Mmmmm

From the comments:

So, to see another example of how the city of Keller works (or doesn’t), watch Channel 11 news tonight (3/5) at 6. They will have a story on the large unauthorized and extremely dangerous work going on at a private residence on Randoll Mill Rd. The City staff is apparently too busy working on their library project to worry about the citizens’ safety.

Update: Here’s a link to the story and video.

Update #2 Link to PDF of City Emails sent to us by WRC and bumped the post to the top of the page and cleaned up the post, as it was originally made from my iPhone.

Update #3:  When I drove by the site at lunch today, I saw a City Councilman drive up as I was leaving.  Somebody is reading the blog…..

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15 responses to “Mmmmm

  • Jim Carson

    I watched it. This was either hysterical neighbors, or shoddy journalism.

    Someone in the process of grading his yard piled up dirt and rocks adjacent to his neighbors, one of whom feared the rocks could topple onto someone walking nearby.

    Keller Public Works Director Greg Dickens was quoted [though they didn’t mention his name] saying that there is no safety hazard and proper erosion control is in place. No mention of a code violation, only “a grading plan is being reviewed.”

    I think the Channel 11 reporter might have been taking a little jab at the neighbors when, interviewing a woman expressing angst about the boulders, he asked, “Is that a real fear?”

    Here’s your link to the story.

  • WRC

    I posted the original entry because there are political process issues that I hoped would be covered. I thought that might be of interest to people on this blog. Because of the length of the story, those things were not covered. I was disappointed also in that not everything could be covered. But I didn’t think the result showed either shoddy journalism or hysterical neighbors. I think any shortcomings were the result of the time limitations.

    But since you replied, and since you are evidently clued into Keller government, maybe you can answer some of my process questions:

    1. Our complaints to the City started months ago (last November or December), and at the start, we told the City our primary goal was to get it resolved before the Spring rains. Leaving aside why the City never noticed the elimination of a hilltop that can be viewed from Randoll Mill and is over an acre in size or the elimination of over 100 trees on the biggest property in the area, is it customary that the City will tie our safety concerns up into the permitting process which is in the hands of the landowner? The City has admitted there are safety concerns with some of the boulders, that the small erosion fences will not stop either the boulders or the dirt if they start moving, and that one hilltop (that our neighbor cut in half) may collapse, but says those will be addressed as part of the approval of the new grading plan. Despite the fact that all this work started with no permit of any kind, and that the two grading plans submitted after the City issued a “stop work” order (in response to our complaints) have been turned down, the City has refused to independently require the landowner to correct these safety hazards first (remove the most precarious boulders, move the large mound of dirt, and build a retaining wall for the hilltop) and is simply waiting for the landowner to come up with an acceptable plan. Does that make sense?

    2. We have observed and even videotaped the landowner continuing to work after the stop work order was issued. The City will not further penalize the landowner because they did not personally observe this. Why does the City give benefit of the doubt to a landowner who began work without any permits, will not communicate with either them or his neighbors about what he is up to, and has violated their orders to stop? Does that make sense?

    3. The City has refused to share any information with us until we submitted an Open Records Request. I thought city governments were supposed to operate transparently? Aren’t we entitled to input into something that affects us? Especially, where even if the safety concerns are solved, the tree removal and the leveling will change water flow in the area.

    4. Not a single member of the council has responded about this situation to me or any of my neighbors. When we sought the help of a former councilperson from a neighboring city, she got an immediate response and was told this was the City’s number 1 priority until resolved. Nonetheless, it took 2 emails, a phone call and an engineering study at our expense to get any response. During that period (after we were told this was their #1 priority but before the response), our principal Staff contact told us that he was no longer in the loop and the highest ranking Staff person took my call from the public works project he is back involved in. it often takes several days to get any response and over 10 days to get a response to any email asking questions — and that response that boiled down to “call the City attorney”. I did—he hasn’t called me back. Again, typical?

    5. We provided the City an engineering survey from a respected engineering firm about the potential hazards and what needed to be done under applicable regulations before any further work should be allowed. The City has responded that most of what our engineer says is required “fall[s] outside of the parameters of the current City ordinances/codes and therefore will not be considered as part of the permit approval process.” This seems to me to be an admission that Keller is not up to date with FEMA and other requirements—is that generally the case?

    6. And to close, if you truly think we are hysterical homeowners, drive out to 1150 Randoll Mill, view it from the Wildwood side and the Brookforest side, compare it on google maps to what it used to look like and think how happy you would be to live next to this project which has been going on for months.

