again – there are some real concerns with recent TIRZ projects and direction. There are four primary reasons: 1) the failure to enforce covenants in the Purchase and Sales Agreement between KFD LTD and the Memorial City Redevelopment Authority for the W140 detention pond property; 2)  the failure of Metro National’s engineering consulting firm to provide truthful information regarding operation of the Conrad-Sauer detention pond; 3) the City’s insistence that the Gessner Road reconstruction project move forward with no place for the additional water to go; 4) failure to acquire land for new detention facilities.

Per the request of area residents, beginning May 5th, 2015, TIRZ 17  opened a 30 day public comment period ending June 6, 2015, for the Memorial Drive Drainage and Mobility Improvements project. People can go to the home page of the TIRZ website and post their comments at  All questions and comments from the Town Hall Meeting and public comment period will be addressed and posted on their website within 60 days of closing date.  This post presents some concepts that we would like to see incorporated in the Memorial Drive reconstruction project.  Please feel free to borrow in whole or in part for your own comments.

For those that missed the TIRZ 17 Memorial Drive Town Hall Meeting April 14th, 2015, you can find the Power Point slide show here.  The Memorial Drive reconstruction project will extend from Beltway 8 east almost to Tallowood and will add a sidewalk, a median, a 10-foot mixed-use shared hike and bike way, and over 10 acre-feet of underground detention.  We applaud TIRZ 17 for designing a Complete Street, and for us a complete street includes improving the underground infrastructure when the less expensive opportunity presents itself, as during reconstruction.   TIRZ plan for Memorial Drive Below is a cross section of the planned roadway.  Click on the drawing to open a clearer version.

Even though we consider this to be an improvement, we would like to offer some suggestions.  First, it is important to consider what the priorities are for the roadway.

Our priorities are:

  • Safety – the road must be safe for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians;
  • Mobility – the road must convey through traffic smoothly while providing easy access to area homes and businesses, but it should not promote excessive speed;
  • Stormwater – this roadway must store excess stormwater runoff in an area known to have serious flooding problems;
  • Infrastructure – the roadway must have underground infrastructure installed capable of supporting expected future Chapter 42 residential density and continuing expansion of commercial interests;
  • Quality of Life – the roadway should mirror the lush landscape and amenities for which the Memorial area is known.

From a safety standpoint, it’s best to separate pedestrians and bicyclists from the roadway by trees – better to hit a tree than a person.   As the trees grow, their canopy not only provides shade, air filtration, and noise reduction, but the presence of a canopy also encourages drivers to slow down and psychologically conveys the impression of a higher quality of life to an area.  Perhaps equally important, as trees grow it becomes increasingly more difficult and expensive to widen the road because the trees must be replaced by trees with girth equivalence.

Traffic studies of Memorial Drive do not justify widening the roadway to more than four lanes, however, inserting a 24 foot median easily allows the roadway to be widened at a later date.  When the TIRZ raised the possibility of taking the Gessner esplanade for underground detention, even if it was to be replaced and replanted, neighbors vociferously objected – and rightfully so.  The esplanades along Gessner and other Memorial roadways are one of the reasons the area is such a desirable place to live, but they are always vulnerable to road widening (see Project ID 12282).

If that is so, then why create an esplanade as a placeholder for a future road widening?  Lane widths for a major Houston thoroughfare are generally defined as 11 feet wide.   A 24-foot esplanade therefore allows two lanes of 12 feet each with only stripe separation or two 11-foot lanes with a 2-foot raised separator.  If it is desired that the esplanade never be removed, then it needs to be too narrow to create two lanes; that is, it needs to be 20 feet or less.  Combined with trees between the street and sidewalks, a 20-foot esplanade would make it difficult to remove the median or widen the roadway.  Ostensibly, a two way left turn lane (affectionately called suicide lanes) could be added, but it seems unlikely.  Suicide lanes are a serious source of accident fatalities, so should be avoided whenever possible.

