Thursday, January 29, 2009

Village of Creekside Park - the Developer's Master Plan

Ever wonder what a master development plan looks like? A summary for the Village of Creekside Park in The Woodlands, Texas, is presented in a brochure, an abbreviated version of the plan at the developer's website. It is an overview which gives the public a marketing vision of the total layout. It includes various single-dwelling residential "areas" where the frontage size of lots are predetermined. Each "area" is designated for such entities as multi-family homes, apartments, commercial and retail stores, schools, churches, parks, bodies of water, golf course, or open space.
Bounded by George Mitchell Preserve on the northern, eastern and western perimeters, the village is shaped like a "U", nestled in a bend of Spring Creek. Fazio Golf course with Carlton Woods Creekside homes fits into the eastern bottom of the "U" (north), accompanied by multi-family dwellings on the western side of Kuykendahl.
The plan consists of 4769 single-family residences, 529 age-qualified (over age 55) homes, 1494 multi-family homes, and 308 homes in the gated community of Carlton Woods Creekside. Homes range in cost from $200k to $3+ million. The concept is to have a mixture of home styles and builders, similar to the other eight villages of The Woodlands. The village will be home to some 7100 families when built out.
In the master plan, I count

(6) designated locations for churches,
(3) locations for schools (two K-5 elementary and one 6-6 middle school).
(2) areas (all on and east of Kuykendahl Rd) for commercial/retail centers,
(8) areas for multi-family dwellings, one quite large on the northwest side of Kuykendahl,
(15) park or recreation sites, excluding George Mitchell preserve. There will be a meandering linear park through the center of the village which is not evident on the map of the plan. Also included is a 12-foot wide hike-and-bike trail along the lake. Featured is an aquatic park, a YMCA for family recreation and a special nature-themed village park. These make this potentially the best of all villages with respect to nature.
(17) bodies of water (1 lake, the remainder characterized as ponds). Lake Paloma is situated on about 72 acres.
(1) golf course.
(6) large 80-ft lot areas, all on or near Lake Paloma, in the southeast part of the village. There will be many homes offered on the lake which is shaped to provide a long shore frontage.
(11) 70-75-ft lots areas, split between the Lake Paloma area and the western area adjoining George Mitchell Preserve. One of these will offer homes right on Lake Paloma.
(15) 55,60,65,67-ft lot areas
(07) 40,47,50-ft lots (smallest)
(01) large 500 acre area for Carlton Woods homes, mingled in and around the golf course.
The area on which the development is in progress, has been part of the east Texas forest, full of Pine, Oaks and various other tree species. Deer have roamed here for decades, being protected by the thick Yaupon brush and other smaller trees. The Bald Eagle has nested in its trees; the Red Wing Hawk has flown its skies. There has been plenty of Racoon, Possum, Tree Rats, and Coyote living in this forest.
This photo is a corner lot for sale today in one neighborhood. The following photos show some of the homes and streets in this village today. I will provide more in a followup story. Related stories:
1. Rob Fleming Park
2. Development of the last village of The Woodlands - coming
3. The Aquatic Center - coming
4. The Meandering Trail through the Village - coming
5. Lake Paloma - coming
6. Commercial Plans for the new village - coming
7. Builders in the new village - coming
8. Tomball School District for Creekside Park
9. Tupelo Park

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Entergy and reliability in The Woodlands Texas

We were quite fortunate here to have Entergy as our electric provider after Hurricane Ike. It was significantly ahead of restoring the service when compared to Centerpoint, the other Woodlands electric provider. However in post storm experiences, we have seen a bit of a different story. The worse case of Entergy reliability in The Woodlands has been right here in Indian Springs Village. 4 There were so many outages in 2008, residents here grew accustomed to it. 2008 was the year of Hurricane Ike. That mere fact influenced our willingness to accept a lowered standard of reliability. So why should we really care anyway? We are billed for usage, not availability.

The storm laid sort of a mist over the eyeglasses of residents. Some residents complained, but the vast majority just became complacent and felt that this would get cleaned up sometime, just like other storm issues. Those who complained, whom I know, were generally at home during the day and night and knew when the outages occurred. Some were watching their favorite TV shows, others working on their computers, still others cooking or warming up some food when those outages occurred. But there has been some tough residents who still demanded reliability, despite the storm. Some residents had damaged appliances and electronic devices. Those who have commercial dependencies on electricity were certainly adversely affected. One might expect them to have surge protection power strips and I believe they all do, but sudden outages are apt to have software issues on some units anyway. One might also expect the consumer to protect himself with battery operated emergency power. That usually works for computers but some people do not like to spend the money on something they believe should not be an issue.

