Study: Houston Homes That Never Flooded Before Now Flood in a Two-Year Storm

There was a time, not even that long ago, when a Houston neighborhood wasn’t even on Harris County’s 500-year floodplain map. But today, some of those homes are in danger of flooding. In a two-year storm. (That’s right. Two freaking years.)

The City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner are about to be sued over it. 

A non-profit organization called Residents Against Flooding is set to file a lawsuit over Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 17 (often called the Memorial City TIRZ). The point of contention, according to Ed Browne of Residents Against Flooding, is that local homeowners won’t be able to choose their own TIRZ board member if a Houston City Council motion passes during Wednesday’s meeting. 

According to “Seven Essential Conditions for the Memorial City TIRZ,” an appendix in a city ordinance that then mayor Lee Brown signed into law in 1999, two of the five City Council-appointed TIRZ board members “shall be qualified neighborhood residents.” As the Press documented last year, TIRZ board members are appointment-only positions that are determined by Houston City Council.

During Wednesday’s Houston City Council meeting, city officials will consider replacing Robert Tucker, who has reached the end of his term, “with a person who has not been selected and vetted by the North Side neighborhoods contiguous to TIRZ 17,” reads a unanimously passed resolution by the Spring Branch West Super Neighborhood. (According to City of Houston documents, Houston City Council Member Mike Laster has nominated David P. Durham as the new Board Position 3 representative for TIRZ 17. *See correction below) “This violates the clear Intent and Letter of Ordinance, leaving the contiguous neighborhood north with zero Board members and… the five other Board members live well outside the neighborhoods contiguous to the TIRZ 17.” 

Browne says this is a big deal because a board member who doesn’t live in or near flood-impacted neighborhoods in Memorial City won’t have the same urgency to address real-deal flooding concerns.

According to a 2015 drainage study by Houston-based Lockwood, Andrews, and Newman, Inc., 429 homes in the 850-home neighborhood north of Briar Branch (located near Interstate 10 and Gessner Road) will flood in a 10-year storm. In a two-year rain event, the study concludes that 102 structures will flood. “Prior to explosive growth surrounding the neighborhood, few, if any, homes flooded,” says Browne, who adds that the City has turned a blind eye to flooding risks that may have been created by real-estate developers.

“Homeowners in the zone north of I-10 have been flooded due to the lack of urgency by the City and TIRZ 17 to address critical drainage issues as well as TIRZ 17 and the City’s failure to hold developers in the zone accountable for their storm water run-off, which is now being detained in living rooms,” says Browne. “It is paramount to these homeowners that they continue to have a voice, chosen by the neighborhood itself, to insure their best interest is upheld within TIRZ 17 governance.

“Mayor Turner is using wrongful interpretation of the law to defend his right to choose the north side’s neighborhood representative despite public outcries from the Spring Branch Civic Association, the Spring Branch West Super Neighborhood, Residents Against Flooding, and 18 Homeowner Associations south of I-10 who are also within the TIRZ 17 district.”

Unlike what’s happening with Brays Bayou, Memorial City isn’t a victim of an overtaxed bayou topping its banks. This is all human-caused, says Browne, who has also voiced concerns to the Harris County Flood Control District to no avail. “That is why it is so critical to homeowners that they continue to choose neighborhood representatives on the board who serve only in the best interest of homeowners.”

Correction 4/14/16 at 6:00 p.m.: Houston City Council Member Mike Laster made a motion to carry through Mayor Turner's appointments and re-appointments of TIRZ 17 board members. The Houston Press regrets the error.

The motion, which was confirmed during Wednesday's Houston City Council meeting, was seconded by Council Member Brenda Stardig. 
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen