AUSTIN, Texas – A Harlingen-based realtor has defended legislation from state Rep. Ryan Guillen that, critics say, weakens the rules that regulate colonia development.
Marcus Phipps is chair of Texas Realtors for 2023. He recently spoke in favor of Guillen’s House Bill 4108 at a hearing of the House Committee on Land & Resource Management.
Criticism of the bill has come from, among others, veteran realtor Michael J. Blum of McAllen.
“I have reviewed HB 4108. I’m very disappointed that anyone would want to contribute to the continued proliferation of inadequate subdivision development in the rural areas of Texas counties,” Blum said, in a recent guest column in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.
“This legislation, if approved, will irreparably damage the buyers of these unimproved properties while enriching the people who sell the land to the unknowing purchaser. The buyer will not know what should or could have been provided, and the county governments are going to be shielded from having to require appropriate infrastructure requirements on the developers of these parcels.”
Phipps responded that the committee substitute for the HB 4108 still has work to be done on it before it leaves committee.
“I think you will see that it (the committee substitute for HB 4108) addresses your concerns,” Phipps told Blum in an email.
“The last thing anyone wants is to create a pathway for colonias to reappear along the border. The Committee substitute does not in any way erode the county’s ability to prevent colonia development.
“Instead, it allows for good properties to be sold to buyers who clearly know what they are buying, and for property owners to legally sell tracts of land that they should be able to sell.”
Phipps said the “unintended consequences” of the Model Subdivision Rules have been “significantly more realized” in Cameron County than in Hidalgo County.
“This bill will only undo those aspects of the law,” he said.
In his testimony before the House Committee on Land & Resource Management, Phipps was careful not mention the word “colonia.” He was advised by a state representative that, historically, one only has to say the word “colonia” and the Legislature shuts down and is a “no” on legislation.
Here are the remarks Phipps prepared for his testimony before the House Committee on Land & Resource Management:
“Thank you, Mister Chairman, and members of the committee. My name is Marcus Phipps and I am the 2023 chair of Texas Realtors, speaking in support of the committee substitute for HB 4108.
“As a longtime Harlingen resident and realtor for nearly 27 years, I’m no stranger to the model subdivision rules that impact property owners in our border counties.
“The legislation passed in the 90s has met its goal of tamping down substandard housing developments, and we are very grateful for that. We wholeheartedly want to make sure everyone has quality housing and infrastructure.
“The rules have actually done their job so well that some property owners are unable to sell their land because the cost associated with complying with the model subdivision requirements is too great.
“I’ve worked throughout the Rio Grande Valley, and I’ve seen these unintended consequences play out throughout the region.
“We’re so glad that Chair Guillen has filed this legislation to start the conversation about how to help these folks that I and my colleagues hear from on a regular basis. And thank you all for giving it your attention and consideration.
“Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony, unless there are any questions from the committee.”
Phipps also provided a fact sheet on what the committee substitute for HB 4108 does. Here it is:
Changes the exemption from platting requirements from a parcel of more than 10 acres to “10 acres or more.” Constituents and county reps have agreed that the latter version is clearer.
Changes the presumption a lot will be used for a residential purpose from “five acres or less” to “less than five acres.” This is for the same reason as described in Section 1.
Allows that Subchapter B doesn’t apply if the county has granted an exemption under authority granted by the Water Code. This references Water Development Board regulations that apply to Subchapter B counties.
Allows that a lot may be granted an exemption from Subchapter B requirements if the county agrees, after determining the lot is within 700 feet of a municipal water source, is adjacent to a public road, has sufficient space to accommodate a septic system (per Water Code requirements), and has been certified by a civil engineer to have adequate drainage and as not located in a flood plain. (Note: the county does not have to grant the exemption even if these conditions are met – it just gives them the option to do so).
Makes additional changes to say “less than five acres” throughout one subsection, as above in Section 2.
Limits platting requirements in certain circumstances, specifically eliminates the requirement for platting if:
The owner of the lot doesn’t lay out “streets, alleys, squares, parks, or other parts of the tract intended to be dedicated to public use or for the use of purchasers or owners of lots fronting on or adjacent to the streets, alleys, squares, parks, or other parts.” – this a reference to Subchapter A
The lots are sold to adjoining landowners.
Clarifies that Subchapter B counties may require proper installation or bonding for roads or streets in addition to other utilities. Note that previously it had been unclear whether Subchapter B could use the authority to do this granted under Subchapter A.
Provides a process for releasing bonds for streets and roads that may be required.
Provides a process for a buyer of a property to assume the responsibility of installing proper wastewater treatment facilities that meet all applicable requirements on the property, including acknowledgement that the lot may not receive water or electricity service until that obligation has been met.
Updates “less than five acres” terminology as above.
Clarifies that a real estate licensee under Occupations Code 1101 is not a liable “agent” of the property owner per this Subchapter. Note this change does not absolve a real estate licensee from liability for knowingly engaging in advertising or completing a sale of a property in violation of this Subchapter.
Same clarification as Section 7.
Updates “less than five acres” terminology as above.
Creates a judicial process allowing a defendant to cure a violation of this Subchapter within 45 days, where a cure is possible, and the court determines there is good cause to allow for curing. Note: some circumstances may not be curable, eg: if an illegal sale has closed, parties to that suit (which will be brought by the attorney general) would not be able to undo the sale to “cure” the violation; they will simply be subject to prosecution.
Brings conformity between the changes made to Subchapter B and the relating Water Code requirements to allow for the county to provide exemptions for lots as described in Section 2 of the bill.
Effective date of September 1, 2023.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City.
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