In My Opinion by Gloria Way
Home to the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and the Trinity River Island Recreation Area, Chambers County is known for its beautiful coastline, natural fresh and saltwater wetlands, and coastal prairie. Thousands of acres are dedicated to farms and pastures for raising livestock. And, residents of Chambers County are proud of its historic significance in Texas Independence.
Through the years, large tracts of land have been sold to developers in Liberty County (33,000 acres in Liberty County now known as Colony Ridge) which has become controversial due to the lending practices of the developer. With Liberty County being Chambers’ northern border, there is concern of similar developments happening in Chambers County.
I spoke with Bobby Hall, Chambers County engineer, and asked him how Chambers County can protect itself from falling into the same demise as Colony Ridge. Hall stated that whenever a developer wishes to create a commercial or residential development, including additions or remodeling, a permit is required. Permits must be reviewed to ensure compliance with county regulations, including but not limited to Subdivision Regulations, Drainage Criteria, Fire Code, and Environmental Health. Chambers County has updated the criteria on all regulations over the last couple of years.
Robbie King, deputy director of Economic Development for Chambers County, said, “Whenever someone comes in our office and expresses their desire to develop in our County, they must first meet with the Development Review Committee (DRC). This allows them to discuss and ask questions about their project from all county approval authorities upfront.” Hall stressed that in that meeting, the developer meets with the representatives from the economic development department, flood control and Trinity Bay Conservation District if the project is within their jurisdiction, the fire marshal’s office and the environmental health department. This way any applicant can have their questions answered early in the process.”
Once the project satisfies all the requirements, the County has no control over what the developer does with the property. Said Hall, “That is the negative. Once all permit requirements are met, we cannot control what they do with the property as long as all regulatory requirements are satisfied.”
In Liberty County’s Colony Ridge, there are countless allegations of elected officials turning their heads on drainage issues, flooding issues, and unsafe neighborhoods. Engineering companies’ drainage reports have become mysteriously lost, and law enforcement allegedly turns a blind eye to the drug problems within the schools and neighborhoods.
In my opinion, and this is solely my opinion, a very large part of the problem is Colony Ridge and its sister company Terrenos Houston, catering to low income, poor credit, and lack of education buyers with the promise of owning land. I refer to this as predatory lending. The owner financing usually consists of no credit check, small down payment if any, high interest rates for a three to ten year balloon loan, meaning, after the term of the loan expires, the buyer has to come up with the ability to pay off the loan. Many buyers cannot, and the owners foreclose on the home. And, with owner financing, the buyer does not have to be a legal resident.
For whatever reason I do not understand, why does the federal government give out Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) numbers to persons who cannot get a Social Security Number (SSN)? There is obviously a reason why this person cannot get an SSN. This allows illegal immigrants to purchase property in the US.
There are three steps for our County to save itself from unscrupulous developers. (1) The County must have strict regulations on both residential and commercial projects that must be enforced. As I mentioned in the first part of the article, Chambers County has tightened up on infrastructure, drainage/flooding, and environmental requirements. These requirements must be met before any permit is issued. (2) The Texas legislature must tighten its regulations on “owner financing”. There are several laws on the books already that need to be reexamined to prevent the deplorable practice of “predatory” lending, and (3) we must contact our federal elected officials and end the issuance of ITIN numbers. There are reasons why certain individuals cannot obtain a social security number. Why circumvent the rules?
Chambers County is growing exponentially. We must protect it from being used as a “ making machine” for developers who care only about one thing – lots of big $$$ in their pocket.