A 20 foot esplanade also frees 4 feet of the 100-foot Right of 2015-05-17  - Memorial Town Hall Mtg_04142015_Way (ROW) that can be used elsewhere.  We have elected to use the 4 feet to expand the 6-foot sidewalk into another 10-foot mixed-use shared hike and bike way on the north side.  The graphic shows the widened sidewalks, a 20-foot median, and trees placed between the street and sidewalks.  Hopefully, our reasons for these changes will become more obvious.  Again, clicking on the graphic opens a larger version.

Porous concrete has begun to make inroads into some areas of building.  Rice University has paved many of their sidewalks with porous concrete and it is used in the parking lot at Frostwood Elementary.  So we asked ourselves, why not make the 10-foot sidewalks of porous material and install underground retention?  If the soil quality was sufficient at Frostwood to support2015-05-17  - Memorial Town Hall Mtg_04142015 double a similar underground system, certainly it would also be expected to work less than a mile away.  The graphic to the right indicates how this would work.  These systems are finding their way into design manuals in many communities, including Houston, where they are being used in lieu of surface detention systems.

Below is a quote that we presented to the Houston City Council’s  Transportation, Technology, and Infrastructure (TTI) Committee when the City proposed replacing sidewalks for homeowners.  This system costs approximately the same that then Public Works and Engineering (PW&E) Director, Dan Kruger, testified before the Committee that the City would charge to install a sidewalk.  A permeable sidewalk is not a detention system and does not need continuous connections so pipes and communication lines don’t interfere.   Because it is an open bottomed pipe, it also recharges the aquifer and water eventually percolates into the soil, reducing the possibility for mosquito breeding.  Concrete pipes are notorious breeding grounds for mosquitoes.   Puddling is eliminated with porous sidewalks, so bicyclists can use the sidewalk just after the rain without spraying “rooster-tails” over themselves and everyone else.S29 System under a porous walk and standard details page 1

We got a quote from Triton because they happened to answer the phone when we called and were willing to provide this information.  Residents Against Flooding has no affiliation whatsoever with Triton.  Moreover, there are numerous other companies producing similar systems [1][2], [3] so this technology clearly works and is readily available.  It’s useful to note that if the ground is deemed to have a poor water infiltration rate, then this system can serve as more flexible normal detention, although the chambers would then need to be interconnected.

In the PowerPoint presentation, LAN states that over 10 acre-feet of detention can be achieved using dual underground 10-foot by 10-foot rectangular culverts.  In a 100-foot ROW, more than two rows of culverts can be installed.  Can we add more?  Is it a matter of construction difficulty or the cost of the culverts?

Suppose that additional 10-foot by 10-foot pipes extending from W153 were placed under the permeable sidewalk drainage system.  These would not be used to convey water, but would be used to add capacity to W153.  Therefore, they would be closed at one end and fully open to W153 at four places where it crosses under Memorial Drive underneath the north and south sidew2015-05-17  - Memorial Town Hall Mtg_04142015 double with boxesalks: two would connect under the bridge underneath the southern 10-foot sidewalk with one extending east and the other extending west; and two more underneath the northern sidewalk – again, one east and one west.  The graphic to the right shows the concept.  Since they add capacity, they would dead-ended some practical distance east or west of the W153 bridge and need to be sloped so that water would drain back into the channel after a rain event.  A 1% slope is probably sufficient, meaning that the elevation of top of the pipe rises 1 foot for every 100 feet of pipe.

