'Neighborhood should have not been built': Homeowners file lawsuit against developer after flooding issues

Miya Shay Image
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Homeowners suing developer in Sugar Land
Homeowners suing developer in Sugar Land, Miya Shay reports.

SUGAR LAND, Texas (KTRK) -- When Etti Clingman and her husband bought a house in the Millwood at Riverstone subdivision, they never imagined neighborhood gatherings would include trading flood stories.

"You couldn't leave, the water was too high to drive away," Clingman recalled the day the flood waters crept onto her perfectly manicured lawns.

Just about every home in the Millwood, several hundred in all, flooded. Homeowners say the waters didn't begin rising until Harvey had already passed. They want to hold people responsible.

"We specifically asked if we were in the flood plain. And he said no, you're not," said Rahul Hemrajani, recalling a conversation he had four years ago with the home builder. "You're protected by the levee and this doesn't come in the flood plain, so that's the reason we bought a house here."

The entire subdivision is less than five years old. County real estate records show the plats for the area were approved in 2012. Eyewitness News has also uncovered documents that indicate the land now called Millwood was once in the flood plain.

Records show developers built levees around the neighborhood and also retention ponds. After that was completed, the area was granted a LOMR, or Letter of Map Revision. This technically removed the area from the flood plain. In a letter dated July 16, 2012, a letter from the developers' engineers says "the district has received a LOMR to remove the entire district from the Brazos River flood plain."

These documents are public records, and experts told ABC13 are not unusual. It is fairly standard practice to build levees and detention basins in order to move land out of flood plains. This allows for development without flood insurance requirements. It also means homeowners can be told that their houses are not in a flood plain.

"At no point along the line were these homeowners told hey, this is an area prone to flooding," said attorney Jason Gibson, who is representing several dozen homeowners in Millwood. "In fact they were told and advised they should not buy flood insurance for that reason."

Gibson and other lawyers representing the homeowners have filed suit against the developer, several home builders, the engineering firm involved, even the homeowners association. They contend somebody along the way should have disclosed to homeowners that the land was once on a flood plain.

"This neighborhood should have not been built ever," said Clingman, from her flood damaged home. "They put our family at risk; they put our children at risk."

Eyewitness News reached out to the developers, builders, and other entities named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was only filed Wednesday afternoon, and none of the entities have had time to review the allegations. Defendants contacted by Eyewitness News say they wanted time to review the documents before making any comments.

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