GALVESTON

Penny Britton and Tim Conti sold their Minnesota home to escape cold winters, and in October 2018 settled on Galveston Island. Their apartment at Club of the Isle on Cove View Boulevard overlooked a wide, green field teeming with birds and other wildlife.

One morning, Britton experienced what she called “the privilege” of seeing one of the island’s coyotes, cousin to the red wolf, roaming the grassland just outside her window.

Now, Britton’s view is of a field scraped down to bare dirt, with mountains of excavated soil and bulldozers lying in wait, the birds nearly all gone.

Anne Boyd, Britton and Conti’s neighbor at Club of the Isle, is a young, single mother who moved here with her little boy in February, thrilled at the placement of her apartment with its spacious corner balcony, just feet away from the fence that separates the apartments from the field next door.

In March, she began photographing the excavation of the field and one day put herself in front of a bulldozer, demanding to know what was going on. She was threatened with charges of criminal trespass, she said.

The apartment dwellers are watching what they call a travesty happen just outside their doors and windows. They heard that the land they used to think of as a nature area will soon be a 137-unit RV park.

On Friday, the bulldozers, trucks and other earth-moving equipment on the field that stretches from FM 3005 to Stewart Road, abutted to the west by the Sandhill Crane Park soccer fields and to the east by Club of the Isle, stood still and silent.

Boyd hoped that meant her protests had temporarily halted construction next door. But plans for the development are moving forward, as far as owner-developer Lamson Nguyen knows.

Nguyen said he’s building an eco-friendly RV park, that the displacement of the bird habitat next door was done with consideration for preservation of the wetlands embedded in the 27-acre field, and that he hopes to attract a new kind of RV traveler to Galveston.

SOMETHING’S HAPPENING HERE

Curiosity and alarm about the project on FM 3005 led to an email exchange among the neighbors, their City Councilwoman, Jackie Cole, and Tim Tietjens, director of development services for the city.

Britton wrote Cole, asking what was going on.

“I’m watching the destruction of a beautiful natural area for the sake of 137 RV parking spots,” she said in an email. “A month ago, this area was teeming with wildlife — egrets, ibis, herons, loons, ducks, spoonbills, sandhill cranes and a variety of raptors. We were even privileged to see a wolf there. Now there is nothing.”

Cole asked the city what they knew and Tietjens responded:

“Staff advises that the tract has been platted, and we have a preliminary site plan that shows a 137-space RV park.”

The owner had made a decision to build around jurisdictional wetlands on the property, designated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tietjens said, calming any concerns anyone might have about whether proper permitting was in place. If plans don’t call for those wetlands to be filled or dredged, there’s no need for a permit.

This week, Tietjens confirmed that a development permit is still going through the city’s process for approval and that a city fill permit has been issued, accounting for all the earth moving at the site.

Jurisdictional determination of where wetlands exist in the 27-acre plot was made by the corps, Tietjens said. The city’s fill permit does not apply to jurisdictional wetlands, only to those outside the corps’ realm of responsibility.

“The corps has visited the site and have notified our department that the developer is avoiding wetlands with the fill,” he said.

NOT A PARKING LOT

Britton and Conti sat at their kitchen window on Friday, looking out at the area.

After they moved into Club of the Isle in October, they signed up for birdwatching class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a program for seniors. Their instructor took the class to the field next to their apartment building, saying it was a great spot to see birds. Britton and Conti were thrilled. They could practically see their apartment window from where they stood, they said.

A pair of binoculars sits next to the screen of the opened window, now used to scope the construction next door.

Conti was concerned about a pump he could see, set up next to a small equipment trailer along the protective barrier next to the pond.

“It looks to me like they’re planning to pump water out of the pond and fill it in,” he said.

Nguyen said that wasn’t the case.

In fact, he said, what he plans for the former bird habitat is an RV park for people pursuing a sustainable lifestyle, an ecologically inclined RV park.

“We’re not building a parking lot,” he said.

WILL BIRDS RETURN?

Nguyen said he walked the site with people from the city and people from the corps, staking out a little less than 10 acres on the property that constitute jurisdictional wetlands, areas he has erected plastic protective barriers around, and that he plans to build walking trails around as part of the development.

“We’ll be using very little concrete,” he said. “We’ll use a lot of green pavers, and granite and limestone.”

