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Woodlands board members offer views on incorporation at forum

September 30, 2018

As The Woodlands continues to explore incorporation, residents had an opportunity this week to learn about the process and hear from local elected officials, legal experts and members of consulting firms at a public forum on Tuesday.

One of the questions for many residents is why is the process even happening. That question, along with dozens of others, was among the topics at the public forum on the incorporation process where officials and experts were on hand to detail the process and respond to questions from the nearly 300 people on hand at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott.

Township board Chairman Gordy Bunch opened the evening by giving a brief history of The Woodlands, including details on how the community was able to be come a township in 2010 as well as what led to the current effort to examine incorporation.

Potentially incorporating the community was first possible in 2014, and while the community’s elected leaders opted to not move forward with the process at that time, there was an incorporation study done in 2011 and 2012 which provided some information on the process for current leaders.

After refusing to put the issue on the ballot in 2014, Bunch said township leaders at the time decided the community could revisit the issue if one of several “trigger points” arose and could not be resolved in several manners. Those points referred to a serious issue facing the township that included three questions: if something happened that affected the community, could be resolved internally; could it be solved with the help of other entities or groups; or could legislation solve the issue. If something happened and the township was not able to resolve the issue in those manners, then leaders could revisit incorporation.

“We would revisit incorporation at a trigger point,” Bunch said. “If the answer to (the three questions) was negative, we went to (incorporation).”

For current township leaders, Bunch continued, the trigger point was initially realized in 2015 when local voters rejected a road bond for numerous projects, but Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal insisted the roads would be built throughout The Woodlands and South Montgomery County anyway.

“If we didn’t trigger (incorporation) over roads, we would have triggered it off Hurricane Harvey,” Bunch said. “It became very clear that there is not one single government entity that could resolve these issues.”

During the question and answer period of the forum, resident Nancy Fairfield asked the entire seven-member board what their views on incorporation are and what was the most compelling reason for each of them to incorporate The Woodlands.

Director John McMullan told Fairfield he had not made a final decision on the issue, but he said that the roadway extension possibilities were an important issue for him.

“Montgomery County wanted us to pay for making our roads worse,” McMullan said.

Ann Snyder, another board member and long-time community member, agreed with McMullan and said she has not made a final decision on what to do, but she said she is vigorously analyzing the issue and examining the pros and cons of incorporation. The incorporation studies that have been ongoing since January have given her “new and compelling” information about the issue, Snyder added.

“Having accurate, clear, concise information is paramount,” Snyder said. “We want to do what is right. We want to maintain the qualities that make this community great. The pros will have to outweigh the cons for me to vote in favor of an incorporation vote.”

Bunch told the crowd the most compelling reason for incorporating was the people in the audience — the residents of The Woodlands.

“Today, we are controlled by city councils we cannot vote for,” Bunch said, also pointing out that two different county judges and four county commissioners in Montgomery County also retain a degree of control over the community. “My most compelling reason (for incorporation) is you.”

Bunch also said the goal of incorporation is to, “transfer control of our hometown to the people who reside in this township.”

Brian Boniface, one of two members of the board who is seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 township election, said he has not made up his mind about incorporation yet.

“This enormous undertaking we’re doing now is a blueprint for future generations,” Boniface added.

Carol Stromatt, the newest member of the board who was elected in November 2017, said that like many of the board, she is also undecided on how to proceed at the moment.

“What I need is all the facts. To see if it is better for us in the long run and the short term,” Stromatt said. “Ultimately, the voters are going to decide. I do, and we as a board, want you to be informed. “

Township board member John Anthony Brown gave a longer answer to Fairfield’s question, pacing back and forth and speaking directly to the crowd — telling the audience he’s learned there are three types of views he’s uncovered during this process: some citizens are totally opposed to incorporation, some people ask why does the township need to incorporate at this point in time, and a third group who are asking why shouldn’t the township incorporate.

“We are not rushing through, we have a lot to do. Eventually, we will be a city. The question is is it the city of Houston, the city of Conroe or the city of The Woodlands,” Brown asked. “Eventually, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to be Conroe, Houston or the city of The Woodlands.”

Brown continued by asking the audience to think about how they want to live and what they would like the future community to look like.

“I am more concerned with the thoroughfare plan,” Brown added. “I would like to tell the county, ‘No thank you.’”

Bruce Rieser, the only other board member to be facing a challenger in the Nov. 6 election, said the board and township are doing an extremely thorough job of acquiring information, legal opinions and other data in order to make the best and most informed decision possible on whether or not to approve the incorporation for a vote to the wider community on the November 2019 ballot.

“In 2016, when the road bond came up and The Woodlands Parkway was being proposed (and voters rejected it), the next day the county judge came down and said, ‘I don’t care what the people voted, we’re putting this road in.’ That is what put me on this board,” Rieser said. “I trust your judgement. We are not rushing through it.”

Rieser said if the community wants an idea of what the future looks like, especially by 2057 when the township — if it does not incorporate — could be annexed by Conroe or Houston, all citizens need to do is examine the past 20 years of the township and look at how explosive population growth has been.

“We have to get control, we have to speak to these issues,” Rieser added. “It is your decision. It is not our decision.”

jeff.forward@chron.com

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