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Pictured is a sign at the edge of Harvest Green, a master-planned community in Houston. Residents of Harvest Green are served by MUD 134E. Jason Kirby, a board member of the MUD, led the opposition to a proposal by Agmenity to annex a 288 acre plot of land near Harlem Road and would have added an additional $40 million tax burden to residents. The proposal was rejected in a Dec. 16 board meeting. (Photo by Stefan Modrich)

By STEFAN MODRICH 

smodrich@fortbendstar.com

Harvest Green residents, including one vocal board member of Fort Bend County Municipal Utility District (MUD) 134E, halted a plan by Clayton Garrett and Scott Snodgrass of Agmenity and Chad Rochester of Rochester Development to annex a non-adjacent tract of land for a residential development that could have saddled residents of the Richmond neighborhood with nearly $40 million in additional taxes.

Edible Group, doing business as Agmenity, manages the “edible landscapes” at Harvest Green, said Harvest Green general manager Jerry Ulke of Johnson Development.

During a Dec. 16 board meeting, Jason Kirby, a resident who sits on MUD 134E board, said the plan to annex 288 acres a mile south of Harvest Green near Plantation Drive and Harlem Road was not in the interest of anyone but the developer.

Ulke said Harvest Green sold the parcel of property to Agmenity in 2017.

Kirby motioned to decline the developer’s offer. Kirby was joined in opposition by board member Chad Norvell, the newly elected Precinct 3 Constable in Fort Bend County, and the measure passed unanimously.

“We’re literally talking about a piece of property that’s a mile away from the existing subdivision,” Kirby said. “It’s not going to be part of our subdivision. It’s not like when I bought my house, and I said, ‘OK, I’m moving into this community and I’m going to be part of it.’ This is nothing that anyone living in our section knows anything about. They never made any kind of unknown moral obligation to help develop someone else’s property. It’s not in any of their disclosures.”

Kirby hailed the result as a victory for residents, but warned there is no legal recourse for the developer or other board members who could in theory continue to bring up the annexation as an agenda item and try to force it through in Kirby’s absence.

“I’m 100 percent confident that it could have gone the other way with just one thing extra,” Kirby said. “I was surprised, and I’m very excited.”

He said if the annexation plan were to proceed, it would “fundamentally change the balance” of Harvest Green from “one MUD that is Harvest Green to another MUD that is half-in, half-out with a side, satellite facility.”

“The people I’ve talked to, generally speaking, there’s not one resident who either understood what this is or was for it,” Kirby said. “Just because we’re saying in a moment in time we can’t find anything that really makes this a no, I don’t see why as a resident that I’m willing to commit to a $40 million (investment).”

Cameron Miller, the District Engineer for MUD 134E, also of Jones & Carter, Inc. in Houston, said the developers would be eligible for nearly $40 million in reimbursement from residents had the annexation plan been adopted.

He said the total cost of the project would have been $365 million, and that its proposed tax rate of 71 cents was “in line with what the district’s tax rate is today.”

Kirby said the notion that keeping the tax rate the same would have no impact is based on an assumption that he said is without merit.

“All (the analysis) shows is that it does no harm under ideal conditions,” Kirby said. “Given a perfect analysis, the best we can hope for is that it doesn’t negatively impact the residents, or the current customers, or taxpayers in the district.”

Kirby said the board spent an entire meeting trying to collect taxes from a poor homeowner, and argued that adding more debt during an economic downturn spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic was imprudent.

“During a time period in which two of my neighbors have lost their jobs and are continuing to pay taxes, why in the world would you vote to add more liability?” Kirby said. “How could you in good conscience add more liability when no one is showing any positives?”

Sam Johnson is the attorney for MUD 134E and works for the Houston firm Coats Rose. Coats Rose represents Johnson Development, but it is represented by other attorneys, not Sam Johnson, Ulke said.

A spokesperson from Coats Rose did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Johnson said during the meeting that Edible Group LLC, doing business as Agrihood Living, approached the board about an annexation and paid $1,000 for a feasibility study regarding the potential annexation.

Agrihood Living also was the basis for Harvest Green’s model, centered on a sustainable, farm-to-table lifestyle with community gardens. Agrihood’s pitch for annexation was to creative a similar enclave of neighborhoods

Another company, Agmenity, owned by Scott Snodgrass, was involved in the proposed development. Agmenity specializes in urban and suburban farming, implementing community composting and greenhouses and gardening events, and even an apiary for raising honey bees.

Snodgrass said because MUD 134E is the closest MUD to the Agmenity’s property, and that the size of the property is smaller than most MUDs, that the annexation was beneficial to him from a business standpoint.

“We definitely understand the position of (Kirby) not wanting to do anything that would further add any additional tax or even slow down the lowering of the tax rate to the community,” Snodgrass said.

Miller said the project would cost $2.47 million, and Agrihood’s proposed share of the cost would be $1.87 million.

The proposal would also involve a $712,000 water line extension along Harlem Road. A new wastewater treatment facility is estimated to cost $7.5 million, Miller said.

Kirby said the MUD’s existing wastewater treatment plant is among its biggest expenses, at nearly $500,000 annually, split between MUD 134E and MUD 143.

Marcella Penick, a Harvest Green resident, said her concern was not only financial, but also about the uncertainty of entering into a long-term contract with a residential area she said isn’t even part of the same homeowner’s association.

“At any point, (the Agrihood and Agmenity groups) can choose to change the agreement and it will affect us,” Penick said. “There’s no bumper there for the people who are already living here and paying into the system. We’re going to be in a contract with people that we don’t know.”

Going forward, Kirby said it will be important for the board to be vigilant and for the public and Harvest Green residents to be more aware of the decisions the MUD makes in considering future annexations or proposals from third parties outside the district.

“Legally, they could bring it up every day, but in reality it’s hard to go back at the same apple without something happening,” Kirby said. “I think it’s probably done, but you never really know.”

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