To the right is a picture of W153 at Memorial Drive.  There is a 9-foot by 9-foot channel under the roadway; the smaller pipe was added to compensate for lost capacity due to bisection of the main channel by a large water line and reconnects into the main pipe under the roadway.  Hopefully, much of this will be corrected in the MePicture 015morial Drive redesign.  For reference, nearby residents measured the distance from the bridge surface to the channel bottom at 23 feet, so there should be sufficient space under the sidewalk drainage system, which takes about 5 feet, even if the roadway is lowered.    For every 217 feet that a pair of these pipes extend, one acre-feet of detention is added.  Since elevations rise more to the west, it’s expected that more capacity can be added in that direction.  During construction, fill dirt around the pipes can be selected to complement operation of the sidewalk drainage system. Again, these pipes are in addition to the drainage systems currently planned by the TIRZ.

In summary, Residents Against Flooding recommends:

  • A median less than 20 feet wide;
  • Two 10-foot mixed-use permeable concrete sidewalks and underground open-bottom drainage systems;
  • Trees planted between the roadway and the sidewalks;
  • Additional large box culverts to expand detention capacity of W153.
  •  The culvert size under Memorial Drive should be increased  during reconstruction to be whatever is needed if more W153 water is allowed in Buffalo Bayou.


The RAF Annual Meeting:
Will be held on APRIL 8th, 2015 in the auditorium at Spring Branch Middle School, 1000 Piney Point Drive. Our speaker will be Mr. John Rickel, a TIRZ 17 Board Member & Citizen-Appointee to the Board.

John Rickel is resident and citizen-appointee within the Spring Branch / Memorial District, appointed by the District G Council Member Oliver Pennington to serve on the TIRZ Board.

Mr. John C. Rickel has been Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Group 1 Automotive Inc. since December 2005 and also serves as its Chief Accounting Officer.  Mr. Rickel served as Chief Executive Officer of Group 1 Automotive Inc.  Previously, he held a number of executive and managerial positions with Ford Motor Company.  He has served as Controller of Ford Americas, where he was responsible for the financial management of its western hemisphere automotive operations. Immediately prior to that, he served as Chief Financial Officer of Ford Europe, where he oversaw all accounting, financial planning, information services, tax and investor relations activities. From 2002 to 2004, Mr. Rickel served as Chairman of Ford Russia.  He received his BSBA in 1982 and MBA in 1984 from the Ohio State University.
This Meeting will explain current, past, and upcoming development & infrastructure projects, & consider the means necessary to avoid or remedy impacts on area properties.


The “Residents Against Flooding” dba was adopted in April 2012, reflecting infrastructure impacts that exist throughout the City of Houston.

Update 11/6/14: Chapter 9 released

The Public Works and Engineering Department has released the long awaited Chapter 9 revisions of the Infrastructure Design Manual.  Most of our requests were ignored, although the City did add back text stating, “The combined system is intended to prevent Structural Flooding from extreme events up to a 100-year storm.” This was necessary to maintain Houston’s extraordinarily good FEMA rating and discounted flood insurance rate.  

PW&E didn’t remove “Grandfathering” (see below) and significantly decreased detention requirements for lots 15,000 square feet or less, which represents the vast majority of residential properties (94%).  Detention requirements for these properties have been reduced to 7% from 10% proposed earlier this year.  Compare this to 50% detention required to develop on virgin properties over 2 acres.

The new Chapter is still not harmonized with Chapter 42 of the City’s Code of Ordinances, which designates the entire incorporated City as urban.  For example, runoff coefficients still reflect suburban densities, meaning that new road construction need only assume 55% runoff rates in areas with residential lots of less than 1/4 acre (10,890 square feet).  Given that Chapter 42  allows up to 90% concrete coverage on properties this size and that Chapter 9 only mitigates for 7% of the runoff, this discrepancy will produce street and structure flooding in the extreme event.  There is clearly a disconnect between the claim of preventing structural flooding up to a 100-year event and its Chapter 9 implementation.

Super Neighborhood Alliance (SNA) Chapter 9 Comments

•  What’s at Stake?

  • Increased Risk of Flooding
  • Reduced Detention and Drainage Capacity
  • Rising Insurance Rates
  • Decreasing Economic Competitiveness

•   What Needs to Change?

