A developer’s plan to build a high-rise marina resort immediately next to River Grove Park has sparked much concern in the Kingwood community, particularly since the area around the park has flooded six times in the last year.
Originally the period in which people could comment on the proposal would end Jan. 31, but after seeing the amount of interest it garnered, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to extend the public comment period until March 1.
Residents wanting to know more about the plans of developer Romerica Investments, LLC, showed up in the hundreds at the Kingwood Community Center Jan. 14. The sheer size of the massive development – about three times the square footage of Deerbrook Mall – has definitely drawn attention. The complex is supposed to contain multiple 25- and 50-story buildings that encase the hard-hit Barrington subdivision, where all 270 finished homes flooded with as much as 4 feet of water.
Furthermore, the developer’s application to the corps is based on outdated floodplain maps that are being updated to be more realistic post-Harvey. Barrington residents are particularly concerned, given that the development would be built in a floodplain that surrounds their homes. Most of the proposed project area was under 20 feet of water during Harvey, and the building site is very close to several corps-documented West Fork constrictions which are outside of the scope of the current FEMA dredging
project. In a community still recovering from the damaging 2017 hurricane, a flooded and failed development could be economically devastating.
Finally, Barrington residents are under the impression that Kingwood has a three-story building limit and are wondering why a high-rise structure would even be allowed. For all these reasons, residents began submitting comments to the Corps – prompting the comments extension.
In a press release, Corps project manager Elizabeth Shelton said: “We’ve had many requests from the community for the extension, and we also wanted to allow additional time for other agencies who have been affected by the government shutdown to provide comments.”
The extension will also give residents more time to answer the question, “Who is Romerica?”
While the project has been discussed for many years, most local residents felt it would never be built, particularly after Harvey, so many were surprised when the Corps notified the public about their filed permit.
Romerica Investments, LLC, operates out of both Mexico City and Italy with offices in Houston that operate under the name American Vision, a company seeking foreign investors. Specifically, American Vision is seeking investment from foreign investors as part of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) EB-5 visa program. The EB-5 program was piloted by Congress in 1992 to “stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors.” EB-5 is more commonly known as the immigrant investor program; it allows foreigners to get a green card by investing a certain amount of money that creates jobs in the U.S. In effect, it offers rich foreigners the best and fastest way to buy an American residency, and thus the program has always been steeped in controversy.
Forbes reports that New York’s $20 billion Hudson Yards project is an EB-5 project: six skyscrapers, 5,000 apartments and 1,200 green cards for Chinese investors.
Foreign interest in the EB-5 program has dramatically increased in the last decade. In 2007, the program issued about 700 visas, but from 2014 to 2018, the program maxed out its quota each year of 10,000 visas, nearly all of which were granted to Chinese nationals. Furthermore, for every investor, two additional family members are typically granted conditional visas in a type of chain migration scenario.
A visit to the American Vision website (americanvisioneb5.com) does not offer much insight into why Romerica chose Kingwood for its development. Although the site states that the company is developing projects in 10 Texas counties, no details are given, except for canned information about Houston that can be copied from any other website. It appears the site has not been updated since 2014.