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Johnson Development Practices Rooted in Tree Preservation
November 18, 2020
Nearly 2 million. That’s not how many acres Johnson Development has developed or how many people live in Johnson communities — that’s how many trees have been planted or preserved in Johnson’s 18 active communities.
Tree preservation is one of the first considerations of development, said Larry Johnson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Houston-based Johnson Development.
“When we go to lay out a neighborhood or lay out design for arterial roadways, a surveyor first identifies trees in the path of development,” Johnson said. “We often adjust the location of a road or lots to avoid impacting valuable trees.”
In Sienna, efforts have been made to save several large trees estimated to be over 100 years old, including changing plans for roadways. The Missouri City community even won the Residential Development Project Award in the 2002 Community Forestry Awards sponsored by the Texas Forest Service. At that time, Sienna had already spent $250,000 toward tree preservation. An estimated 182,500 trees have been preserved in Sienna.
Johnson Development also went to great lengths in nearby Riverstone, including designing one neighborhood around a grove of pecan trees and devoting nearly six acres in the area to park space in efforts to preserve the trees. The neighborhood is fittingly called “The Orchard.” Approximately 27,000 trees have been preserved in Riverstone.
In both Sienna and Riverstone — and other Johnson Development communities — the land planners say where a home can be placed on a homesite and can move utilities to save trees.
Other efforts include marking trees to be saved with red tags so construction crews know what not to remove and bringing in arborists to address the health of prominent trees.
“With larger trees, we’ll bring in arborists to guide us in trimming the trees to improve their health, as well as focusing on the growth in the main body of the tree and addressing any health issues,” Johnson said.
In Veranda, Johnson Development’s newest community, efforts were made to save a tree estimated to be over 100 years old, even though arborists said survival chances were slim.
“We tried our best to save what we could, but there are a lot of items that factor into the survival of trees and some of them just do not make it,” said Trey Reichert, General Manager for Veranda.
This tree didn’t make it. But instead of chopping it down, the community hired a wood carver to turn it into a piece of art, preserving it in a different way.
Sienna isn’t the only Johnson community to see tree preservation counts climb into the six figures. Woodforest in Montgomery County has saved an estimated 150,000 trees.
“Woodforest, as the community name implies, is 3,000 acres of natural, native rich East Texas forest land,” said Virgil Yoakum Vice President and General Manager of Woodforest. “Nine hundred acres of the natural forest remains in a native forest preservation condition. The master plan for Woodforest also includes, thus far, 400 acres of linear forest buffers along all major and minor collectors and neighborhood and town-wide park lands. We approximate that out of the 400 acres, 90 percent has been preserved in its natural forest condition, and 5 percent has been reforested, with the remaining 5 percent dedicated to park and playfields, aquatics and other amenities.”
Lake Arrowhead near Atlanta boasts about 400,000 trees in undeveloped areas of the 8,100-acre community. Grand Central Park in Conroe has the largest number of preserved trees — approximately 540,000 on 1,200 acres that will remain undeveloped. In all, more than 1.5 million trees have been preserved in Johnson communities.
A Plan for Planting
Efforts regarding trees don’t end with preservation, however. Johnson Development and community builders have diligently planted hundreds of thousands of trees in their communities, as well.
In the 3,200-acre Cross Creek Ranch, 70,000 trees have been planted, many along the restored Flewellen Creek.
“Cross Creek Ranch was a pioneer in reforestation and sustainability and now other communities are following suit,” said Matt Baumgarten, Associate Principal with SWA Group, a landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm that has worked on several Johnson Development projects.
Many of the trees planted in the community come from the 40-acre on-site tree farm that is typically home to about 2,500 trees of varying sizes at any one time, with the dominant varieties being live oak, bald cypress, loblolly pine, nuttall oak and red maple. The Fulshear community won the 2016 Arbor Award from Trees for Houston in recognition of the development’s commitment to a greener Houston.
Deborah January-Bevers, President and Chief Executive Officer of Houston Wilderness says developers like Johnson Development are doing it right when it comes to planting trees.
“The trees they are planting are what we consider ‘super trees,’ and are the best choices when it comes to filtering out air pollution, water absorption and carbon absorption,” she said.
Both she and Baumgarten are part of the Tree Strategy Implementation Group working with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston’s plan to plant 4.6 million trees by 2030.
“As the greater Houston region continues to recognize the critical importance of a variety of native tree species that exist in the region and the role they play in resiliency, the development community has been very supportive of those efforts and are engaged in working toward protecting native trees as much as possible or adding large amounts of trees in their communities,” January-Bevers said.
“Trees are our biggest assets here in Houston,” she said.
Johnson Development has planted more than 321,000 trees in its 14 Houston-area communities. Including communities in Austin, Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth, the developer has planted nearly 342,000 trees.
“Better developers practice this preservation and replanting strategy,” Johnson said. “It’s the sign of the quality of a community and it’s something home buyers appreciate.”
Established in 1975, Johnson Development has had more communities ranked among the top-selling than any other developer in the nation since 2014. It has also partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation in support of its Time for Trees initiative, an ambitious effort to plant more than 100 million trees by 2022.