•     Chapter 9 should be revised to insure consistent and transparent enforcement and eliminate unwarranted variances (§ 9.02.A.2).

  • Chapter 9’s standards for evaluating the storm water impacts should be revised to reflect both increased amounts of impervious cover and time of concentration.
  • Raise and reduce number of run-off coefficients (§ 9.05.B.3)
  • Protect existing development from increased risk of flooding (§ 9.05.D.5)
  • Specify more than two Manning numbers for roadside ditch design (§ 9.05.F.2.d)

•     Chapter 9 should be revised to eliminate “grandfathering” and require full mitigation for the storm water impacts of all types of new development

  • “What is Grandfathering?”
  • Off-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.b)
  • On-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.d-e)

 •    Chapter 9 should be reorganized or harmonized with City Code of Ordinances.

  • Chapter 19
  • Chapter 42

•     Chapter 9 should be revised to improve city records by require maintenance of public records showing the location and capacity of detention on private property so that capacity is not lost during redevelopment (§ 9.07).

•     What Should City Council Do?

  • Provide resources needed to enforce standards consistently and transparently
  • Demand compliance with Chapter 19 of the City Code
  • Educate and inform
    • Schedule presentations
    • Call special meetings
    • Summon witnesses


What’s at Stake?

•    Increased Risk of Flooding

  • Amendments to Chapter 42 of the City Code of Ordinances passed in 2013 expanded “urban” standards for residential development from the Inner Loop to the entire city.
  • The amendments to Chapter 42 increased allowable density of single family housing outside Loop 610 from roughly 8 to 27 units per acre without requiring corresponding increases in supporting infrastructure or full mitigation for storm water impacts.
  • Local watersheds already have tens of thousands of properties in existing floodplains. Unless Chapter 9 is amended to require full mitigation for storm water impacts of new development, more properties than ever will be at risk of flooding.
  • Harris County Flood Control has recently changed its mitigation requirements from 1/2 acre-foot per acre of increased impervious cover to 1/3 acre-foot per acre.

•    Reduced Detention and Drainage Capacity

  • Most of our drainage system is designed for low density suburban development with low discharge flows.
  • Unless Chapter 9 is amended to require the calculation of detention and drainage needs using coefficients that assume high density development with higher peak discharge flows than currently exist, city engineers will continue to evaluate detention and drainage needs using calculations that incorrectly assume low density development with low discharge flows.
  • Calculations that incorrectly assume low density development with low discharge flows where density and discharge flow is increasing will reduce detention and drainage capacity.
  • High density development increases demand for street and parking capacity that is often satisfied by filling-in roadside ditches that further reduces detention and drainage capacity.
  • New roads need to be constructed assuming full urban density since it is impossible to know where very dense development will occur.  Likewise, roads reconstructed under Rebuild Houston should also have drainage systems assuming runoff from fully developed urban density.

•    Rising Insurance Rates

  • Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012 mandates rates based on actual risk of flooding.  Even though the Affordable Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 rolled back or slowed many rate increases for homeowners, businesses are still impacted fully.  All rental and vacation homes will all have a yearly $250 surcharge to help subsidize at risk homes.
  • Flood maps are being revised to capture true costs of structural flooding.  55% of homes flooded in Houston are not in a FEMA floodplain compared to 33% nationwide.  A 100-year rain event occurs on-average about every 5 years, and a 500-year rain even occurs about every 8 years.  Under Biggert-Waters, FEMA will need to capture these anomalies.  As a result, the floodplains will continue to grow.
  • Revisions to flood maps are increasing the size of the city’s 100-year flood plains and the number of structures at risk of flooding.
  • PW&E is removing references to meeting a 100-year Level of Service (LOS) from Chapter 9.  FEMA has publicly stated that without this verbiage, Houston will loose its extraordinarily good FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) rating of 5.  For each point lost, Houstonian’s flood insurance premium will increase 5%.  For reference, the national average is 7.6 and Harris County is an 8.  Only 4 communities of 872 are better than Houston’s CRS rating .

