Monday, March 29, 2010

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Attorney General Abbott Takes Action Against Cameron County Colonias Development

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today charged a developer in Los Fresnos and El Jardin, both subdivisions in Cameron County, with violating the state’s colonia-prevention laws.

According to court documents filed by the state, Manuel J. Montemayor and the M.A.M Family Trust failed to install sewer and water services on residential lots offered for sale or sold in these subdivisions or to post a bond in the alternative to ensure installation of the services. The state also charged the defendants with failing to obtain plat approval from local officials.

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Texas Attorney General's lawsuit against Manuel J. Montemayor and others

“The state’s enforcement action charges the defendants with failing to comply with Texas’ colonias-prevention laws,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Texas law requires border-area developers to guarantee that basic water and wastewater infrastructure will be installed before lots are sold to purchasers. State colonia investigators have learned that the defendants not only failed to guarantee these basic requirements, but also failed to obtain the county commissioner court’s approval before marketing these lots.”

According to the attorney general’s enforcement action, Montemayor subdivided a tract of land into several smaller lots for residential use without obtaining the Cameron County Commissioners Court’s approval of a plat. He sold at least seven of those lots. The purchasers of the lots have not been able to build their homes due to the lack of basic services.

This is the second time Attorney General Abbott has taken action against Manuel J. Montemayor for illegally developing land in violation of the anti-colonias laws. In February 2008, a court ordered Montemayor and his company, MG Joint Venture, to pay $30,000 in civil penalties for unlawfully subdividing and selling property without providing sewer and water services for residents and without obtaining plat approval.

Today’s enforcement action seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to comply with anti-colonia laws and provide water and wastewater services to lots already sold in violation of the law. The state also seeks an injunction preventing the defendants from selling additional lots in Los Fresnos and El Jardin until those properties obtain the necessary water and wastewater services or the financial guarantees. Additionally, the state seeks civil penalties of up to $15,000 for each lot conveyed in violation of the law.

In Texas, residential subdivisions near the U.S.-Mexico border that lack adequate water or wastewater services are commonly referred to as colonias. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county and lack basic infrastructure.

In 1995, colonias-prevention laws were strengthened in Texas. These laws enhanced platting, selling and utilities requirements for residential land sales outside city limits in any county within 50 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Cameron County is located within 50 miles of the international border dividing the United States and Mexico.

The laws also require that residential subdivision developers either install water and sewer service facilities or provide a financial guarantee to cover the utilities’ cost if the installation is not completed by a promised date. Local officials will not approve the subdivision until that infrastructure is created or the required bond is paid.

Before purchasing residential property outside the city limits, border area home buyers should check with county officials to determine whether the property was legally subdivided and whether the developer has made the necessary arrangements to supply water and wastewater infrastructure.

Texans along the Texas-Mexico border and Nueces County can file complaints with the Office of the Attorney General against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services, or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the attorney general’s Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or by calling (800) 252-8011.

The Office of the Attorney General also maintains the state’s Colonia Geographic Database, which offers geographic and descriptive data on more than 2000 colonias in 29 border area counties. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the “Texas-Mexico Border” page on the attorney general’s Web site.