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November 29, 2012

Homeowners protest plat revision

PARKER COUNTY — A developer’s request to split two lots into four 1-acre tracts in Blue Ridge Estates, a small partially developed subdivision off FM 920 near Peaster, drew opposition from a few angry homeowners Wednesday.

The homeowners — Lisa Leech, Suzanne Jones and Chris Weaser — asked Parker County commissioners to deny the revision because they believe the new construction — three nearly completed houses — is lowering the value of their homes.

The revision was approved 4-0, however, on the recommendation of County Attorney John Forrest, who said the county was obliged to move forward since the developer had met the legal requirements.

Forrest, who tried to keep the court focused on issues pertinent to the request, told commissioners they could not base their decision on whether LongTide Homes — which purchased about 10-and-one-half acres that the bank had foreclosed on, according to project manager Phil King — was following the subdivision’s deed restrictions.

The district court, not the commissioners’ court, he said, should determine whether those original deed restrictions — such as the one specifying 75 percent exterior masonry — must be followed by the new owner.

Upholding the established rights is the commissioners’ role in this situation, Forrest asserted.    

“If the deed restrictions stated there was an established right that would have been violated, the court would not have proceeded with any action today,” Forrest said later, “but [the owner] is not taking any action that’s not available to any resident of the subdivision.”

“He’s meeting the subdivision requirements under the local government code.”

An established right, Forrest said, would have been a provision that prohibited further subdivision of the lots or specified a minimum lot size larger than one acre.

Leech, the first to request denial of the replat, said the man who wanted to split the lots had “found a loophole in our deeds and restrictions” and was “building a bunch of little tiny crappy houses.”

“So, they won’t have any deeds and restrictions even after people move in, so we’re just going to have, you know, possibly, a bunch of junkyards,” she said. “And so, if we let him split these two lots into four, we’re going to have four houses instead of two, and it’s ruining the value of our homes.”

Jones told the court that Blue Ridge Estates contains brick homes no smaller than 1,500 square feet. She described the new construction as “tract homes with cheap siding.”

The LongTide Homes website shows three properties for sale in the subdivision: one 1,519-square-foot home priced at $122,900 and two 1,929-square-foot homes, one priced at $150,650 and the other at $144,900. The site states the homes are wood construction and built on 2- to 3-acre lots.

King, contacted by phone, said the homes are built of an engineered wood product with a “good, long warranty.”

“I don’t feel they’re inferior at all,” he said. “They’re not masonry, no, but quality is a matter of opinion. We do build a good house.”

Leech protested that the lots purchased from the original owner and the lots purchased from the bank after the foreclosure don’t appear to have the same deeds and restrictions.

“I have one lot that my home sits on that I bought from the previous owner that has deeds and restrictions on it,” she said, “and I have another lot that I bought from the bank — which is where they obtained their lots from — that is not going to have deeds and restrictions, so I guess if I wanted to, I could put a pig farm on the one by the church, but I have to follow deeds and restrictions where my home is at.”

King said there were no deed restrictions on the acreage the company purchased.

Homeowners were told that was the case, he said, when an attorney representing them confronted him while the houses were being built.

King told the Democrat that the company intends to file deed restrictions for the three lots they are building on and the four they intend to build on now that commissioners have approved the two-lot split.

The restrictions will require a certain percentage of brick, he said, but he wasn’t sure how much.

Forrest explained that banks don’t want presupplied developer restrictions on the properties they foreclose on because it limits their future use.

“It’s not a right situation, because you actually had a concept out there,” he said, “unfortunately commissioners only enforce established rights, and since those are not established rights they were wiped out as a result of that foreclosure.”

Commissioners expressed surprise that deed restrictions could be erased from a platted subdivision.

Commissioner John Roth asked Forrest several times if the subdivision’s deed restrictions applied to the lots to be replatted.

“I don’t really care what anyone thinks,” he said. “We follow our guidelines on what we have to do on platting. If you think that these deed restrictions apply to that lot, we need to make sure they don’t violate deed restrictions when we replat. My question is whether there are deed restrictions on this property. We have always considered that.”

Forrest said the situation was different because the deed restrictions were contested. He said it didn’t matter if they applied or not in light of the action the county was being asked to take.

“We’re not making that determination,” he said, recommending homeowners seek a declaratory action through district court. “It’s a district court decision as to whether the deed restrictions apply.”

“We’re not saying we think [the owner] is doing anything proper beyond the division of this lot.”

Weaser asked the court to do what’s right and vote against the replat.

“All the legal stuff aside, we bought the land, bought the house, with the expectation that the deed restrictions would be followed,” he said. “If you all vote to do that, it’s going to trample on our rights to keep that ideal.”

“I’m very sympathetic to your situation,” Forrest replied. “It’s a paperwork nightmare. You were kind of blindsided. You normally go out and see the concept and assume that’s what’s going to carry on out, and that’s not the situation here. It still could be, based on you getting a dec [declaratory] action.”

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