Homes along the south side of Timber Creek Acres were flooded with feet of creek water in September 2010 after remaining rains of tropical storm Hermine blew into North Texas. The City of Lewisville has plans to mitigate the flood risk for those who live in the affected houses, but homeowners are concerned the relief won’t come quick enough.
“Every spring you better be putting your stuff up in the attic that’s important to you, because you don’t know whether it’s going to flood again or what’s going on,” homeowner Danny, who preferred we not use his last name, said. “We’ve lost almost 40 feet of our backyard and every time it rains, it keeps sloughing off.”
The city intends to purchase the at-risk homes along Timber Creek Drive and demolish them.
“It’s just a matter of giving these guys an option to help them make decisions that will lead to a decreased risk of their properties,” said Josh Roberts, director of neighborhood services and emergency manager for the city.
The homes were built in a floodway in the ’70s. With eight homes identified as eligible for the buyouts, there are five that are going through the process.
City Council accepted a Flood Mitigation Assistance grant of $1,046,285 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in June 2016. With financial help from the city, the total available amount to work with is $1.2 million.
Roberts said he applied for the FEMA grant in 2015 because he’s always looking for ways to mitigate risks.
“It’s an opportunity, so we went after it, put in the application. And thankfully we were awarded,” he said.
While the buyouts were projected to begin this spring with demolitions following close after, Roberts said the actual timeline is hard to estimate with the steps necessary to fulfill the grant requirements.
“From start to finish, it could take up to two years or longer,” Roberts said. “We don’t want any delays… but it is taking a little bit longer than we hoped.”
Emergency services’ Eric Hutmacher, who was the primary point of contact for the buyout program, became Southlake’s emergency management coordinator about a month ago, leaving Roberts with his responsibilities in addition to Roberts’ new duties as neighborhood director.
The city sent in appraisers to determine the values of the homes and the first appraisals were deemed invalid by the Texas Water Development Board.
Roberts said the first appraisals were invalid for several reasons, such as not including consideration of the flooding history and its designation as a floodplain.
“The appraised value I can’t negotiate. It’s a grant project. We have to follow those rules,” Roberts said. “We’re working extremely hard and busting butts to get them the option.”
After not hearing word from the city in over a month, Danny said, he went to Mayor Rudy Durham’s front door to see what was happening. Durham lives in the same neighborhood but not within the flood-prone area. Danny said he got an update from Roberts by phone the following day.
At the end of the month, the homeowners and city staff will have a meeting, at which homeowners would have to approve asbestos testing to continue with the program and will receive hard copies of their second appraisal.
“Which is a bunch of garbage,” Danny said. “Just email it to my wife and we can sign it and she can send it back.”
Roberts said he wants to respect the homeowners’ schedules and will send them the papers if they cannot fit the meeting in to their schedule, but the meeting was to ensure people had an opportunity to speak to him face-to-face.
“It’s our due diligence to provide them every opportunity to ask questions,” Roberts said. “I want to give them opportunities to ask questions in person. They’re actually partners with us in this thing, at least that’s my perspective.
Danny said the homeowners can’t see their first appraisal but the second appraisal is way under what his home is being taxed at.
Danny’s house value from the Denton County Appraisal District for 2017 came in at $250,000, raising his property taxes, he said. His second appraisal for the grant came in around $225,000. He’s currently disputing his property tax rate with Denton CAD.
“We’re tired. We’re stressed out. We don’t know where we’ll be living in a year or even if we’re going to move or even if we accept your lousy deal,” Danny said. “You watch them come in at under that fair market value appraisal of $225,000 that they gave us… Josh told me on the phone, he goes, ‘Now remember that’s just the appraisal, that’s not our offer.’”
The buyout program is a voluntary project that homeowners can opt out of. Danny said he was informed in 2013 that his house is unsellable because of the safety issue.
One of the three nonparticipating at–risk homeowners, who asked not to be identified, said there weren’t enough answers from the city for him to write the letter of intent declaring interest in the program.
His family has a process they go through when the weather gets bad, where they evaluate what needs to be moved and what needs to be taken in case of evacuation. On Thanksgiving a year ago, he said the creek rose to about five feet away from his door.
“[City staff] were only able to to answer certain questions, not able to answer some questions and it seemed a little wishy-washy to me in terms of how those answers were provided,” he said in regards to being approached about the buyout.
The homeowner wanted to know what would happen if a flood occurred after they made a deal with the city but before the money and title changed hands. It was his biggest concern, he said.
“The other thing was, there’s no moving expenses paid for, none of the allowances you would normally get if it were done where it was both parties in agreement,” he said.
The lack of moving assistance is a point of concern for Danny as well.
“You guys are doing a buyout and you’re not going to help us move in any way, no movers, nothing?” Danny said. “Then you’re going to give us a time restraint on here. ‘You’ve got 35 days to answer. You got 30 days to move out.’ That’s how that’s going to work.”
Before Roberts applied for the FEMA grant, the plan was to build a gabion wall to abate the erosion of the Timber Creek bank. Danny said the project was second on the list after the one behind the homes on Regency Drive was built in 2014.
“They could fix the wall, fix the erosion problem,” he said. “All you had to do was do what you said you was going to do to save our houses. Now you’re going to demolish our homes.”
Danny said his neighbor’s home is on the edge of the creek now that his backyard has eroded away, foundation exposed. He said if another bad storm rolls through and brings 5 to 7 inches of rain, the creek will rip his screened porch off.
The plan for the wall has been tabled but is not scrapped, city engineer David Salmon said. Money was taken from the city’s capital project account to build Regency’s wall and when the funding is available again, the projects will resume.
“We’re going to do it eventually, but at this point we haven’t funded any of the other erosion areas,” he said. “If the city ends up buying them out, then we may not build the wall on that piece because at that point we wouldn’t have homes to protect.”
Salmon said the issue isn’t only that the homes are in the floodplain but also in a floodway, meaning there’s no way to reclaim the property when it erodes away.
“In fact if any of those homes, let’s say if they were damaged by a flood or a tornado or a fire, you couldn’t even get a building permit to build them back,” he said.
The Regency Drive wall cost $1.2 million.
“It’s a cost–benefit thing. We can go in and buy five or six of those homes that have the most severe flooding history or we can go in and build a $1 million plus wall,” Salmon said. “But the wall’s not going to keep them from flooding. All that’s going to do is keep the soil from eroding away.”
All but one resident living at the properties didn’t answer their doors when we sought comment. The resident who did answer her door didn’t want to bring her family into the story. The unnamed resident, who isn’t participating in the program, said the involvement of federal money and the arrival of surveyors and other strangers around their properties has put everybody on edge.
“A lot of people are nervous and they don’t trust a whole lot of people about what’s going on around here,” he said. “I’m even nervous. I have no idea what they’re doing…Communication is key and there hasn’t been a whole lot.”