Conroe, November 3 – Hundreds of residents of River Plantation subdivision are extremely upset with the River Plantation Community Improvement Association (RPCIA), the homeowners association in the deed-restricted neighborhood, because RPCIA won’t allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to bring temporary housing trailers into the subdivision so that families may live at their homesites while rebuilding after flood damage from Tropical Storm Harvey and the San Jacinto River Authority.
After the San Jacinto River Authority, without warning to neighborhoods downstream, began to release 79,131 cubic feet per second of water from the Lake Conroe Dam around 2 a.m., Monday, August 28, 2017, during Tropical Storm Harvey, the sheer force of the water did much more than just flood homes in River Plantatation; it bent walls, pushed and tore structures off their foundations, and ripped brick off frames. More than 500 homes in River Plantation, the golf course subdivision on the east side of Interstate 45 near the south edge of the City of Conroe, suffered significant flood damage with water higher than 9 feet in many of the homes at the height of the flooding.
Although County Engineer Mark Mooney has warned residents by letters that they should not rebuild their homes unless they build them elevated at least one foot above the base flood plain level, many residents with flood insurance, some other types of insurance, or financial means have chosen to rebuild their flood-damaged homes in River Plantation due the natural beauty and other amenities of the subdivision.
The subdivision’s Facebook page has become the primary place for discussion and disagreements over whether RPCIA should permit the temporary trailers. Gunnar Power, who has lived in River Plantation since 2015, is a community leader who believes RPCIA should give special dispensation to residents rebuilding after the storm, even though the restrictive covenants prohibit temporary housing or trailers. “As a protector of the downtrodden, I thought you should be aware that RPCIA is denying its flood victims access to FEMA trailers that we are eligible for and in many cases desperately need,” Power told The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper.
Over the last several days, the Army Corps of Engineers came out to homesites in River Plantation to conduct site inspections so that the Corps could then deliver trailers to the properties. When representatives from Crest Management, the property management firm that represents RPCIA observed the Corps personnel in the neighborhood, they informed the federal officials that RPCIA absolutely would not permit delivery of the trailers to the subdivision.
As a result, none of the residents in River Plantation will be able to use free FEMA on-site temporary housing while they rebuild their homes and will need to make other living arrangements, even though many families are otherwise homeless. That could change, if RPCIA changes its current policy, however. Power said, “It is more harsh for some of my neighbors that are in worse shape than me. If this was just for me I would just take it, but these are good people that are dealing with a bad situation and they deserve better from the community.”
While the restrictive covenants for the 50-year-old subdivision are clear that temporary trailers are not allowed, the reality is that the flood- and SJRA-damaged properties in River Plantation violate the deed restrictions technically in a number of ways. The restrictions also prohibit shacks on properties, but many of the flood-damaged homes are close to shack quality as a result of the horrific damage. The restrictions require that yards maintain a sanitary and healthful appearance, but those homes hardly meet those guidelines with damaged brick and building materials strewn hither and yon. The damaged properties don’t meet the construction standards either.
Jason Millsaps, Chief of Staff of State Representative Mark Keough, the state representative who is also running for Montgomery County Judge in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, brought to the attention of this newspaper that Section 418.020(c) of the Texas Government Code specifically provides for a mechanism for the Governor of Texas to suspend the restrictive covenants for a period of 60 days to permit temporary housing. That provision is a means by which both the homeowners or the homeowners association could seek relief from the restrictions. Of course, the homeowners association itself – faced with the reality that the damaged homes violate numerous restrictions already regardless of the temporary trailers, and the temporary trailers would be a means to eliminate those violations more quickly – could disregard the temporary trailer prohibition in the restrictions.
What RPCIA seems to have ignored is the probability that the use of temporary trailers may actually lead to faster rebuilding of the damaged properties that otherwise violate the restrictions in many ways. What RPCIA also seems to have ignored is basic humanity and decency towards people who have lost almost everything they possess and face an uncertain future despite having paid annual maintenance fees to enjoy community rights along with all of their neighbors.