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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Too much cement; not enough green

I was talking yesterday about how much more cement we have added to the Grove whenever new houses are built. This is because the current houses' footprints are expanded; doubled and tripled at times, adding more cement mass to the earth.

Here are some examples. Above and the photo below are new townhouses being built in the North Grove. The builder was supposed to build three, but there ended up being seven. Why? Because he told me he paid people off.

Under NCD3, 50% of the land is the allowable area that the first floor footprint of the house can cover and the second floor is 30%.The structure can cover more than 50% if 30% is green space, the additional 20% between 50 and 70 is usually driveway pool patio etc. Confusing? Yup, it's probably meant to be. So basically, not much green space is part of the plan and developers can go crazy with the pool and patio area since it's not considered part of the main structure. Not good.

A new NCD3 plan is being worked on by Grove2030, Commissioner Ken Russell and the City's Planning & Zoning Departement, but at the rates it's going, who knows when it will be done, in the meantime, builders have the upper hand. Planning & Zoning just turns their backs on what these builders do. 

The green space requirement now can just be permeable space. Driveways and rock gardens fall into that requirement. This is changed in the new NCD3 plans and greenery and house footprints should be addressed, too.

There were about six single family homes, regular size, with a nice lawn and plenty of space where these huge townhouses sit now. The houses were set back from the street with a nice lawn and trees. Now the new townhouses take up all that space. The lawns that would sop up a lot of water from heavy rains does not exist anymore. Even where you would assume a small lawn would go you can see they decided cement is better. Not much curb appeal, but that is how they ended up doing this job. 

I thought there were zero lot lines, forgive me, the townhouses only take up 90% of the lots, not 100%. Luckily there are no side doors, because if you opened them, they would hit the house next door. As it is now, you can stick your hand out of the window and shake your neighbor's hand "good morning," each day.

The height of this structure is double or more than the neighboring house on another street in the North Grove. 
And these townhouses have always been a pet peeve of mine. About 15 years ago, there was a beautiful mid century house on the lot. It was set far back with a large lawn. The house had an A-frame and it was really beautiful. When I complained to the developer at the time about them knocking down the house, his excuse was that the house was termite ridden. His solution - take a 2000 square foot house with lots of land and make it 10,000 square foot double townhouse with zero lot lines. Again, you'll notice it's mostly cement up front, where a large green lawn used to be. Lots of runoff now into the street and into the neighboring yards. 

These houses on South Bayshore Drive at what used to be 1621, do the same thing - cover the lot and where there should be grass, there is cement. This house and the house below and about three more are on a single plat of land that used to house one regular size house. It was on an acre or two of land with a lot of trees and grass. A lady wanted to put in a Montessori school one time and the neighbors stopped it and now this is the result. Lots of cement with no place for water to go, except to run into the street when it rains hard. Be careful what you ask for. I think the school in the single house surrounded by acres of greenery was the better choice. Now five large houses cover the lot.

30, 40 and 80 years ago, when our homes were built, flooding and global warming were not an issue and I think most homes were built to be "green" and to work with the environment. It wasn't about covering every spot of land that is available. Green space was very important and that is what we need to go back to. Above, again, this is one of the five houses built on the land where only one house used to be at 1621 S. Bayshore Drive, with an acre or more of grass and lots of big trees as as shown below.

This is the house and land before the big houses were built. It doesn't look like a lot of land in this picture, but it is; after all, five big houses now sit on the spot.

Related story: Houston's flooding shows what happens when you ignore science and let developers run rampant

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