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A Developer Wants to Build Hundreds of Homes in a Houston Floodplain

The Houston City Council unanimously approved a developer's plan on Wednesday to build hundreds of homes in a floodplain in west Houston.

Meritage Homes, a real estate development company based in Scottsdale, Arizona, plans to build some 900 homes on the site of a former golf course.

Environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn, who founded the flood resiliency non-profit Bayou City Initiative after Hurricane Harvey, told the Houston Chronicle that the council should have rejected the plan to make the point that Houston "will not readily accommodate building in floodplains."

And future flooding in Houston is all but inevitable: Heavy downpours in Houston have increased by 167 percent since the 1950s, and, thanks to climate change, storms are likely to become even more frequent.

"This is land that, frankly, shouldn't be developed," Blackburn said. The Harris County Flood Control District told Houston's KPRC that Brickhouse Gully, the area downstream of the proposed development, has a history of flooding. Thousands of homes there flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Before Harvey, the district had already begun buying up homes there that had flooded multiple times.

But the proposal for the subdivision meets both city rules and the stricter standards for such development—which require that new homes be built at least two feet above the floodplain—that the council passed just this month. To meet these standards, Meritage plans to dig out a channel and evaporation ponds and then build the new homes on the excavated soil.

The president of Meritage's Houston division, Kyle Davison, praised the council vote.

Matt Zeve, director of operations for the Harris County Flood Control District, told the Chronicle he wished he'd known the land was available. "The best way to prevent flooding is to have some government agency own the most flood-prone land," Zeve said, "so that a developer doesn't get a chance to buy it."