    I could go on and on, but is this typical? Do you have any advice as to how to work better with this City? I have paid lots of taxes and never asked them for anything before (well, I have complained that they forget to pick up my recycling). I feel like the guy who started this blog—that my only recourse to get more responsive government is to drop everything I am doing and run against the current council. Got any better ideas?

    I am not a fan of government. Like many people now, I feel like they tax us too much and aren’t responsive to our needs. And, I generally don’t want them intruding. But until now, I thought they would at least care when I had a safety concern. And, I never thought the benefit of the doubt would instead go to the guy who broke all the rules and is endangering others. That hardly seems like government “of, by and for the people” but maybe I’m just naive.

  • Doug Miller

    WRC, I’m behind at work today and have a P&Z Meeting tonight, so I apologize for not going into your items in a more in-depth manner.

    But I will say this, squeaky wheels get the grease.

    Mayor McGrail is at City Hall nearly every day; I would call and set up a meeting with him. John Baker, who is the Mayor Pro Tem, is also retired and spends a lot of his time on city business, email him directly.

    Chris Fuller, the Assistant City Manager is usually pretty good at getting back to citizen complaints, you can email him or call him at City Hall.

    If these avenues fail because they have thrown this off onto the City Attorney, I suggest that you and your neighbors show up for a city council meeting and speak at “Persons To Be Heard”. Demand a meeting with Stan Lowry (the City Attorney) or city staff. Demand that you be listened to, and if that doesn’t work….well, you can always run for city council.

    With all the flooding that happened a couple of years ago, I understand your concerns and hopefully Greg and Keith [City Engineer] do as well. I will see Keith tonight and ask him about the situation and find out what is going on from his standpoint. If you want to email me at doug at blc-inc dot com I will email you back tonight after I speak with him.

  • Jim Carson

    WRC,

    If what you say is true, and I have no reason to doubt you, how can you say this isn’t shoddy journalism?

    I learned far more from you than I did the journalists. Even if TV time is limited, the printed version of the story offered none of the relevant points you made.

  • Mark

    The printed version is a transcript of the televised broadcast.

  • WRC

    I thought I would also share the results i got from an Open Records request to the City of Keller:

    1. You heard Bud Gillett say on Channel 11 that the City told him on Friday there were no immediate safety concerns. To the contrary, here is what Staff was saying to each other about the matter:

    a. 2/18 email says:”Beyond the obvious, [the homeowner’s] contention that a grading plan might not be required becomes moot since the elevation is so extreme and the disturbed area of his property is VAST. [His] lot affects at least six different adjacent properties.”

    b. 1/27 email: “We are extremely concerned regarding the safety of his immediate neighbors and the potentiality of the negative effects of erosions, a mudslide or worse”

    c. on 1/25: “This address has extreme elevation and the rocks and boulders on-site that have been exposed by his elevation are piled precipitously atop unstable soil. I believe this to be a safety hazard….”

    d. 2/18 Staff writes about “unstable dirt and massive boulders”

    2. 2/17 email exchange with a local realtor shows people in Wildwood lost a sale of the vacant lot because of what is going on

    3. 1/12 email from homeowner’s engineer says homeowner wants to expand his home–Why hasn’t City ever told us this? They have continued to tell us it’s for a playground, but this shows they know better. I have repeatedly asked if homeowner’s actions in getting around the tree ordinances, etc. by not first applying for a building permit as to what he is really trying to do (obviously, not a playground) would be taken into account and the City just ignores this or tells me this is just anecdotal. What’s anecdotal about this?

    Lots of stuff they didn’t send me or explain why within the 10 days
    I will be following up

    3 days and running, no call back from City attorney

  • Jim Carson

    Um, Mark, the printed story is not a transcript. But that wasn’t my point anyway. My point was that the reporter could have told the whole story in the printed version had he chose to practice good journalism.

  • Doug Miller

    I have uploaded the emails that WRC references in his comment. Look back at the original post for the link or go here

    https://beyondrightfield.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/city-of-keller.pdf

  • Mary

    Hello, Everyone. The City of Keller says that it is the sole governing authority in this situation, and I am not a development attorney but as a former Chair of the NCTCOG, I don’t think that is entirely correct.

    The City and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (otherwise known at TCEQ) is responsible for Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP). Their responsibility is delegated from Federal laws. Anytime an activity disturbs more than 1 acre, as it appears has been done in this case, a SWPPP is required—whether it’s written in the local ordinance or not.

