Sunday, February 17, 2013

Skanska moving forward with site development in Energy Corridor

 By Rusty Graham Original story can be found at

As Skanska clears and readies a 21-acre site for development in the Energy Corridor, the neighborhood next door continues to fight to save what they call Lake Thicket, a water feature that attracts wildlife and that the neighbors consider not only an amenity but an essential part of drainage and flooding control.
It’s a fight that’s taking on more urgency as the draining of the pond becomes imminent. Crews and machines are working inside fences that have been pulled back from water’s edge, and an aerator in the pond has been disconnected.

Referred to as a “foreign developer” on the Save Lake Thicket website, Skanska is in fact a Sweden-based global construction and development company with operations in cities across the United States, including Houston.

According to Mike Mair, executive vice president and regional manager, Skanska USA Commercial Development, Skansa is a global leader in the delivery of construction services — and a leader in building sustainable communities.

“While we’re a global leader,” he said, “we’re very much a local presence. We understand the neighbors’ concerns. (Lake Thicket) has been there since they moved into their homes.”

Skanska bought the property at 15375 Memorial, vacant since 2009, early last year and looked at ways to repurpose the existing building, Mair said, which would have preserved the footprint and perhaps Lake Thicket.

But even though several plans were put forward, Mair said, commercial brokers still wouldn’t accept them and Skanska decided to remove the building because of that obsolesence and for security concerns.

“We met with neighbors to explain that,” Mair said. “That’s when we first heard about Lake Thicket.”
The Memorial Thicket neighborhood organized a committee to take action.

The group got some media coverage last spring, and Skanska at the time said that it couldn’t say if Lake Thicket would remain in place because it wasn’t sure how new construction would use the site.

Now, though, while the actual building footprint remains to be determined and will be based on tenant needs, Mair said that Lake Thicket will be drained, wildlife relocated and a smaller water amenity will be built that will serve as stormwater detention and irrigation for the site, filling naturally and featuring natural vegetation.

Richardson of Save Lake Thicket said that the current pond sits in an area that’s always held water — “probably back when Texas became a state there was water there,” he said.

“(Skanska) claims it doesn’t hold water, but we have pictures that show that it does,” said Richardson, referring to photos taken during the rain event of April 27-28, 2009, that show Lake Thicket with water well beyond it’s concrete-lined sides.

Mair said that the concrete lining and that the pond is filled with groundwater from a pump that also serves as an aerator is evidence that Lake Thicket is man-made.

Richardson said that there “isn’t a natural body of water anywhere” that hasn’t had its banks improved.
Lake Thicket is about 15 feet deep, Richardson said, and connects with the water table.

“Even during the drought (of 2011) the water level went down a foot or so,” he said. Lake Thicket naturally refilled from rainfall during large storms, he said.

Neighborhood associations and super neighborhoods along Buffalo Bayou have written letters of support for Save Lake Thicket, largely expressing concern about additional water storage on the bayou during storms.

Memorial Thicket at one time owned the two-acre pond, but executed a land swap with then-owner Arco for property it could develop and finish out the subdivision. It also transferred maintenance and liability for the pond to Arco.

But ownership “isn’t the issue at all,” said Richardson. “The big issue is, what are they doing for the community.”

Mair said that preliminary plans call for burying utilities along the front of the property, construction of a new six-foot sidewalk along Memorial Drive, the addition of a new right-turn lane on eastbound Memorial, and the extension of a private connector road to South Mayde Drive — all of which improve the property and the area for the neighborhood.

In a Jan. 22 letter to residents, Skanska said that during pond drainage and site adjustment its goal is to “safeguard as much of the wildlife as possible” by using experts to relocate them to a wildlife conservancy.

Skanska also said in the letter that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers it studied the pond and “confirmed that it does not have an impact on wetlands,” and that the new pond will “be used in our environmental plan as water retention, drainage and irrigation.”

Richardson said all the proposed amenities benefit Skanska more than the neighborhood, and that by eliminating access across the property to Terry Hershey Park forces walkers and bikers to the sidewalk along Memorial Drive to deal with the increased traffic the development will bring.

Mair said that while Skanska will have to remove some trees during construction, it plans to replant more trees than it takes out. Richardson said that when Skanska develops the back of the property it won’t be possible to replace all the trees that will have to be cut down.

And while Richardson said Skanska hasn’t responded to the neighborhood’s request for regular meetings, Mair, said Skanska’s goal is to co-exist peacefully with the community.

“We’re really trying to be a good neighbor,” he said. “We want to leave it better than we found it.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Save Lake Thicket - Nottingham Forest Civic Association

c/o RealManage Houston, LP
2000 S. Dairy Ashford, Suite 120
Houston, Texas 77077

January 10, 2013
Mr. Michael McNally
President and CEO
Skanska USA
350 Fifth Avenue
32nd Floor
New York, NY 10118

Dear Mr. McNally:

      On behalf of the Nottingham Forest Civic Association, Inc., I am writing to urge your company to reconsider its plans regarding Lake Thicket in front of the office building located at 15375 Memorial Drive in Houston, Texas.

     Our city - and especially west Houston - has been fortunate to enjoy a robust economy, even during the worst of the recent economic downtum. While we certainly welcome increased business development in our area, we must also be diligent in ensuring the growth accompanying such development enhances, rather than harms, our existing community. I understand Skanska intends to drain and fill Lake Thicket and the surrounding wetlands. This action would, undoubtedly, negatively affect Nottingham Forest and neighborhoods located all along the Memorial Drive/Buffalo Bayou corridor.

     Portions of Nottingham Forest, which lies downstream of Lake Thicket, are already subject to flooding, and filling in this natural wetland would only exacerbate the problem. Furthennore, altering the wetland would harm the beautiful natural environment that makes west Houston such an attractive area for homes and businesses. In short, filling in Lake Thicket would contribute to the already disturbing destruction of wildlife in the area, as well as negatively impacting storm water quality.

     Nottingham Forest welcomes business neighbors who recognize our area's attributes and will ensure west Houston remains a special place to work and live. I look forward to discussing with you how Skanska might work with the communities in west Houston to develop a new plan for Lake Thicket that will benefit our area. Please feel free to have someone contact me by email xxxxxxxxxxxx or telephone at 713-XXX-XXXX to further discuss this matter.


Jonathan D. Polley
Nottingham Forest Civic Association, Inc.