Thursday, June 11, 2009

Some hope on the horizon? Villa Sports issue stimulates new initiative

There have been a number of issues over the past few years between residents and the development company in The Woodlands. Now we have the Villa Sports issue. It seems that there is a gap of understanding in developing new commercial properties. There is hope for change, as evidenced in a decision last night by the Board of Directors of the Woodlands Community Association.

The commercial development standards are placed in the hands of an organization specifically established to control and enforce those standards, the Woodlands Commercial Owner's Association (WCOA). The problem seems that local residents are not represented very well in those decisions. In fact, residents are not part of the decision making process, although they might be consulted in early stages of planning. Residents are represented by their respective home owner associations, i.e., older villages of Panther Creek, Indian Springs, Cochran's Crossing and Grogan's Mill are part of the WCA and the newer villages of Alden Bridge, Sterling Ridge, Carlton Woods, Creekside Park, East Shore, West Indian Springs, and College Park by the TWA. One of the benefits of the Township will be the merger of these two associations into a unified residential community, all governed by one entity, the township. This will unify processes, strategies and regulations, with the exception of the deed restriction contracts which are grandfathered. Concurrently, the WCOA is rolled into the township, presenting an opportunity to integrate processes between the home owners and commercial owners. It also affords residents and businesses to be partners in any new development or changes to property regulations or use.

Although residents were involved in some of the decision making for the new Villa Sports complex, changes in plans apparently were never discussed nor agreed upon by the residents living in the immediate proximity of the new facility. This has raised issues in the cooperation of business with the residential interests in the community. How can we prevent this situation from recurring in the future. The bad news is that it has happened before. Many people must take much time out of their lives when the problems are addressed after the construction, rather than before. When the cost can be minimized through planning, there is much less time and money wasted. How do we learn from prior mistakes?

There is a common thread in what bothers any resident who is a neighbor of a commercial area. Pollution! Noise and light are the most common pollutants. Air quality can also be an issue. Businesses have a right to be here, but face it, the residents are the heart and soul of the community. The Woodlands was originally designed as a residential community with the necessary conveniences for quality living. There has been a gradual shift to crowbar commercial entities into the fabric of the community, instead of weaving it. When the businesses generate noise or light pollution in the forest that interrupts the sleep or otherwise degrades the living quality on the property of the homeowner, the rights of the homeowner has been stepped upon. The right to have a quiet place to live is part of the deed covenants of every home owner in both associations. Some people sleep during the day, others at night. Normal commercial processes can interrupt a person's sleep, like garbage pickup, e.g., steel against steel: wham at 4AM or 4PM. Hours of business operation can affect residents, such as a gasoline station that remains open 24 hours a day, inviting loud motorcycles, cars with broken mufflers, loud radios, etc. This is also pollution. We can elaborate ad infinitum.

The good news is that the Villa Sports incident has provided insight and an immediate stimulus to define change. Our current WCA directorship is interested in coming up with ideas on what actually can be done about it. Outspoken on the issue at the monthly WCA meeting were several board members. As a result of their interest and energy on this issue, the board decided to form a four member committee to discuss some possible solutions to this and hopefully to recommend a solution or action of substance to the Township Board.

Can we finally get to a better process that facilitates mutual agreements between homeowners and commercial interests? I sure hope so!

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