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2018 in Review, Part 2: Some of The Villager’s most popular stories

January 2, 2019

As The Villager staff looks back at 2018, here are some more of the biggest and most popular stories our readers enjoyed in 2018.

Among the highlights were the story of an allegedly ill and injured dog for sale inside a local pet store, the banning of sex robot brothels in Oak Ridge North, the search for a suspected flasher whom police labelled “wee willie,” a short-lived controversy over access to soccer fields in the township, and numerous other issues and events.

Sex robot brothels not welcome in Oak Ridge North

After a kerfuffle erupted in Houston over a proposed sex robot brothel, smaller cities in the region took their own pre-emptive action on the possible new adult businesses. That included Oak Ridge North, where in November officials quickly moved to banned sex robots and other anthropomorphic sexual devices from being rented or otherwise used temporarily within the city limits.

The small city’s council approved the ban on Thursday, Nov. 8, unanimously amending the city’s sexually oriented business ordinance following a controversy this fall in Houston where a company planned a facility that allowed people to rent human-like sex robots for temporary use. The Houston City Council and the Harris County Commissioners Court had also blocked the robot brothel.

Oak Ridge North City Manager Richard Derr said he became aware of the sex robot issue from local media reports, something echoed by Debbie Pilcher, communications officer for the city of Shenandoah. Pilcher said while no action had been taken, but noted the Shenandoah City Council has been following the sex robot hotel developments in the region in the event proponents or owners of the business attempt to locate it elsewhere, including possibly in Shenandoah.

“Anytime anything sexual comes up, we examine it. It is one of those things they watch out for, anything sexually oriented,” Pilcher added. “It has almost become humorous, it is sad. Who would have ever thought of having a hotel with robots (for sex)? This is something 1984-ish and now it is a reality.”

MoBike is NoMore in The Woodlands

In late October, the dockless bicycle-sharing company MoBike suddenly ended its run in The Woodlands after only 10 months of operations in a mysterious, unannounced closure that shocked township officials.

Visit The Woodlands President Nick Wolda told The Villager that the management team responsible for the close to 100 bikes in The Woodlands had seemingly changed in July. And, he added, MoBike management had become increasingly difficult to reach since that July. Wolda also said township officials were never notified by company officials that they intended to pull operations and bicycles out of The Woodlands.

“None of us really have much information,” Wolda said. “They had given us a different manager (in July). The thing is, in August, we were rocking and rolling and ridership numbers were good. Then, all of the sudden, the bikes started leaving. We were starting to field calls from residents about them, asking where they were.”

The bike-sharing company had been in a few cities across the United States, including in Dallas, and had arrived in The Woodlands in late December 2017 as township tourism officials looked for an amenity that could help tourists, workers and residents alike travel between attractions and businesses in the township. The bikes were able to be rented through a mobile app that allowed users to deposit money into it for use as well as tracking the bike’s locations.

Controversial underpass on Research Forest Drive put on hold

An extremely controversial proposal to construct a six-lane underpass tunnel on Research Forest Drive at the intersection of Grogan’s Mill Road was put on hold on Nov. 1 after Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack issued a press release stating that he had decided against submitting the project to the Houston-Galveson Area Council for consideration for federal funding by the Oct. 31 deadline.

Noack said he decided to take more of a leadership role with the project, including commissioning a new traffic flow study, which will be done by an independent engineering firm, as well as soliciting feedback from the thousands of residents along the corridor and also engaging in more collaborative efforts with elected officials from entities along the project’s edges.

The project, which had been proposed by The Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1 and others, drew heavy criticism from numerous residents who complained during several meetings of the township Board of Directors as they contemplated issuing a resolution of support for the project. Opponents also started an online petition against the project, citing the possible harm to nearby nesting American bald eagles, safety issues and a devaluation of nearby homes as reasons why to not move forward with the project.

Although the project was not submitted to H-GAC for funding consideration, Noack said officials would conduct a joint mobility study of the entire Research Forest Drive corridor from Gosling Road to Interstate-45 in conjunction with The Woodlands Township, the City of Shenandoah, The Woodlands RUD No. 1 and Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley..

