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Woodlands DSC chairman touts 2018 successes, details challenges of 2019

February 5, 2019

The chairman of The Woodlands Township Development Standards Committee reported a positive year in 2018, and told township officials the committee members are expecting a year filled with new challenges, including dealing with short-term rentals and other exterior issues such as “Edison” lights increasingly being requested to be installed by homeowners.

Walter Lisiewski, chairman of the DSC, presented a review of the board’s 2018 year of activities and issues during the Jan. 23 meeting of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors.

Lisiewski said in 2018, the seven-member DSC reviewed almost 1,200 different cases, with about 40 percent being business-related issues with the remainder being residential concerns. The DSC hears and rules on exterior design issues inside the township’s boundaries, including enforcing the township’s complex covenant system for both residences and businesses. The committee meets twice a month and is composed of four appointees from the township and three appointees from The Woodlands Development Co.

“Probably the biggest thing we’re going to be facing (in 2019) are the short-term rentals, basically the standards — we’ve been working on those — we’ve given those back to (the) legal (staff),” Lisiewski said. “The most important thing is how it is going to be rolled out to the community. I think that is something that is going to take quite a bit of work to do that.”

Township Director Ann Snyder asked about the short-term rentals, saying there seem to be a lot in the township.

“They seem to have populated even more so if you Google them online,” Snyder pointed out.

Lisiewski said the new short-term rental standards will be ready for final approval by the township board in the near future after the legal review is complete.

The Woodlands is the latest community in the Houston region to deal with the issues surrounding short-term rentals, including the city of Shenandoah which also was confronted with problems in 2018 after residents complained of trash and wild parties at some homes that had been rent out via websites such as Airbnb and others.

“We can’t stop (short-term rentals), but how can you control it,” Lisiewski said of the issue that has flummoxed public officials and cities across the nation in recent years. “And then how do you get the message out to the residents (about new regulations)?”

Among the successes of 2018, Lisiewski reported, were the cleaning up of several rundown areas of The Village of Panther Creek, which resulted in an estimated 300 residential covenant violations being sent to homeowners. Some residents of the area had lodged numerous covenant complaints with the DSC about various issues including rental homes, excessive vehicles parked at homes, trash, rundown homes and other issues.

“The staff put a pretty good team together. They did a community day where they helped clean up,” Lisiewski explained, noting that only a small portion of the original violations were still in legal limbo. “The area is cleaned up fairly well.”

Another positive development in 2018 was the resolution of the more than two-year controversy that developed between homeowners in the Laurelhurst neighborhood and the adjacent church, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Officials at the church began an expansion project in spring 2016, and in the process cut down trees and shrubs in a forest buffer between the church property and the adjacent homes. The removal of the forest angered local residents, who said lights from the church and cars in its parking lot were now shining into their homes due to the lack of a forest buffer.

The township entered into an agreement with the church resulting in the planting of dozens of trees and shrubs, as well as some other improvements, around the burgeoning campus that houses a school, sports fields, a food pantry and the church.

“In June (of 2018), we threatened legal action against them, but we were able to sign a MOU with the Archdiocese (of Galveston-Houston) to agree to planting,” Lisiewski said of the St. Anthony of Padua controversy. “It took a little bit longer than planned due to the rains. It was finished in November and our arborist went out there to ensure it was done with industry standards. At our last meeting, we did have a resident from Laurelhurst. He wasn’t satisfied with the plantings that took place. At this particular time, there are no violations at the church. We will continue to monitor the situation, but (the church) is in compliance.”

Another issue from 2018, the “monster house” located on North Longspur Drive, was also resolved, Lisiewski noted. The home, which was being worked on by construction teams for nearly four years and had led to a raft of complaints from nearby residents who said the home did not meet covenant guidelines, has been completed and the owners now reside there.

“The house is in compliance and the legal fees have been paid by the homeowner per the agreement,” he added.

Among other issues the DSC expects to cope with in 2019 are the increased desire to install the extremely bright outdoor lighting system called “Edison” lights.

“Edison lights…we still haven’t to a resolution on that,” Lisiewski explained. “As the are standards written now, you can’t have lighting that intrudes on your neighbor. The question you have, is, is that really lighting shining in there, or is it just a light bulb (up in the air.) That is still something we’re struggling with.”

In 2019, Lisiewwski said residential tear-downs — where an owner of a home decides to raze an existing structure and build a new home — will continue to be a challenge as homes age and deteriorate and new owners want to build a new abode.

“Probably as the economy improves, and as we do get older (homes), we’ll see more of that,” Lisiewski said of the tear-downs.

Lisiewski said he was excited to have the newest member of the DSC on board — Bala Iyer — who replaced former committee member Brian Boniface, who spent one year on the DSC.

“We lost Brian, and we appreciate all his efforts over the year,” Lisiewski said.

jeff.forward@chron.com

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