    The Keller ordinance does say that you can’t block any ones’ drainage. You cannot divert drainage to other property without a plan. We know in this situation there is not a plan. The city, without a plan, cannot know whether or not drainage has been diverted. Indications are from the runoff in recent rains that the drainage may have been diverted.

    We have not thoroughly investigated the City of Keller’s ordinances at this time. Does anyone know if it is common for the City to allow mass grading projects without any compaction requirements, or does the City have ordiances and common permit requirements that address compaction for projects involving earthwork?

    What would happen if there was damage to property? Professional Engineers are all required to follow a Standard of Care and Ethics. In this situation a reasonable Standard of Care would involve a geotechnical study. To our knowledge, no studies for this project exist. We hope the engineers will carefully look at what is occurring in this situation and make recommendations to the Mayor and Council as to immediate remedies and study requirements. Based on the unauthorized grading activities that have taken place and the current site conditions we believe that the normal Standard of Care necessitates the completion of a geotechnical study to determine what a stable condition is for the proposed grades.

    And finally and very importantly, the first responsibility of a government is the protection of its people. Cities are responsible for public safety. No one at this point fully knows the risk to others from the existing loose boulders and dirt—but the city staff states in their own e-mails that they believe a hazard exists. I believe, as a former acting Mayor in this region, that it is the city’s responsibility to demand that the property owner immediately put the property into a safe condition. Insist that the boulders and loose dirt be removed now. Then, complete a geotechnical study before approving a grading plan.

    My guess is that the answer to what’s going on lies in the tree ordinance in Keller. Is anyone out there familiar with that ordinance? Thanks Mary

  • Doug Miller

    The Tree Preservation portion of the UDC can be found here

    http://www.cityofkeller.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=2267

    The Tree Preservation ordinance does not apply, see Section 10.01 D

  • Mary

    Doug, thank you very much. I will read this carefully. Thanks Mary

  • WRC

    Agree, but compare provision C2b to D. The Staff told us early on that any addition to his house would trigger the tree ordinance, but since he’s saying this is just a playground at this point, D applies and the ordinance does not. Thus, even though he told one of the neighbors and the City that he plans to do the addition (supposedly 7000 sq ft), apparently he can cut the trees down first as part of the playground and then later apply to expand his house. If he had permitted the addition first, the City would have regulated how many of the trees he could cut down. I get it: letter of the law and all that, but we are talking about 100 trees or more that bit the dust and a good deal more that will likely die because their roots are now covered under the large piles of dirt. Totally gaming the system.

  • Doug Miller

    WRC,

    I came across this early on in my tenure on P&Z, a church in town bought some houses to expand their parking lot and before they came in for the permit they cut down all the trees on those residences. They knew the system and used it to their advantage…didn’t mean I liked it, but there was nothing I could do about it.

    My guess is that this property owner didn’t game the system, he and his contractor just didn’t think he needed a permit to do the work he is trying to do. And when he did find out the rules, he isn’t going to confess to building an expansion of his residence. I don’t know if you would call that gaming the system or dumb luck.

    The Unified Development Code (Which the tree ordinance is part of) does provide for any citizen to ask for an amendment to the code. If the neighbors would like to see the tree preservation ordinance amended, I would suggest you read Section 2.07 of the UDC and then talk with Community Development Manager Tom Elgin as to the process you would need to follow. Granted, the horse is out of the barn on this particular project, but going forward it might be something that the citizens in your area of town wishes the City Council to look at.

    You can find Section 2 of the code here: http://www.cityofkeller.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=2253

    I think you will find Tom and the other staff in the Community Development Department very helpful and responsive to any questions posed to them.

  • WRC

    I’m disappointed to learn today that the City will be issuing the permit without any significant changes to take our concerns into account. The homeowner will have 120 days (at least) to both do the grading and to solve the safety concerns; the City will not even dictate that the safety concerns happen first. I guess we’ll see what havoc the Spring rains bring.

    The City’s email is printed below, in large part. A couple of key points:

    A. They totally ignored the input of our engineer that other studies were required to comport with all applicable regulations.

    B.They now say there are no violations other than the failure to obtain a permit, despite this email from their own staff on 1/25: “This address has extreme elevation and the rocks and boulders on-site that have been exposed by his elevation are piled precipitously atop unstable soil. I believe this to be a safety hazard and a blatant and obvious violation.”

    C. They ignore language on their own website (see #6 below), saying it just doesn’t apply (Who knew?).

    D. The Council has continued to ignore us. Not a single returned email. I understand why “Tea Party” groups are forming at all levels of government across this country (not a comment on my politics, but in the sense none of us like paying taxes and getting no representation for it!).