•    Decreasing Economic Competitiveness

  • Reduced drainage and detention capacity, increased risk of flooding, and rising insurance rates will threaten economic competitiveness.


What Needs to Change?


  • Chapter 9 needs to retain references to meeting a 100-year level of service and rather than giving up on achieving it, PW&E needs to rework Chapter 9 in order to achieve it and stop worrying about hurting development.
  • Chapter 9 should be revised to insure consistent and transparent enforcement and eliminate unwarranted variances (§ 9.02.A.2). Section 9.02.A.2 allows the city engineer to grant site-specific variances that result in annual increases to 100-year flood plain. Site specific plans should be considered openly and have stringent requirements
  • Chapter 9’s standards for evaluating the storm water impacts should be revised to reflect both increased amounts of impervious cover and time of concentration
    • Raise and Reduce Number of Run-Off Coefficients (§9.05.B.3): Chapter 9 should be revised to reflect higher run off coefficients because drainage from all types of new development will have higher flow than from existing development. And now that high density development can occur throughout the city, the number of run-off coefficients should be reduced to two, e.g., (e.g., 75% for residential development and 100% for roadways).
  • Protect Existing Development from increased risk of flooding (§9.05.D.5): Roadways are designed to capture water in excess of two-year events up to 100-year events, but emergency routes are not allowed to flood even in 100- year events. Absent full mitigation for all types of new development, existing neighborhoods are wrongfully forced to serve as de facto detention ponds.
  • Specify two Manning numbers for roadside ditch design (§9.05.F.2.d): Using a large Manning number (e.g., 0.045) when replacing an earthen ditch with a concrete conduit will result in a channel that does not have as much conveyance capacity as the original ditch and thus increased flooding.
  • Chapter 9 should be revised to eliminate “grandfathering” and require full mitigation for all new development
    • “What is Grandfathering?” Chapter 9 allows property that either has impervious cover or had impervious cover in the past to be fully redeveloped without any on-site mitigation for storm water impact. Exemptions and/or reductions in detention and drainage requirements for redevelopment on such  properties is referred to as “grandfathering.” “Grandfathering” needs to end because it shifts the cost of flood damage and reduction from developers to neighboring landowners, public agencies, and taxpayers.
  • Off-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.b): When drainage from new development is directed to public right of way (ROW), Chapter 9 should require infrastructure to receive and convey water into storm sewer system and not redirect water to neighboring properties as occurs when roadside ditches are filled-in or curb and gutters don’t work properly. SNA has proposed that developers be allowed to install underground detention for lots smaller than 15,000 sq.ft. in the ROW to allow for maximum development and adequate detention.
  • On-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.d-e): Chapter 9 requires detention as a % of existing impervious cover as follows: up to a maximum or 4% of the property size for lots of 1-10 acres, and up to a maximum of 7.5% for lots of 10-50 acres. Use of equations to determine the amount of detention are difficult and expensive to police. The best action is to eliminate the equations and require 0.5 acre-feet per acre for all types of new development.
  • Chapter 9 should be reorganized and harmonized with relevant chapters of the City Code of Ordinances.
    • Chapter 19: Chapter 19 of the City Code governing floodplains embodies a “No Adverse Impact” policy that should require full mitigation for all impacts of new development.
  • Chapter 42: Standards for storm water detention and drainage on private property should be moved out of Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual and into Chapter 42 of the City Code of Ordinances to insure that  (1)  development standards are approved by City Council; (2) variance requests will be considered and approved the in open meetings, e.g., by the Planning Commission; and (3) variance requests will be subject to public comment.
  • Chapter 9 should be revised to require maintenance of public records showing the location and capacity of detention on private property so that capacity is not lost during redevelopment (§9.07). Parking lots can be used for detention, but such does not need to be recorded. Because analysis for new development assumes no detention, such properties are treated as “grandfathered,” and as a result run off increases.


