|Director Bass requested a briefing regarding the St. Anthony of Padua Catholic church campus project be included on the August 24 agenda. Deborah Sargeant, the Chairman of the Development Standards Committee (DSC), will be invited to provide a briefing to the Township Board of Directors.
In a May, 2016, Township staff advised the Township Board of Directors about the expansion of the St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church Campus under discussion by the DSC. The Township had received feedback from some residents who reside in the area adjacent to the church project site. The residents were concerned with the tree removal and the perceived negative impact that the project at the church campus will have on the property values. On June 15, the DSC reviewed the final site plan for the St. Anthony project (Attachment A) and residents were given time at that meeting to provide input.
This matter was brought back to the DSC on July 6, 2016, to give adjacent residential property owners an additional opportunity for resident comment. Following the July 6 meeting, Township staff met with one of the adjacent residential property owners. This property owner felt that some of the issues had been misrepresented at the previous DSC meetings.
Township President/General Manager made a request to the DSC Chair that this item be given one additional hearing so that any concerns of residents could be heard. This request was granted and the DSC placed this matter on their July 20 meeting agenda. There, adjacent property owners provided written information and this information was distributed to all DSC members in advance of the July 20, 2016, meeting. These adjacent property owners were also given time at the DSC meeting to express their concerns.
Following the public input on July 20, the DSC voted unanimously to approve the Conditional Permit (Attachment B). The Conditional Permit approval was sent to St Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on July 25, 2016, and includes, but is not limited to: a requirement to install an eight (8) foot fence along the rear of the property to screen car headlights and mitigate noise; submit a landscape plan for reforestation; shield the lights in the parking lot; and to reach out to the Woodlands Joint Powers Agency (WJPA), in an attempt to increase the area for vegetation as needed between the church and the back slope of the Municipal Utility District's (MUD) drainage easement.
Following the approval of the Conditional Permit by the DSC, staff and representatives of the DSC visited the St. Anthony Padua Campus on several occasions. The purpose of these additional visits was to inspect and verify each stage of the clearing and construction project, which included verification of property lines and forest preserves as well as shifting parking lot median landscape islands in order to save additional trees.
St. Anthony began the site clearing on August 12, 2016. A Summary of the history of this matter has been prepared (Attachment C). St. Anthony has stated that their development plan will be conducted in phases over a period of several years.
Attached for reference is copy of the General Development Plan Disclosure Map dating to 7/11/1997 (Attachment D), which is prior to the final plat for any development in Section 45 (Laurelhurst). The map discloses a church and commercial development for the parcel north of the drainage easement. Note 1 reads: ”Future development commercial/mixed use may include but is not limited to office, retail, apartments, service, recreational, or institutional uses.” All subsequent Disclosure Maps have included a church and future commercial/mixed use development with the note above. Initial home buyers were provided with a copy of the General Development Plan Disclosure Map with the proposed land use across the drainage easement from Laurelhurst at the time they purchased their homes.
The residential properties in Section 45 back-up to a large MUD drainage easement. The MUD drainage easement separates the residential properties in Section 45 from the St. Anthony of Padua site. This drainage easement is void of all trees and shrubs to ensure proper function of the drainage ditch. Across the ditch from the residential section, the commercial properties tracts including the church and apartment complex were required to maintain a fifteen (15) foot wide forest preserve. This requirement is standard for such commercial developments (Attachment E).
As a reminder, the DSC serves in a role similar to a planning and zoning commission typically found in a city/municipality. As prescribed in the Covenants, Restrictions, Easements, Charges and Liens of The Woodlands, DSC has the sole and final authority on approval or disapproval of property improvement projects in the areas of the community for which their authority has been imposed - such as the St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church expansion project. The Township Board of Directors does not act as an appeal board for DSC's decisions nor does the Township Board have any authority over the DSC or the decisions of the Committee or their actions. The only control the Township Board of Directors has over the DSC is in the appointments of individuals to serve on the DSC. Individuals are appointed to the DSC for two year, staggered terms. It should also be noted that the Township Board of Directors has no authority over the WJPA or MUD.
As one of the Conditions of the Permit for the church includes that the church shall reach out to the WJPA, in an attempt to increase the area for vegetation as needed between the church and back slope of the Municipal Utility District's drainage easement. The Township Board of Directors may consider supporting this condition and/or making a similar request to WJPA on behalf of the residential properties to obtain MUD approval for the Township to plant trees and shrubs behind the residential properties along the west side of the drainage easement to provide some forest buffer directly behind the homes.