Tax abatement request for office building on hold
A proposed property tax abatement for a planned four-story office being sought by officials from human-resources company Alight was put on hold Thursday night after an insufficient number of township directors were available to vote on the item.
Consideration of the possible tax abatement for the proposed new four-story, 180,000 square foot office building along with a multi-story parking garage along New Trails Drive in The Woodlands will apparently be placed on the agenda of a township board meeting in April, although those agendas are not typically released until several days before a meeting.
On Thursday, the scheduled vote on the abatement never happened after township staff attorney Robin Cross gave a detailed explanation of why directors could take no action — they did not have a quorum.
“Depending on who does not participate, we may not have a quorum, for voting,” Cross said.
After the explanation from Cross, board Chairman Gordy Bunch and directors John Anthony Brown and Bruce Rieser all recused themselves from the abatement discussion and possible vote citing various conflicts of interest. Because board Member Brian Boniface was once again not present at a meeting, that left only three members, which was not enough to proceed with any actions.
Bunch and Rieser explained to attendees that they could not vote on the project due to conflict of interest of both of them owning stock in a company called Blackstone LP, which is the parent company of Alight. Brown’s recusal stemmed from his wife’s employment at Alight.
After Brown, Bunch and Rieser recused themselves, the remaining three board members — John McMullan, Ann Snyder and Carol Stromatt — indicated that the board would revisit the abatement request at a future meeting.
The possibility of the new building being constructed has caused concern from some local residents who say the new building will impact their lives and quality of life. Dozens of residents of the neighborhood, Founders Reserve, showed up at Thursday’s meeting in an effort to get assistance from township board members in minimizing the impact of the project.
One resident of the community, Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield, said she has been unofficially appointed as a spokesperson for a group of dozens of concerned residents who live in Founders Reserve, which is the neighborhood immediately east of the proposed building.
Dunne-Oldfield told the directors that she, as well as dozens of other residents of the enclave that is technically not inside the boundaries of The Woodlands Township, that they hope to preserve the forest buffer that is currently in existence, want assurances that no water runoff would impact their properties and also that a plan for light pollution be developed to minimize the shining into their homes.
“We are strongly opposed to any project that hurts The Woodlands’ reputation as an eco-friendly, family-friendly, master-planned community. We are also opposed to any project that imposes undue hardships on local homeowners. As currently outlined, this project would do just that,” Dunne-Oldfield said during public comment. “As background, many Founders Reserve homeowners paid a premium for their home as the area now in question was marketed as a protected reserve. And while we are not here to argue the validity of what we were told, we believe it is important that you understand this background. The concrete parking lot currently planned for this project would begin just 30 feet from the backdoors of our homes and the beautiful tree canopy and natural reserve that borders our community would be completely destroyed.”
The new building would be constructed by The Woodlands Development Co./Howard Hughes Corp. and owned by the firm and merely rented out to Alight, according both documents detailing the project and Lorrie Parise, a spokesperson for The Woodlands Development Co./Howard Hughes Corp.
“It is a ‘build to suit’ opportunity which we would lease,” Parise said of the plans. “In this case, it is one tenant.”
According to documents filed with the township, Alight officials reported that they need to vacate their current office which is located on Technology Forest Boulevard by March 2020, hence the need for new offices. The company, one letter states, wants to remain in The Woodlands and to, “Continue its employment of a very significant number of local residents and its support of the local businesses and philanthropic needs of this community.”
The documents detail the proposed building as costing more than $34 million and if successful, will lead to the retention of at least 950 jobs with a salary base of $47 million in annual payroll for the next 10 years. Company officials are requesting a 100 percent tax abatement from year one through year seven, and then 80 percent abatement in year eight, 60 percent abatement in year nine and 40 percent tax abatement in year 10.
In a letter to developers and township officials, residents asked for several concessions and discussion about the project’s impact before it is approved. The letter was signed by 53 different residents of the neighborhood.
Parise said officials with The Woodlands Development Co. are already in discussions with affected residents and are planning to wholeheartedly work with them through the process. There is a meeting with homeowners set for Monday, March 25, but no time or location for the get-together was announced on Thursday.
“We have been speaking to (a) homeowner’s group there,” Parise said in an interview on Tuesday. “We do plan to follow all of the (development) standards of The Woodlands. We are going to meet with residents on (March 25) when we are going to share plans for the project. We want to assure them we will follow the rules.”
Attemps to contact administrative officials with Alight’s corporate headquarters in Illinois were unsuccessful.
— Courier of Montgomery County Managing Editor Catherine Dominguez contributed to this story.