What Should City Council Do?

•    Provide resources needed to enforce standards consistently and transparently

Recent amendments to Chapter 42 of the City Code of Ordinances and proposed revisions to Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual necessitate additional inspectors and engineers. Failure to provide adequate staffing to support these changes further exposes the city risk of flooding.  Clarifying the standards will simplify the enforcement.


•    Demand compliance with Chapter 19 of the City Code.

  • Sec. 19-1.b states: “The provisions of this chapter shall take precedence over any less restrictive conflicting laws, ordinances, codes, or official determinations.”
  • Chapter 19 also states in several places that the city engineer must use the strictest interpretation regarding conflicting provisions when interpreting provisions relating to flood control. Among these is the express obligation of the city engineer regarding the use of data provided in Sec. 19-4.b.1: “To the extent of any inconsistencies between the study data and the effective FIRM, the more restrictive base flood elevations and special flood hazard areas shall be controlling.”
  • Sec. 19-11 provides that no permit, plat, or variance in the affected areas shall be granted unless it is shown to comply with this chapter.
  • Educate and inform
    • Schedule presentations: Chapter 2, Sec. 2-2 of the City Code of Ordinances, rules of procedure for meetings and proceedings of the city council, Rule 2.a.3 governing presentations to the city council by persons, groups, or organizations allow presentations to be scheduled by council members through the office of the mayor pro tem. Presentations on the issue of flooding and drainage could be scheduled to educate council and the public on these issues.
  • Call a special meetings: Article VII of the City Charter, Sec. 3 titled “Meetings” provides: “Special meetings shall be called by the City Secretary upon the written request of the Mayor or three Council Members.”
  • Summon witnesses: Article VII of the City Charter, Sec. 5 titled “City Council May Summon Witnesses” provides: The City Council shall have power to summon and compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers before it whenever it may be necessary for the more effective discharge of its duties, and shall have the power to punish for contempt . . .”

Since May, the Super Neighborhood Alliance and the City of Houston were supposed to be discussing changes to Chapter 9 of the City’s  Infrastructure Design Manual.  We haven’t been.

Instead, we have been discussing one small part, a “fee in lieu of detention” for development and redevelopment of properties less than 15,000 square feet.  For reference, that’s approximately a third of an acre and detention is already required by Chapter 9, so a change in this requirement can affect 94% of single family residences.  As an elevation challenged city, Houston needs all the detention that it can get, and it needs to be where the new density is occurring, but land to build large regional detention ponds where needed for  maximum benefit is often unavailable.

We have proposed an alternative,  a single paragraph to the existing wording that permits a fee to be used for under sidewalk detention of up to 15 cubic feet per linear foot of sidewalk.  The fee would be paid to the City who would subcontract one of several companies who do this sort of thing.  A phone call to the company at the top of a search list resulted in an estimated cost of $5.50-$6.75 per cubic foot of detention.  The proposed “fee in lieu of detention” was to have been $7.50 per cubic foot of required detention as calculated by a formula in the City’s Infrastructure Design Manual and didn’t include the cost of a sidewalk.  The maximum fee for “under sidewalk detention” would be $5000 for a 15,000 square foot lot.  For the City’s average lot of 5,000 square feet, the cost would be $1667.

Under the sidewalk detention provides an immediate solution to rainwater runoff when construction occurs, rather than delaying to gather enough funds to build a regional detention pond.  Distributed detention can provide surprising large amounts of detention and it’s located where the detention is needed, so doesn’t need to be piped to the lowest cost land when, and if, it becomes available.  And the open bottom system drains water into the aquifer, rather than letting mosquitoes breed as they do in regular storm sewers.

If you think “under sidewalk detention”  is a more reasonable alternative than a “fee in lieu of detention” for single family residential properties under 15,000 square feet, please contact your City Councilmember.


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