His plan includes extensive landscaping, and that even with 137 spots, the RV park won’t be built to density capacity, he said.

Whether birds will be able to reclaim the area as their habitat remains to be seen.

Britton said she saw something Friday morning that shocked her. Having grown accustomed to waking to the beeping and diesel engine rattling of the earth-moving equipment next door, she was surprised by the quiet in the early morning air. A dense fog had landed.

“I looked out the window and saw all this white,” she said.

Ibis and egret had flocked in and landed between the fence and the plastic barrier area, crowded into a little 3-foot wide space, she said.

Their white wings, bodies and heads in motion made what looked like a hovering ghost in the fog.

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

(15) comments

Gary Miller

Owning a property gives you the right to decide what it will be used for. Where you live was wildlife habitat before it was built. You have the right to complain but we have the right to ignore your complaints.

Rusty Schroeder

Not if you want to build a Dollar General on the West End. :)

LouAnn Nichols

Not so there are restrictions, local, state, and federal that limit what you can and cannot do .

Rusty Schroeder

I was referring to Gary's comment on being able to build what you want on your own property. The land owner the Dollar General was to be built asked for a zoning change, which was denied. So you can't build what you want on your own property.

Rusty Schroeder

NIMBY. This cousin of the red wolf coyote nonsense is ridiculous, now you have a council woman claiming a wolf was roaming the property under construction. Jackie Cole must be related to Elizabeth Warren, both have ridiculous claims of DNA ancestry.

Rusty Schroeder

Correction, Penny Britton claimed to see the wolf, not council woman Cole.

LouAnn Nichols

👍

Steve Fouga

I tend to dislike developments of this type, and I'd be pee-Oed if I lived next door, but... Our environmental policies are designed to delicately balance the interests of commercial development and environmental protection, and it seems this development doesn't violate those policies, so... What Gary said.

George Croix

'Hovering ghosts....'
Wow....

That aside, what part of following rules and procedures and complying with all mandates and permitting processes to use one's land as one sees fit and has the blessing of The Powers That be to do so trumps someone else's desire?
I suspect that the apartments that those upset folks live in, being immediately adjacent to the new development, did THEMSELVES, when constructed, and still, displace the same wildlife and same birds and such and changed the habitat for other hovering ghosts....
Why was it OK to do that to build a place for ya'll to live but not OK to do it to build a place for others...?

Don Schlessinger

The thing is, a trailer park will bring in more tourists to spend money on the island. When the tourists come and spend money it's taxed and the city gets it's piece of the pie in that revenue. The trailer park is actually a good thing, something you affected residents will see in improved services. Well that's what they tell us on the east end.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Perhaps Britton and Conti are unaware that some of us were dismayed when the apartments they live in (and the road they are constructed on) were built on lovely open land. But, since we did not have the money to buy that land, they get to live in apartments there. Soon, next door to RV's. If they are under the impression that they and their apartments are somehow "better" than RV dwellers, they are as wrong about that as they are about the "wolf".

Leigh Cowart

That's progress!! I am sad to see nature displaced too, but it happens....
I am currently making signs to put out for people to slow down and quit running over the rabbits and ducks in my neighborhood!
We live on an Island and once the wildlife is gone that's it!

Jack Reeves

I love nature and it's peripheral wildlife. I have lived on the extreme east end of The Island and have RV'd on the west end. What I can say is that most of the RV folks that I have met are extremely conscientious about the environment and cautious about the foot print that they leave. There is a general attitude of " leave it better than you found it".
If Mr. Nguyen is sincere about providing a place where people can interact with nature and he is ecologically responsible in his construction, I say, let him do it.

Don Schlessinger

Money money money. Go back to 3/31/19 and review the news article regarding the east end lagoon. It tells us about building a great nature area including-yes-an RV Park approved by our "leaders". RV Park?

So west enders I feel your pain. Good luck, residents don't have a chance when tourists and money come into the picture. Remember, it's all about the money!

Jarvis Buckley

Cadeucias place (the red street) used to be the end of development on the island , now it's considered town.
I love SandHill cranes I despise coyotes. They will kill your pet just for
one bite . Developing property has
Consequences. Developers have to follow the law. If you don't like the law try to have it changed. You might be successful.

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