Residents Against Flooding followed through on its threat by suing the City of Houston and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 17. The suit, filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas on Wednesday morning, alleges that careless decisions have caused “hundreds of homes in the Memorial City area” to suffer “repeated and horrific flooding,” according to court documents.
Money isn’t at the heart of the suit. Instead, Memorial City property owners, who believe that development and redevelopment along Interstate 10 and inside Beltway 8 has turned their lots and living rooms into shallow-water ponds, want Houston city officials to get on top of flood-control measures, pronto.
Residents Against Flooding says that since 2009, it has repeatedly asked Houston City Council, its Planning Commission, and its Flooding and Drainage Committee to address flooding concerns in the Memorial City-area, but that the city has done nothing about it.
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“As a result, not only have Plaintiffs and many other RAF members and supporters suffered thousands of dollars in property losses, these residential homeowners feel unsafe in their own homes. They live in fear of each and every rainstorm,” according to a statement in the court documents. Memorial City-area homes suffered damage during the Memorial Day 2015 floods and the April 2016 flood.
Since the inception of TIRZ 17 in 1999, the Defendants City of Houston and the Memorial City Redevelopment Authority, also known as the TIRZ 17 Redevelopment Authority have engaged in a pattern of: (1) implementing drainage and mobility infrastructure projects in and around TIRZ 17 that efficiently convey stormwater out of the TIRZ 17 commercial areas and into the surrounding residential neighborhoods or into their overstrained storm systems; (2) approving private commercial development within TIRZ 17 that elevated the properties, without any or without sufficient stormwater mitigation, causing more stormwater to enter the neighborhoods; and (3) postponing infrastructure projects to help the residential neighborhoods, often in favor of non-essential projects that benefit private commercial interests.
Defendants know solutions: in 2003, the engineering firm Walter P. Moore prepared a study for the City recommending detention ponds as regional drainage solution. In 2002, the City, the Authority and TIRZ 17 signed a contract promising the construction of five new detention structures similar to those recommended in the Walter P. Moore Study.
However, to date, only one detention basin was constructed to offset the tremendous commercial development and infrastructure projects within TIRZ 17 that are impacting the residential neighborhoods. Tens of millions of dollars have been expended for other TIRZ 17 projects, but they have not been expended for detention to offset the stormwater runoff overflowing in the residential areas.
Further, not only have the Defendants failed to prioritize relief for residential areas over the last ten years, they have allocated and continue to allocate funds for various nonessential projects—such as landscaping an old existing detention pond at the behest of, and to the benefit of, a MetroNational subsidiary.
The Defendants’ actions and inactions—knowingly sending stormwaters into the residential neighborhoods that lack adequate infrastructure, without mitigation or necessary infrastructure improvement, and favoring projects for the private commercial interests at great expense to the residential interests—should shock our collective conscience.
Along with the nonprofit group, the plaintiffs, represented by Houston-based attorney Charles Irvine, include Houston homeowners who suffered property damage following floods in 2009, 2015 and this year.