Area Developer: Flooding Lawsuit Uses Commercial Development As Convenient Scapegoat
Yesterday, Houston Residents Against Flooding and several named residents who have suffered severe property damage from flooding filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Houston and TIRZ 17, the Memorial City development authority. An area developer tells us residents have the right to be upset, but using commercial development as a scapegoat obfuscates the problem.
Flooding is a historical problem in Houston, and to understand it, you have to look at it from that perspective. One key historical factor missing from the conversation, our source tells us, is the removal of the railroad line north of I-10. The berm acted as a natural dam.
Old residential lots in the Memorial Area were used much differently when they were first built. As an example, a 10k SF lot would have a 3k SF ranch style home with a massive backyard for on-site detention and drainage into the street for the rest. As anyone driving through Memorial can attest, houses have gotten much bigger. The lots haven't. The roads haven't. The pipes haven't. With grandfathered drainage rights, these massive homes are creating problems the dated infrastructure was never designed to handle.
On the other hand, commercial developers are not drastically changing drainage. Most of the land commercially developed around Memorial City and CityPlace was already industrial, warehouse or storage, thus already covered in concrete and impervious to flooding. Building an office building where there was already concrete coverage doesn't increase rainfall or drainage, despite perception, the rep says. The H-E-B at Bunker Hill is a specific example.
When you take into account that well over 80% of land in the Memorial area is used for residential, the problem starts to take on a different edge. While filing lawsuits against the city and TIRZ 17 makes headlines, it does little to highlight the true issue, the area developer says. Casting stones at commercials developers is divisive and fails to take into account the great work developers have done in the area. Our source says developers' commitment to Memorial City throughout cycles has shot up property values in the area.
To overcome the flooding problem, residents and developers need to get on the same page. Grandfathering prevents progress by its very definition. In order to make headway against this critical issue, the city has to remove grandfathering of drainage rights. Any redevelopment of a property must have virgin drainage rights to take into account the factors that have changed the drainage situation.