Save the Date

April 8, 2017

SAVE THE DATE – JUNE 20, 2017, EVENING

Sam Brody

Dr. Sam Brody

Tuesday, June 20 at 7 PM – 8 PM

Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church

11612 Memorial Dr, Houston, Texas 77024

Presented by Residents Against Flooding

The Nonprofit Working to End Man-Made Flooding in ALL of Houston

Hear the scientific truth about Houston’s urban, preventable flooding. No political spin. No media spin. Just facts from Dr. Sam Brody, PH.D., professor at Texas A&M Galveston, who is conducting research for FEMA on how to alleviate urban flooding across the United States.

Floodplains are changing. Areas that never flooded are flooding. Flood insurance is rising. New development could mean your home is next.  Dr. Brody believes the biggest driver of this urban flood problem is human development.

Bring your friends and share the news of this free event. Come for straight talk, get straight answers from an expert in environmental studies.

Residents Against Flooding – DONATIONS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE

www.ResidentsAgainstFlooding.org

Email: drainage.coalition@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/RAFHouston

Twitter: @HoustonRAF

Urban Flooding is no Urban Legend.  It’s a real horror story.

RAF has a fiduciary duty to support all of our membership. That includes informing residents that the CIP project for detention under the Spring Branch Memorial Sports Association ball fields on Attingham is still in flux. With this letter found in the Board packet from the February  2017, TIRZ 17 Board meeting,  TIRZ 17 has reopened their attempts to install detention along Buffalo Bayou, targeting two areas specifically: “Lakeside Country and Old Farm.”  Since large open detention is almost always less costly than chambered underground detention, the TIRZ 17 CIP project (T-1735) is still in play.

We sent this message to our iContact list on March 8, 2017.  It’s included herein with additional links and typo corrections.

RAF Supports Frostwood in its Plea for Detention

The President of Frostwood’s Community Improvement Association, Mitchell Winkler, recently wrote a letter urging support of the Mayor, City Council and TIRZ 17 Board for TIRZ Capital Improvement Project (CIP) T-1735, known as Detention Basin A (“A” for Addingham).  Promised for years, RAF agrees that this pond needs to be built post haste.

Any detention, anywhere, is desperately needed. However, there are concerns and a backstory you should know. For example, Detention Basin A is next door to brand new, mega-sized complexes, near Mac Haik Ford, that have no provision for their own stormwater run-off. Their water has no place to go. Is it realistic to believe that this basin is being built for residents of Frostwood and nearby?

Or is it more realistic that the added water detention is planned to service the new developments, and the TIRZ – once again – is not providing a real solution for your flooding.  Detention Basin A will only put us back to square one, serving the storm water needs of the new development.  We’ll need more.

TIRZ 17 devotes all of fiscal year 2018 to the acquisition of the land for Basin A and fiscal years 2018 and 2019 are devoted to building it. Total costs of Basin A are listed as $28M.

Water may be piped from as far away as Barryknoll.  And estimated costs for conveyance under Kingsride and Frostwood to the basin will be about $9M, but won’t be finished until 2021.

How much of the estimated 240 acre-feet of needed detention will this basin hold?

Since Detention Basin A has insufficient capacity by itself, the same 2017-2021 CIP includes a second pond, Detention Basin B, where “B” stands for Bendwood.  This pond only has $750,000 assigned in fiscal year 2021 for Planning.  That’s four years away.  How many times will you flood unnecessarily before it is actually constructed?

Given the number of times TIRZ projects have been reordered or rescinded, can you afford to rely upon their promise to keep this placeholder?  Do you have any recourse if they don’t?  If words don’t turn into action, RAF’s lawsuit will be the only leverage that we have.

In the meantime, TIRZ drawings have surfaced that seem to indicate the Memorial Drive project will receive water from the commercial properties in the southwestern corner of the TIRZ.  Where will this water go?  The Army Corps of Engineers says Buffalo Bayou cannot hold any more run-off.  If so, the why is LAN studying detention on the Bayou?

Included in the TIRZ 17 Board packet, but not discussed during the meeting was a letter to Chair Ann Givens from LAN, the firm designing the detention basin. The letter was a proposal for modeling three or four detention basins along Buffalo Bayou, then comparing them to the Detention Basin A to determine which alternative is the most cost-effective.

RAF believes the most effective solution is the one that saves the most homes from flooding and has the highest probability of actually getting built.

In the same letter, to Chair Givens, LAN disclosed that they had included a “north-south hydraulic connection beneath IH-10 located west of Gessner Road” in their 2014 Regional Drainage Study (RDS) Update. “This connection was evaluated as part of the RDS Update to provide relief for the area north of IH-10 in the proximity of Gessner.”

This is where the new Metro National development is located. (The MN development is adding its water to the existing, over-taxed Conrad-Sauer Basin. And your taxpayer money is paying to beautify it for their tenants.)

In the letter, LAN says that since new detention was added under Mathewson Road, the new pipe wasn’t necessary and therefore will reduce “the required mitigation detention required on Buffalo Bayou.”

Mathewson Road drains the Metro Nation property, then dumps its water into the Conrad-Sauer Basin where it’s pumped into an overflowing IH-10 system. Where will the water discharge when the three Conrad-Sauer pumps turn on?