Entergy recognizes that there has been a significant problem here. With the history of the area and after the hurricane, they ran analyses on the cables, switch boxes and all other local components. Today, they are in the midst of executing a project plan that mitigates the issues found. These actions will be completed by the end of the second quarter this year. Generally, the outages here were related to cable failures. 4Trees were uprooted in the storm, straining some cables and damaging others. Some of the cable outages occurred before the storm however, so we have to take that prognosis with a grain of salt. There were no cables accidentally cut in 2008, so the issues are all infrastructure, not human induced.

Our outages were almost totally due to cable failures. Those found to be faulty were repaired in the November/December time frame, but the mitigation project is not over. There will be some long scheduled outages this quarter and next quarter to upgrade some other components in the service line. We can expect some residents to experience a four hour outage in some of the scheduled outages.

Indian Springs is on one primary feeder circuit, but it also has a backup circuit. That circuit will not automatically cut in unless there is a total failure of the primary circuit. If only a partial outage, a manual switch to the backup circuit is required. A work crew has to be dispatched to make that manual switch. It is worthy to note that as in virtually all power circuits, there are single points of failure. The closer the electricity gets to a residence, the more risk of a single point of failure to his home. There are no backups close to the home. Large area outages are reported automatically back to the central service computers. But where failures occur near the end of small circuits, near the customer, only resident calls will trigger a help response. There are other facilities outside of The Woodlands that can also cause total failure to the area. Of course Entergy is able to detect those as well.

If you have an outage, what do you do? You have an outage reporting number on your bill. This information is also published on the Entergy website. To report an outage, call 1-800-968-8243. Write this number down in a place you can access easily and use it! I have it programmed in my cell phone. That way, if I have no home phone operational due to lack of electricity, I can take my cell phone somewhere else or perhaps even use it from the house, to report an outage. Entergy will provide assistance and after the recovery, they will help you to understand what happened at your home, even providing circuit diagrams if you need them.

We should expect a maximum of three unplanned outages a year. I am told that is a fairly well known benchmark number in Texas. The Texas Utility Commission measures the performance of an electric provider against a statistical mean statewide. That number is used to compare providers. Each provider is obligated to provide uninterrupted service within a reasonable percentage of that norm. Our service interruptions have added up to an abnormally high number for much of the past year, compared to this area and statewide as well. The PUC (Public Utility Commission) "establishes service standards for regulated electric companies".6

Some residents might would like to visualize outages in a map view that is located on the Entergy website, so I am providing a link to that site. 2 Readers may want to know where the website FAQ is also.1

There is an interesting article about Lubbock and its competitive electrical service provision. True competitive electrical service has been a common discussion item among many for years. Texas prides itself in having competitive administration and billing providers, but the blog below looks at it from the physical delivery provider's perspective. That blog has an interesting authorship and view about competition, the technicalities involved about competing at the wire distribution level instead of the sales/billing level, and the effect of political regulations within our state on true competitive practices. 3
1 Entergy FAQ information - http://www.entergy.com/faq/default.aspx
2 Entergy Circuit Status information - http://entergy-texas.com/outages/tx.aspx
3 "Even in Texas Competition Between Electric Wires is Prohibited Except in Lubbock", Knowledge Problem, January 15 2009, http://knowledgeproblem.com/2009/01/15/even-in-texas-competition-between-electric-wires-companies-is-prohibited-except-in-lubbock/
4 Entergy spokesperson
5 "Electric Service in Texas", Texas Public Utility Commission, http://www.puc.state.tx.us/ocp/electric/index.cfm
6 "What the PUC Regulates", Entergy website, http://www.puc.state.tx.us/ocp/complaints/regulate.cfm

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2008 Lookback - The Woodlands Commentary

It's been a long year. I think you'd agree - a tough one also. My hope that 2009 will be much better but my expectation is that is will equally tough and even more challenging as we come to grips with our situational and individual roles in the new economy. Assuming a fairly dismal economic outlook here, the Woodlands Township will contemplate and plan next year's taxes and make difficult decisions whether to forgo some services or amenities in order to keep our taxes where residents can survive this economic downturn. It will also look for alternate contractors who may have more cost efficient methods to provide existing services. Cost cutting is anticipated to be quite a necessary process this year.

