Water Promised Was Not Delivered
By Danny Guerra
Later today, residents of a subdivision called Las Lomitas in eastern Travis County will ask county commissioners for help in getting one of the most basic necessities for their homes: running water.
Yesterday, we heard about the lengths those residents have to go to for water. Today, in the second part of KUT News’ series On Dry Land: The Story of Las Lomitas, we report on how it all began.
When families moved into the Las Lomitas subdivision back in 2002, they had no idea they’d live without running water for 10 years.
“I’ve seen houses get built two miles down the road, they have everything,” said Las Lomitas resident Victor Soto. “Here we are, we’ve been here a lot longer than that and we still can’t water. I don’t know, I didn’t think it would be such a big deal, but it is.”
Las Lomitas started out as 150 acres of unincorporated land just north of Creedmoor. The land developer, Hank Peavler, split the land into 10-acre parcels and put them up for sale. But the law didn’t require him to run water lines into the neighborhood.
“Under Texas state law, there is an exemption to platting a subdivision if the lots within the subdivision are greater than 10 acres,” said Frances Leos Martinez, director of the nonprofit legal aid group Community Building with Community Resources. “So that’s the Las Lomitas situation, where every lot is 10.3 or 10.6.”
Leos Martinez is advising Las Lomitas residents in their bid to get running water.
Many residents acknowledge that they knew water wasn’t available when they bought the land. But they say Peavler told them all they had to do was apply for water from the co-op that serves the area, Creedmoor-Maha.
Belinda Soto says it seemed simple. “I called one time on the phone and they were like, ‘oh yeah, you just need put a deposit and then we will be out there to give you a meter,’” she said. “And when you would go to the office and they’d be like, ‘where’s your property?’ And you’d say ’1625′. ‘Oh, yeah, we can’t give you a meter,’ and we’d be like ‘why?’ And they would never answer our question.”
Mark Zeppa, a lawyer for Creedmoor-Maha, says Las Lomitas didn’t qualify for water in 2002 because the subdivision was illegally developed.
The co-op told Hank Peavler to bring the subdivision up to code, which he did. So the co-op developed a plan for Las Lomitas. But Zeppa says that plan was halted because Peavler hadn’t been clear about many people actually lived there.
“He said, ‘well, there just needs to be 15 meters out there,’” Zeppa said. “And we said, ‘well you’ve sold lots with two or three mobile homes out there.’ So we knew that the water plan that he was asking for was not valid. So it never went anywhere and it never got approved by our board.”
That was 2002. Today, Las Lomitas is still without water. Thirty-one families live on 15 plots of land. Each lot has a different limit on homes allowed. And residents say Hank Peavler didn’t tell them that.
That was just one of several things he failed to disclose, said Victor Soto.
“I guess there was supposed to be a lot more done to the land before it could have been sold,” Victor said. “I guess with the water easements, it should have been put in before he could have sold it like that, in order for us to get water.”
Ileana Riojas works with the Las Lomitas Neighborhood Association. “I don’t understand how developers get away with it,” Riojas said. “Because we are so close to the city. Why are people letting this happen? Why aren’t there signs out there that say contact your Travis County office? Especially if they are targeting minorities or people that aren’t that well-educated or don’t even know how to read a contract.”
Leos Martinez says Texas has laws to assure consumers what services will or will not be available in when buying property.
“Those disclosures need to be in writing, and in addition to all of that, when a negotiation is transacted in Spanish, all of the documents have to be delivered in Spanish, and none of that was done here,” she said. “Instead, every family moving in understood that there would be services and that the developer would be responsible for providing them. Clearly in the negotiations with the families, the developer violated the law that was in place at the time.”
The co-op’s Zeppa says the situation could have been averted.
“In my opinion, Mr. Peavler is the one is at fault for trying to develop the land without providing and ensuring that there was adequate water there,” Zeppa said. “And when he was informed of what the requirements were, he didn’t follow up and comply.”
Peavler did not respond to repeated requests from KUT for an interview. But, legally speaking, he’s out of the water. Most of the lots at Las Lomitas were bought more than a decade ago, so the sales are outside the statute of limitation.
So the community, if it wants water, has to pipe it in themselves. But it will cost nearly half a million dollars. An almost unfathomable amount.
As one resident put it, now they’ll have to raise the money. The question is: How?