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Woodlands DSC imposes deadlines, guidelines for St. Anthony church work

June 10, 2018 GMT

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands has been given strict deadlines and guidelines by officials with the township’s Development Standards Committee who are hoping to have issues related to the church’s ongoing renovations remedied..

The DSC in an unanimous 7-0 vote last week approved a wide-ranging action plan for the church which includes detailed instructions about what kinds of trees and shrubs need to be planted by the church in order to help restore a forest buffer between the church and the Laurelhurst neighborhood. The DSC contends the buffer was improperly thinned or removed by the church over the past two years.

After more than 40 minutes of closed, executive session consultations with the township’s counsel, The Woodlands-based attorney Bret Strong, the committee on June 6 returned with a plan that took more than 11 minutes to read before it was unanimously approved.

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If the terms of the plan are not met, the township will pursue legal action against the church — something that has been threatened since a DSC meeting in April, but not moved forward.

Among the specifics of the plan are requirements that need to be met for planting in the forest preserve, reducing light pollution, relocating a dumpster on site and other issues. The plan calls for the planting trees and shrubs in six zones identified around the church according to a plan devised by an independent arborist hired by the township.

The DSC ordered that 20 loblolly pines, 18-foot tall at time of installation, as well as nine 45-gallow wax myrtles of 10 to 12 feet tall at time of planting should be planted after Sept. 15, 2018, and no later than Oct. 1, 2018. An irrigation plan was also requested to ensure trees survive.

An additional six loblolly pines of 18-feet in height at time of planting, and installed by hand, were requested to be planted along with no less than 21 more 15-gallon wax myrtles at least 6-feet tall be planted no later than June 29 and finished by July 13, 2018, near the church’s sports fields. The DSC also requested parking lot lights be on only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

The DSC also asked for written confirmation commitment agreement to the plan by June 15, 2018. Failure to provide written agreement by that deadline would also result in immediate legal action.

“It is not the DSC preference to take legal action, but we must bring this thing to closure,” DSC chairman Walter Lisiewski said after the motion was approved.

Before decision, tempers flared

When the committee reached the agenda item addressing the church and remaining issues, Lisiewski first had township legal counsel Strong read off a list of remaining issues the church needs to remedy, as well as items that have been rectified. After Strong was finished, Lisiewski then asked church representatives in attendance to address the list of items.

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One unidentified church representative stood up and told the committee he would only read a pre-written letter from the church’s own attorney, Michael Starzyk, who was not present. The representative said Starzyk was not able to attend the meeting — making it the second meeting in a row where he was not present on behalf of his clients — because he was at a week-long Bible retreat.

Following the church representative’s reading of Starzyk’s letter, Lisiewski allowed several of the six residents of the Laurelhurst neighorhood adjacent to the church to speak.

One resident, Denis Carmichael, said he and others feel the church has been flaunting their disregard for DSC directives regarding numerous covenant violations, notably the improper removal of trees and shrubs in a mandated 15-foot forest buffer area between the church and the residents’ homes.

“The church is going to dictate to what they want to do, and not take any of the residents’ concerns into consideration. I’m still disappointed to see that,” Carmichael said. “I see no good will being put forth by St. Anthony church. I’m asking this committee to put some rules in place that they’re going to abide by. It is not the church dictating how this is going to operate. There is a standard in place, we have to follow it as residents, commercial should have to follow it. Put some firm processes in place to change this.”

Another resident, Will Burkholder, was very frustrated with the church response to the issues and lashed out at the three representatives from St. Anthony who were present, becoming so loud and physically animated at one point that he had to be warned by a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy as well as several members of the DSC to calm down and lower his voice.

“I’ve recommended that church to family and friends, I’ve even run a basketball camp there,” Burkholder said. “You’re cutting corners. Do the best you can to reforest that area and the best you can to stay out of my life. You’re there a few hours a week. I’m there every day. I’m going to fight this. You haven’t seen anything yet. I will go on a campaign and let the world know. I’m happy to retaliate with websites and social media. It’s on. You don’t move the dumpster it is on. You don’t plant more trees, it is on.”