“We want the citizens to be heard. We’re glad to go back to the drawing table once we find out new traffic counts. The whole process could have been done better, in a more open manner,” Noack said. “We will all be working collectively on this new solution and we will be meeting collectively with the new engineering group, because collaboration is important.”

Soccer field access leads to heated debate over access

A unlikely topic drew the most attendees to any meeting of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors in 2018: access to township owned soccer fields, which some claimed was being improperly hogged by a local soccer club.

Board of Directors Member John McMullen first brought up the issue during a meeting of the board, questioning why the Dynamo-Dash Youth Soccer club was alleged to be monoplizing local soccer fields. But, after an article in The Villager about the issue, McMullan suddenly announced he would have to recuse himself from participating in any discussion or action on the issue due to an alleged conflict of interest.

McMullan, a critic of the agreement between the township and local soccer club, worked as an attorney for the law firm Winstead PC, which McMullan verified had been retained as legal counsel by officials from the Dynamo-Dash Youth Soccer club. The soccer club has a long-standing agreement with The Woodlands for use of soccer fields in the township.

However, when scores of residents and soccer club supporters showed up for a meeting to discuss the issue, McMullan removed himself from any discussions due to the supposed conflict of interest. That claim was later disputed by soccer club officials, who said they did not retain McMullan’s firm. When all was said and done, the township board — without McMullan — decided to keep the field use arrangement as it was, making no changes but irritating many in the wider soccer community who had asked for more fair access.

Sick dog turns spotlight on mall pet store again

It wasn’t the first time pet welfare activists had targeted the store Pet Fair in The Woodlands Mall, as it was once again lambasted online after photographs of a sick puppy were posted on social media. Facing more backlash for animal health issues, the store’s manager and local veterinarians said the young dog was OK and activists had over-reacted.

Several area residents used Facebook to vent their allegation that the store sells sick and injured puppies, reigniting an effort to have the business shut down that began several years ago. The store is located inside The Woodlands Mall and sells a range of pets, including cats, dogs and lizards.

The store’s manager, Natalie Hijazi, insisted the business would never intentionally sell a sick pet. Hijazi also provided The Villager a letter from a veterinarian stating the dog in question should recover. Montgomery County animal control officials said no violations were found in response to recent complaints about the store.

The latest incident began after pictures of what appeared to be an ill dog offered for sale at the store were posted online. But the depiction of the dog’s illness wasn’t supported by a local veterinarian. In a letter dated Feb. 15, a Woodlands-area veterinarian wrote that the dog, a Labrador Retriever about 10 weeks old, had “signs of nasal discharge and was coughing,” but that the dog was “well hydrated, bright and alert.”

Area flasher, “Wee Willie Dangles,” finally caught in Okalahoma

Authorities had been on the lookout for a male suspect they claimed had gone into multiple stores in The Woodlands area, stripped naked and exposed himself to patrons.

Oak Ridge North Police Chief Andrew Walters, known for his humorous press releases, sent out an advisory asking area residents to be on the lookout for the at-the-time unidentified man Walters nicknamed “Wee Willie Dangles.”

The suspect was accused of entering numerous area businesses, which also led Lt. Scott Spencer of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office to issue an alert about the man who had been reported entering a store at Market Street in The Woodlands. The suspect was also alleged to have entered a Club Monaco on Six Pines Drive Thursday afternoon, strip off his clothing and run out of the store.

“It’s not a call we typically get, so it stands out,” Spencer said, suggesting that the Market Street streaker could be the same man from the Oak Ridge North incident.

Walters told The Villager that the “heavy-set” man was alleged to have entered a Kirkland’s store in Oak Ridge North, remove his shirt and shorts and “proceeded to walk laps in the store.”

“After a couple of passes around the scented candles and glassware, ‘Wee Willie’ stopped near the the front door, put his shorts and shirt on and left,” Walters wrote in his advisory. “Police were called, but he had disappeared. He did this time leave his image on the store video.”

Weeks later, the suspect was arrested in Tulsa, Okla., according officials with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Steven Dale Brazeal, 57, was arrested on June 2, by the Tulsa Police Department and charged with suspicion of failure to register as a sex offender, sheriff’s officials reported.

jeff.forward@chron.com

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