Ten days ago, the entire Republican Congressional Delegation from Texas asked State Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate Colony Ridge, the controversial development in Liberty County. Today, he responded with a scathing letter that kicked Colony Ridge criticism up quite a few notches. Paxton also sent the letter to Governor Greg Abbott; Dade Phelan, Speaker of the Texas House; and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
Burden on Surrounding Communities
Paxton’s letter echoes many of the criticisms made in the media recently about Colony Ridge. But then he goes far beyond those.
After discussing illegal immigration, he addresses the impact of the development on Cleveland ISD and neighboring communities.
While Paxton does not cite these specific examples, they represent the types of concerns neighbors have complained about for years.
- The town of Plum Grove has flooded repeatedly due to Colony Ridge.
- Colony Ridge sewage spills have drained into the East Fork and Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2.2 million people.
- The development has fewer than 60 fire hydrants in an area 50% larger than Manhattan.
- Uncontrolled erosion, largely from Colony Ridge, also cost Houston taxpayers $18 million in dredging.
Neighboring communities have also complained about crime, traffic, destruction of roads, and rapidly growing burdens on the Plum Grove Volunteer Fire Department.
Too Much Chaos to be Tolerated
Paxton asks whether a settlement the size of Colony Ridge should have been allowed to grow that large without annexation or incorporation. By some estimates, Colony Ridge now has upwards of 40,000 people. If accurate, that would make it larger than the three largest cities in Liberty County combined!
Paxton says, “…this unincorporated settlement has drawn far too many people and enabled far too much chaos for the current arrangement to be tolerated by the state.” Boom.
Colony Ridge Business Model Caters to Cross-Border Settlement
Then Paxton talks about the business model used by Colony Ridge. “Texas has seen a growing trend of real estate developers buying huge quantities of undeveloped land, creating primitive subdivisions, and selling the bare lots in a practice often paired with offering minimal-down-payment, high-interest owner-financed loans,” he says.
“These loans require little identity verification. Lax development codes for unincorporated areas mean residents can crowd onto a property and the residential population can expand quickly.”
Paxton continues, “This form of real estate development and financing has created an attractive opportunity for noncitizens to cross the border and settle in Texas, with fast-growing developments the size of entire cities forcing nearby areas to struggle to adapt to—and even subsidize—the influx of new residents enriching the developers.
“The scale of the Colony Ridge development has proved unmanageable for effective law enforcement and other key standards of acceptable governance,” he says. “Violent crime, drug trafficking, environmental deterioration, public disturbances, infrastructure overuse, and other problems have plagued the area and nearby towns.”
Distorting the Intent of Municipal Management Districts
In the next page and a half of Paxton’s letter, he details how the developers, with the help of State Senator Ernest Bailes and Senator Robert Nichols, perverted the intent of Texas Local Government Code which deals with the creation of Municipal Management Districts (MMDs).
MMDs were intended to revitalize and beautify already developed urban commercial areas. They were not intended to develop raw land, according to Paxton.
The Colony Ridge MMD controlled by the developer started with 5 acres then annexed tens of thousands of acres – also owned by the developer.
“…the managers of this district function as the unelected, unaccountable leaders of a city that is inhabited by an unknown population including unvetted foreign aliens and whose unsustainable growth is protected by a specific state carve-out,” says Paxton.
Criticism of Two Texas Lawmakers
He adds, “I am beyond disappointed in Senator Nichols and Representative Bailes for apparently working to enrich specific developers at enormous expense to the rest of the public and reducing the quality of life for their own constituents.”
“It [Colony Ridge] is a sprawling, highly populated settlement that will soon outpace the population of many cities in Texas yet is ungoverned by any meaningful authority other than the developers whose primary interest is selling more property to new residents.”
Attacks Those Trying to Downplay Colony Ridge Problems
Paxton concludes by attacking journalists and politicians trying to downplay the problems caused by Colony Ridge. He says, “…the people of Texas … never assented to the creation of a sprawling unincorporated, ungoverned zone…”
$9.9 Million Paving Contract
Paxton does not mention this transaction specifically, but it falls under “enriching developers at the expense of the public.”
Note that the developer runs the MMD mentioned above. Also note how in these MMD board meeting minutes, the developer set the tax rate on his customers, gives his brother a $9.9 million paving contract and approves a reimbursement agreement for “the developer.”
The purpose of an MMD is to promote the public interest. But the developer is using his position as MMD president to defray his own costs. In a transaction that certainly raised my eyebrows, he and his board awarded a contract worth almost $10 million to Liberty Paving, a company controlled by his brother’s T-Rex Management Inc.
Normally, paving would be the developer’s cost.
Unpublished Pics of Colony Ridge
The developer has asserted that Colony Ridge is like any other community. All these photos below were taken on 10/6/2023, one day after the developer took several state legislators on a guided tour of the nicer areas in the development near the Grand Parkway – as the northern entrance flooded.
Paxton’s letter points out that in 2019, “the developer insisted extra state funding was needed to accommodate the growth of residents because the area had so little commercial tax revenue.” No wonder those commercial taxes are down.
Next up: Will the Texas legislature take any meaningful action in its special session? Come back soon as the Austin action unfolds.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/19/23
2242 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.