Our Woodlands. Our Future.

The Woodlands Township Elections November 2022

The Natural Environment In The Woodlands - How Is It Maintained?

by Robert Heineman
2016 map of The Woodlands showing open space such as green space, lakes, and ponds

What is the vision?

From its inception in 1974, The Woodlands has pioneered the blending of nature with modern development practices, creating a new standard in the quality of community development. One of the original goals of The Woodlands plan was to maintain the natural forested environment through the development process. This has been accomplished through several means:

  • Maintain approximately 28% of the community’s land area in forest preserves, parks, lakes, golf courses, and other types of open space.
  • Maintain forest preserves along major roadways including major thoroughfares and collector streets.
  • Maintain the greenbelts along natural streams
  • Construct open swales instead of concrete-lined channels.
  • Establish forest preserve building setback lines around the perimeter of properties.
  • Establish landscape standards within properties such as within parking lots and around buildings.
  • Develop maximum land coverage percentages for different land uses and locations.

How is the vision executed?

  • The legal means to develop and enforce these goals is established through the Covenants, The Residential and Commercial Development Standards, Development Criteria established for each parcel prior to sale, restrictions related to land use, density, and other factors contained in recorded deeds, and by reviewing each project prior to development by the design review committees.
  • In many ways the above process is more extensive than the Planning and Zoning process in many cities.

Why is the more formal landscaping in Town Center different from the Villages?

Town Center development contrasts with but complements development in the Residential Villages. The villages convey the feeling of a small town within a forested setting. The residential neighborhoods, park and pathway system, schools, institutional uses, and village centers are designed to accommodate most of a family’s daily needs within a 1 to 2 mile travel radius. The design of Village Centers as “nodes” at the intersection of major roadways and the variety of retail and professional office contained in each village center encourages residents to visit several destinations during a single trip. For example, one might visit the supermarket, drugstore, gas station, cleaners, and hardware store during a single trip. This concept makes destinations convenient and efficient to access and reduces vehicle miles travelled when compared to the typical “strip retail” concept.

In contrast, the Town Center has always been planned as a major regional mixed-use urban center attracting the necessary visitors from outside The Woodlands for these major businesses to succeed. While major thoroughfares which serve the Town Center, such as Woodlands Parkway, Lake Woodlands Drive, Research Forest Drive, and Grogan’s Mill Road, are bordered with the signature natural landscaped forest preserve, once one enters the inner fabric of Town Center, a more urban pedestrian environment is experienced.

In Town Center, the buildings are located closer to streets. Sidewalks, more formal landscaping including street trees and other pedestrian amenities are provided within the street rights-of-way. Shared parking opportunities between different uses are utilized where possible. Shared parking can occur when different land uses have different peak parking times and can utilize the same spaces at different times during the day or days of the week. For example, the Pavilion uses the vacant office parking lots on Timberloch Place at night during a concert; the office building and Cinemark share a parking garage.

Structured parking and street parking are prevalent. In many places such as Market Street and Waterway Square, the buildings frame a major public exterior pedestrian space. Parking garages are “wrapped” with active uses such as retail or other commercial uses along the street in order to enhance and encourage the pedestrian experience.

In summary, the original vision of the Town Center as a regional center with a walkable urban environment requires a different streetscape design than the Residential Villages.

Why is the design of the Creekside Park Village Center different from the other village centers?

The unique design of the Creekside Park Village Center is the result of its location, which posed several significant problems and required innovative solutions:

  • All supermarket anchored village centers in The Woodlands except Grogan’s Mill Village Center are located at the intersection of two major thoroughfares. There is no such intersection in the Village of Creekside Park. Kuykendahl Road, with 25,308 average daily traffic (ADT), is the only major thoroughfare in Creekside Park. Creekside Forest Drive is a major collector road with 5,382 ADT for a total of 30,692 ADT at the intersection. Other village centers such as Panther Creek, Cochran’s Crossing, and Sterling Ridge are located at the intersection of two major thoroughfares where the total daily traffic volume ranges from 50,000 ADT to over 85,000 ADT.
  • The only other Village Center not located at the intersection of two major thoroughfares is Grogan’s Mill Village Center, which has faced challenges over the years because of its location and limited accessibility. Even Grogan’s Mill Road, with approximately 30,000 ADT, exhibits higher traffic volumes than Kuykendahl Road
  • To compensate for the low traffic volumes adjacent the center, the design solution was to increase accessibility and visibility to the center by designing Kuykendahl Road as two one- way streets instead of one 4- 6 lane thoroughfare and using the more urban, pedestrian-friendly landscape standards of Town Center as opposed to screening the center behind the typical forest preserve.
  • In Creekside Park, the potential existed for a major pedestrian/ bicycle connection from Liberty Branch directly into the Village Center. If the typical village center plan with buildings parallel to Kuykendahl Road was repeated at Creekside Park, HEB and the connecting retail shops and service drive would block this connection as shown on the attached exhibit which depicts the Panther Creek Village Center superimposed on the Creekside Park Village Center. The proposed innovative design solution terminates the pedestrian/ bicycle connection from Liberty Branch at a Village Green reminiscent of the traditional small town village square, bordered by retail shops and professional offices.
  • In summary, The bifurcation of Kuykendahl Road allows HEB to be turned 90 degrees, provides a service drive shielded by a forest preserve at Creekside Forest Drive, allows sufficient access and visibility to develop a village green with shops and offices adjacent to, but not connected to, the supermarket, and provides direct pedestrian access from Creekside Park through the neighborhood of Liberty Branch.
  • The perimeter of the Creekside Park Village Center includes a forest preserve consistent with all other village center forest preserves in The Woodlands.

Why was the site north of HEB cleared?

  • The topography of the parcel just inside the northern entrance of Creekside Park Village Center formed a significant sunken “bowl” in the middle that could not be drained without filling. Over 300 truckloads of fill were required in order to raise the site to ensure proper drainage. Extensive re-landscaping per the master plan is required as part of the development, similar to many of the other village centers.

Have other commercial sites required significant clearing and re-landscaping?

Most of the large commercial sites in The Woodlands have required significant clearing and subsequent re-landscaping within the “building zone” of a parcel, which is outside the boundary of the forest preserve setbacks. The need to clear within the building zone is due primarily to the difference in the existing topographic elevations prior to development and the finished elevations required for the site to drain properly after development. If the finished grade is significantly higher or lower than the existing grade, it is very difficult to maintain existing trees. When soil is added to the natural grade under the existing tree canopy, it prevents oxygen from reaching the tree roots.

The Woodlands Mall, Pinecroft Center, and most of the Village Centers have required extensive clearing and re-planting within the building zone. Existing trees along the periphery of parking lots or in medians where the existing and finished grades are very close have the greatest potential to maintain existing trees. The Walmart Center at FM 2978 is a good example, where a significant number of existing trees were able to be saved within the site.

What has been done to re-forest areas in need of landscaping?

  • The southern 1250 acres of the Village of Creekside Park was a cleared pasture when purchased by The Woodlands Development Company (TWDC) many years ago. At that time, TWDC re-planted the pasture land with over 900,000 pine seedlings. Over the years, the seedlings have matured and pine trees from this “newly created” forest have been transplanted to augment naturally sparse areas of forest preserves throughout The Woodlands.
  • Approximately 7000 LF of frontage on Kuykendahl Road was not owned by TWDC. In order to establish a continuous forest preserve along Kuykendahl Road, the road was shifted to a different alignment, existing pavement was removed, and the area was re-planted with native trees.
  • Arbor Day has been celebrated in The Woodlands since 1975. Over the past 45 years, approximately 30,000 seedlings per year (1,350,000 total seedlings) have been distributed to residents to help maintain the natural forest environment.

In summary, the original vision to retain the natural forested environment within a vibrant, creative community continues to be realized.

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