Demand for our homes will likely diminish, so taxes may have to be raised to compensate for lowered revenue. We face budget issues on all fronts, including the federal, state, county and township. We could be in worse shape and be part of Houston, having to help finance their budget woes. Thankfully we face only our own local issues now. Those include legislative bills to help our government get off the ground and the issues surrounding the transition to our new government in 2010. Enough of what's ahead. Let's take a look at the past for a moment.

I don't write about all issues. I choose those which are brought to my attention by readers via email or openly on the blog. Then I also perceive additional opportunities to research and write. I am just an ordinary local resident who finds interest in how things work here. Local services, amenities and government ring my bell. Like many of you,I pay taxes for them and am a stakeholder in the outcome of related decisions.

So what rang my bell this past year, and was it a worthwhile trip for me and you? I don't get a lot of feedback but enough to encourage me to continue with this blog. I do get website statistics to help see where readers' interests lie. This past year, the blog celebrated one full year of operation. What started as a simple little blog to express my interest in nature turned into a multiple topic blog site organized into nine separate blogs.

In retrospect, the entire year was a good one, full of progressive thought and opportunities to learn and share. There were many items of interest locally. I chose to bypass some very important topics but wrote about very significant ones as well. The blog topics which I did address are listed below in order of public interest as measured through the number of visitors and blog page hits.

  1. Local election - What were the issues? Who were running to be directors on the township board and what were their platforms? Who were those candidates? This will spill over to 2009 as the effectiveness of those elected and to 2010 when the board of directors of the Township changes to only seven directors.
  2. Local trees - From the day I started this website, there was an interest in identifying local native trees. We are part of the forest; even our name ties us to the tree population. There is continual demand for more information. I have regularly updated related articles to improve usability and expand the number of trees included. It all started when I discovered I had 21 unique species in my own yard. I wanted to know something about every one of them. Then we went outside to the parks and streets and began to add to the number of trees identified. This part of the blog is utilized today as a reference guide by our local school systems. It us used in the USA and Canada for various research projects. We also indexed the "identification by leaf" and added "identification by bark" this year. There is much work left to do. We intend to continue this expansion.
  3. Local automobile traffic - Main traffic arteries became increasingly worse. A series of articles from county precinct 3 were written to share what I learned when I looked into the precinct operations. My primary focus was the flow of traffic but that was expanded to other services as I discovered how it all works. There was and continues to be a significant public interest in traffic control.
  4. Local Noise Abatement - this has been a pet peeve of mine for three years now. The visitors to the shared information has shown there are many others who are also interested in this subject. We all like peace and quiet in our neighborhoods. This will continue to an active research topic and we discover how noise is changing here with the changes introduced by mobility projects.
  5. Storm threats to our community - as hurricane season approached, I decided to take a look at the threats to our community, which is significantly distant from the coast. In the event of a major storm, I wanted to know if we would face any serious issues here. I looked into wind and into water, sharing what I found with the public. Although there was not much traffic to the site at first, after a direct hit from Hurricane Ike, I saw a lot more interest. I took a look afterward at the damage and linked my previous thoughts to the outcome. Yes, wind is our major issue, and our trees were and will continue to be at risk in major storms. This series of articles is available for future reference.
  6. Death on the pond - the mystery continues to be discussed. Most people have left it as a accidental drowning, but the ideas of a neighborhood threat lingers on in some minds and residents still want to hear the conclusion of the matter. We continue to look for the closure of this tragedy.
There were several other articles and subjects which generated interest. Overall, we had almost 10,000 visits to the blog from its inception in late 2007. There is regular traffic to the site, so I try to keep adding articles. That demands a lot of my time, but I do want to keep my eyes open and ears to the ground, to share what I see and hear. I do appreciate input from readers, whether positive or negative. Life is a learning experience and constant change drives me to be a better person. So thanks to all my readers for their input and patience with the material as it has evolved. And thanks to those who have suggested topics and sought improvements in our community. Maybe we all can make a difference by showing concern and appreciation for what we have and for the contributions of others who make our American dreams come to pass. I applaud those who work for us in government and encourage them to find the best and most efficient cost solutions to sustain the quality of life here that we have come to enjoy and expect. Happy New Year to all and may 2009 be an excellent year.