RAF is concerned that there may have been other “hidden” pipes modeled in the RDS that skewed Study results or protected specific developer’s properties. We wonder if the water levels at the corner of Gessner and IH-10 would have been significantly higher without the pipe.  Now more water is captured in the Conrad-Sauer basin – more water on the IH-10 feeder roads with nowhere to go.

While RAF supports Frostwood’s pleas for detention, we also warn that this TIRZ continues to operate in a less than transparent manner.

In closing:

Please remember that both the north side and south side of IH-10 are connected by underground pipes.  A holistic solution to prevent flooding down to Buffalo Bayou must also include detention ponds in north side locations like the Spring Branch ISD bus barn or Haden Park.  Land acquisition costs are high, so parks and public facilities make ideal locations for detention ponds.

The TIRZ timeline of years on end for a single detention pond is unacceptable.  Why so long, so they can yank it away at the last minute as they have done before with other projects?  One city contract – 13 years ago – promised to build several basins, north and south of I-10.  Nothing was ever built.  This is one reason to continue to support our lawsuit – so they can’t continue to break contracts – promises.

Moving more water into a flood-prone region is unacceptable.  Spending any part of the anti-flooding budget to help CityCentre tear down a parking garage or beautifying a detention pond is unacceptable.

While supporting Frostwood’s request for a basin, RAF argues that a single detention pond is unacceptable.  And it’s certainly unacceptable if it is used to detain storm water run-off for buildings that should have legally paid for their own.

The TIRZ has the resources to do so much more.  Let’s stop thinking so small.

This is what we must advocate for:

A holistic solution with multiple detention ponds both north and south of IH-10 with no subsidies to developers until the flooding problem is solved!

2016 Annual Meeting

June 25, 2016

Residents Against Flooding, Annual Meeting

June 29, 2016 (Wednesday), 7:00 PM

Memorial Middle School

12550 Vindon Drive, Houston, 77024

Residents Against Flooding (“RAF”), the only group with a citywide focus working to stop preventable flooding, invites you to a public informational meeting June 29th.  Several attorneys will be present to speak and answer questions about Houston’s severe man-made flooding problem as well as provide information about RAF’s federal lawsuit against the City of Houston and Memorial City TIRZ 17.

Speakers include RAF Chairman, Ed Browne, an engineer, who will explain the goals of the organization in the federal lawsuit and the need for immediate action by the City.  Attorneys scheduled to attend include prominent environmental attorney Jim Blackburn and RAF’s respected litigation team, Charles Irvine and Mary Conner of the Irvine & Conner Law Firm.  Scheduled to speak on policy efforts will be Roger Gingell, an RAF board member and attorney with a legislative policy background.

Key differences between the White Oak Bayou and the RAF lawsuits

RESIDENTS AGAINST FLOODING: WHITE OAK BAYOU PROPERTY OWNERS:
1. Lawsuit is against City of Houston AND Memorial City Redevelopment Authority, aka TIRZ 17 1. Lawsuit was against Harris County Flood Control
2. Federal lawsuit 2. State lawsuit
3. Suing for REMEDY to protect against future flooding, not for money 3. Sued for money for past flood damages
4. RAF contends flooding is result of lax building codes and irresponsible development, permitted by the City, without proper flood mitigation 4. Claimed that county government inaction resulted in flooding
5. If victorious, will not add any costs to the City of Houston budget.  RAF is not asking for hand-outs, only that the public money already earmarked for this purpose be allocated for flooding mitigation projects 5. Would have cost county $85 million
6. If victorious, may result in a Special Master being assigned by the federal judge. That person will ensure that flood and drainage projects are carried out by the City within a timeline determined by the judge. Oversight would be maintained until the Court is satisfied that Plaintiffs’ homes will receive adequate flood protection. 6. County would have been liable that its future operations could damage someone’s property
7. Suing government entities for monetary damages is extremely difficult. RAF asks to stop preventable, unnecessary flooding. 7. Fell short ONE vote in TX Supreme Court

Help RAF fight in your behalf; donate to fund continuing legal efforts

  • Through the RAF GoFundMe campaign: www.gofundme.com/preventflooding
  • Through PayPal on the RAF website: www.drainagecoalition.com
  • With a check made out to Residents Against Flooding, P.O. Box 430574, Houston, TX 77243-0574
  • RAF seeks policy solutions citywide and engineering solutions local to Memorial City TIRZ 17 area.
  • Full lawsuit is available at www.drainagecoalition.com

 

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 drainage.coalition@gmail.com.

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 — mayor@houstontx.gov
ReBuild Houston — rebuildhouston@houstontx.gov
PW&E Director – Dale Rudick —  pwe.director@houstontx.gov  832.395.2500
District A – Brenda Stardig — districta@houstontx.gov 832.393.3010
District G – Oliver Pennington — districtg@houstontx.gov 832.393.3007
At-Large 1 – Stephen Costello — atlarge1@houstontx.gov 832.393.3014
At-Large 2 – David Robinson — atlarge2@houstontx.gov 832.393.3013
At-Large 3 – Michael Kubosh — atlarge3@houstontx.gov 832.393.3005
At-Large 4 – C.O. Bradford — atlarge4@houstontx.gov 832.393.3012
At-Large 5 – Jack Christie — atlarge5@houstontx.gov 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

RESIDENTS AGAINST FLOODING

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.  

www.drainagecoalition.com

email: drainage.coalition@gmail.com

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 www.houstontirz17.org.  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.

 

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