A Short Note on the Development of Memorial Thicket
A note on the background of The Thicket wouldn't be complete without a comment about changes which were made to Buffalo Bayou, our neighborhood's southern boundary.
Flooding from the bayou did tremendous damage to Houston in 1879, 1929 and 1935. In 1936, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was consulted and a flood control program which included Barker and Addicks Reservoirs was approved. The second part of the program involved channelizing the bayou. In 1946, Buffalo Bayou was straightened from Highway 6 to Wilcrest Road.
In the 1960's, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers executed a flood mitigation project for Brays Bayou, which cleared out all riparian vegetation and straightened the channel in preparation for construction of a concrete waterway. After the lining of White Oak Bayou with concrete, local residents were outraged and were determined to prevent the similar lining of Buffalo Bayou.
Houston ISD District Map
An early environmentalist, Terry Hershey made it her mission to preserve the integrity and wildlife of the bayou. Hershey took her case to congress with then congressman, George H. W. Bush. Terry and Bush successfully blocked the city's flood control plan. Today, Terry Hershey Park, almost 500-acres near the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs of the Bayou, honors her efforts.
Changes to the bayou had an interesting side effect. The original school district boundaries of Katy ISD and Houston ISD were defined by Buffalo Bayou. When the bayou was channelized, the stream course changed, but the school district boundaries did not. The boundary is still defined by the original Buffalo Bayou stream bed, a ravine through the back yards of residences on the south side of Old Stone Trail and the north side of Herdsman. As a result, nineteen homes at the south end of Plainwood Drive and eleven on Herdsman are in Katy ISD. The remainder of The Thicket is in Houston ISD.
In the mid 1980s, the board of the Homeowners Association appointed a committee to investigate the possibility of getting Memorial Thicket transferred into the Katy ISD. Some residents thought that being in KISD would enhance their property values. After considerable negotiation, HISD agreed to exchange the properties in HISD to KISD for equal taxable values then in KISD. This proved to be an insurmountable requirement and after extensive efforts the board conceded that this would not be possible and abandoned the effort. So the subdivision remains in both HISD and KISD as described above.
Building in Memorial Thicket began in 1979 with the first home, 15410 Old Stone Trail, completed before the end of the year. In the next four years, 88 more homes were added before the economic slowdown in 1983 depressed the housing market. The developers, Harry W. Reed and the Landar Corporation (Bob Lanier's development company) intended the current boundaries of the Thicket as Section 1. Their intent was for the Thicket to eventually extend east to Turkey Creek with the lake as a neighborhood amenity in the center.
In 1984, the developers received an offer from Atlantic Richfield Co. to acquire the remainder of the undeveloped acreage east of Section 1. The offer was accepted. ARCO got most of the undeveloped acreage as well as the undeveloped lots in Section 1 on the east side of Windbreak Trail.
The next exchange was substantially trickier, since it involved the neighborhood's SECURITY. Security has always been one of the most important features of our neighborhood. Our streets are public, freeing us of the expense of maintenance and upkeep. However, with a single entrance manned around the clock by an armed security officer, the Thicket has been one of the safest neighborhoods in Houston.The city of Houston didn't share our enthusiasm for this arrangement. They contended that we needed additional entrances to accommodate police and emergency vehicles. As the subdivision was laid out, entry points could be located at the south end of Plainwood Drive and at the west end of Walkwood Drive.
The City made it abundantly clear that development of the land at the south end of Plainwood would require an additional entry. To the homeowners, this was a "No Way In Hell" condition.
A window of opportunity opened in the early 1990s when the city became more tolerant of single entry subdivisions. Capitalizing on this, the president of the Homeowners Association, Warren Mueller, accompanied by an intimidating contingent of Thicket residents, appeared before the City Planning Commission and made their request. The request was approved. The Thicket received permission to develop the Plainwood Drive extension as a cul de sac.
The second part of the exchange involved the undeveloped land on either side of the Thicket's entrance. These two pieces of property fronting on Memorial Drive had been reserved by the original developers for commercial development. Used as collateral, after the Savings and Loan debacle, they wound up on the property lists of the Resolution Trust Corporation - - the government agency responsible for disposing of property acquired during the government bailout of the S and L Industry.
