Shared from the 11/10/2017 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Flood plain plans show a disregard for reality


MetroNational and Meritage Homes have demonstrated a complete disregard for reality and their contempt for Houstonians.

Two months after Hurricane Harvey wiped out West Houston neighborhoods built in flood zones, these two companies tried to move forward recently with plans to build 800 more homes in a flood plain.

Statements issued by both companies said they would make sure the homes were above the 500-year flood level, even if the streets were not. They touted their storm-water detention plans.

Who are they trying to fool?

These executives know the existing flood maps are a joke. They know that they shouldn’t rely on the 100-year and 500-year flood criteria for building a community in an existing flood plain. And hydrologists have publicly declared that Brickhouse Gully, which runs through the development, is far more dangerous than is officially recognized.

These developers, who claim to be invested in the community, also know that the Harris Flood Control District needs to re-examine all of its flood maps following three consecutive years of supposedly 500-year flood events. But MetroNational and Meritage Homes want their project approved now, before that can happen.

The only logical explanation is that MetroNational and Meritage Homes want to cash out of their investment before scientists reveal the foolhardiness of their plans to out 800 families at risk.

They might get away with it.

Matt Zeve, director of operations for the Flood Control District, told my colleague Mike Morris that by law public works officials must evaluate developments based on existing rules and data. And the 151-acre project, called Spring Brook Village, meets all of the present requirements.

The fact that scientists have warned that this so-called Spring Brook, aka Brickhouse Gully, could wipe out the village they plan to build means nothing until new flood data is analyzed and adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Promulgating new maps, though, takes years.

If MetroNational and Meritage Homes were truly responsible, they would wait for experts to analyze the reams of flood data collected over the last three years and adjust their project accordingly. They might even support organizations like Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center, which sounded the alarm.

Instead, they pushed forward, issuing a bland and empty statement about how wonderful their project will turn out. Knowing full well that after the last house is sold, they’ll pocket huge profits and leave the government to clean up the mess when the neighborhood floods.

City and county bureaucrats rightfully say it is not their job to apply personal judgment or unofficial information in evaluating developments. They are paid to implement rules adopted by elected officials.

That leaves the City Council to act, because as elected officials, they are paid to use their personal judgment. After public outrage, the council unanimously voted to refer the proposed development back to the city administration for further evaluation.

Now comes the true test for MetroNational and Meritage Homes. Will they sue the city for failing to act based on current regulations? Will they support a new analysis of the Brickhouse Gully flood plain and adjust their plans? Or will they abandon the project?

And how many other companies will try to push through new developments before the city, county and federal authorities can rewrite flood control maps and regulations? Will Mayor Sylvester Turner allow similar developments to come this close to a council vote in the future?

We’ll soon find out exactly how much developers are truly invested in building a better Houston and how many are only committed to capturing profits, no matter the consequences.

Chris Tomlinson is the Chronicle’s business columnist. His commentary appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He also posts a daily news analysis at Boardroom.

Will Mayor Sylvester Turner allow similar developments to come this close to a council vote in the future?

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