The property was now on the market. Mueller went shopping for a developer and negotiated a deal. The developer would buy the two parcels adjacent to the guardhouse from the RTC. At closing, the two parcels would be signed over to the Homeowners Association. In exchange, the developer would receive the tract of land at the end of Plainwood and develop it into ten lots on a cul de sac. The Thicket would also receive the cash value of one lot - - - approximately $100,000.
Strong opinions were expressed both for and against the deal. Eventually, at a meeting of the homeowners, over 90% approved the proposal. This was a very sweet deal. It gave the Thicket 10 additional annual assessments, a wad of cash and, most importantly, control of the front of our subdivision, guaranteeing that our guard station would not be sandwiched between a car wash and a burger joint.
Another complication surfaced with the re-building of the guard station. The developers had built a rustic, wooden guard station flanked by wooden signs supported by railroad ties. The property boundary was a white, wooden-rail fence. After almost 15 years, the guard station, signs and fence had deteriorated and were in need of replacement. A Thicket resident and professional designer, Pam Parker, provided the architectural drawings for a new, brick guard station. Construction was put out for bids. Winning bidder was another Thicket resident, Keith McJunkin.
The guard station is quite unique in that it is located on a very small tract that is privately owned (by the Homeowners Association) but is in the middle of dedicated public street right of way. The original plat of Memorial Thicket established the tract as a "Reserve" and thus it is not part of the street right of way that was dedicated to the public.The fun began when the builder applied to the city for a building permit. Once again, the city showed that private guard stations on public roads were not among their favorite things.
The builder was told that the city would gladly issue a demolition permit for the existing security station, but was not about to give approval for a replacement.
The bureaucratic logjam was solved by an incredible coincidence. Houston's mayor at that time was Bob Lanier, the original developer of the Thicket. VP of Architectural Control for the Thicket's board of directors was Lorn Frazier, who knew and had business dealings with Lanier.
Lorn asked for and received an audience with Lanier and explained the problem. Lanier had a heart-to-heart performance discussion with the bureaucrat in charge of permits.
The guard station was approved.
The next security issue was the extension of Walkwood Drive as a through-street on the east. The land needed for the extension of the street was platted into lots and the problem was solved. This solution was made even more permanent when two Thicket residents, Keith McJunkin and Pat McCaffrey purchased a lot (735 Windbreak) in 1992 as a spec investment. Before they commenced building, they staked out a narrow corridor on the south side of the lot and, for a nominal fee, offered it to the Thicket as an access path to ARCO's lake. The Thicket purchased the path, the lot was developed and the home was sold in 1993, blocking any chance of ever extending Walkwood at its eastern end.
The last nagging worry for the integrity of our security was the possible extension of Walkwood Drive to the west. During 1993 and 1994, the Homeowners Association board of directors led by Bob Sampson investigated means of sealing off the west end of Walkwood Drive. A number of discussions were held with the property owner to the west of the Thicket, Vince Kickerillo. At one point, the board looked into acquiring a small strip of property at the end of Walkwood and donating it to the city as a dedicated pocket park. This was not successful but the last potential exit at the west end of Walkwood was blocked when Kickerillo constructed a one-street, gated community, Marywood.
With the property in front securely in hand and all possible second exits blocked, the Thicket breathed an enormous sigh of relief. All the issues had been resolved. All the battles had been fought and all the wars had been won. Memorial Thicket would remain as a single entry subdivision.In point of fact, there will probably always be an issue and it will probably be totally unexpected.
In March of 2004, the Thicket received a water bill for approximately $30,000 from the City of Houston who contended that the Thicket has been using unmetered city water since 1993. Most of the members of the current Board of Directors had never heard of Memorial Thicket in 1993. However, they approached the problem as the board always has . . . as if its solution would have a personal impact on them, their families and their homes.
Come to think of it, it does.
Written late 2004, Updated 2009 by R D Batten
Images thanks to Greg Sergesketter
Current count: 156 homes and 2 vacant lots.