    D. Not that it matters, but the email for the attorney is the one he gave me; they want me to use one that makes it look like they have their own atty., when he told me he does work for over 100 different cities. As a title company person told me yesterday on a different issue, “those people at Keller town hall are getting awfully full of themselves.”

    Anyway, here’s the City’s response (my Qs normal, their responses are in all caps):

    “SEE MY RESPONSES TO YOUR QUESTIONS BELOW. ALSO, YOU HAVE THE WRONG EMAIL ADDRESS FOR OUR CITY ATTORNEY.

    LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS.

    ….

    Gentlemen, I would appreciate an update as to the subjects I discussed in my last conversations with each of you:

    1. Has [the homeowner] accepted your offer to go ahead and move the boulders down to ground level even prior to the permitting process being completed? Has there been any discussion about likewise moving the fill dirt that is up against my fence prior to the permit being issued? (As to this latter issue, recent rains have made it clear that this dirt is causing water to back up into my yard.)

    [the homeowner] HAS AGREED TO MOVE THE ROCKS DOWN TO GROUND LEVEL. SEE THE RESPONSE FROM HIS ENGINEER LAST WEEK:

    …..

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR EMAIL.

    I HAVE DISCUSSED THIS WITH [the homeowner] . HE WILL MOVE THE LARGE ROCKS TO THE FLAT AREA BETWEEN HIS HOME AND THE STOCKPILE.
    IT WILL BE NECESSARY FOR HIM TO ARRANGE FOR A HOE RAM OR JACK HAMMER TO BREAK UP THE LARGE ROCKS. HE FEELS LIKE IT WILL BE NECESSARY TO REGRADE THE SOUTH PART OF THE LOT TO GET TRUCKS IN AND LOADED WITH THE ROCK. FOR THIS REASON HE WILL LIKELY DELAY REMOVING THE ROCKS FROM HIS PROPERTY UNTIL AFTER THE FULL GRADING PERMIT IS ISSUED.

    IT WILL TAKE A FEW DAYS TO ARRANGE FOR THE ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT. WE WILL GIVE YOU THE REQUIRED 48 HOURS NOTICE.

    [the homeowner’s engineer]

    2. In the supplemental open records response that I received on Friday, I received an actual application for permit with various documents. I have forwarded these on to our engineer for comment. What is the timetable with respect to issuance of a permit? Has the City given [the homeowner] any more comments on these, or are they considered acceptable to the City?

    [the homeowner’s engineer] HAS ADDRESSED ALL COMMENTS RELATED TO THE GRADING PERMIT. WE PLAN ON ISSUING THE PERMIT BY THE END OF THIS WEEK.

    3. I notice that at least some of the mess at the lot between [the homeowner] and my property (the lot that, according to tax records, is still owned by [Mr X}) has been cleaned up. Was this done by the City, or has the City reached out to [Mr X})? If so, do you have any contact information you can provide me for [Mr X}) so perhaps we can have the fence repaired where [the homeowner] ran over it with the bulldozer?

    THE CITY HAS NOT DONE ANY WORK ON [MR X})’S PROPERTY. AT PRESENT WE HAVE NOT MADE CONTACT WITH [MR X}).

    4. Are there any other developments we should know about? I noticed in the materials you sent me that [the homeowner’s engineer] was already saying 120 days was not long enough. While I see that the City’s comments require the safety issues to be addressed first, there is no specific timetable for doing that. Is it possible for the removal of the boulders, the dirt, and the construction of a retaining wall to be required to be completed within a certain amount of time (say, 30 days?) after issuance of the permit, with the remaining work to be required thereafter? That way, if extensions are granted, we will be dealing only with the issue of water flow and not these more pressing safety concerns.

    AS A STANDARD PRACTICE, WE TYPICALLY DO NOT DICTATE THE ORDER OF THE WORK. WE WILL REQUEST TO THE APPLICANT, VIA THE GRADING PERMIT, THE PREFERRED SEQUENCE OF CONSTRUCTION AND WORK WHICH WILL INCLUDE THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE RETAINING WALL AND THE REMOVAL/MOVING OF THE ROCKS.

    5. [the city atty] told me the Staff was reviewing whether any existing ordinances had been violated by [the homeowner] (other than just failure to obtain a permit), particularly in light of email comments that [the homeowner] was “in violation.” Has there been any resolution of this issue?

    STAFF HAS LOOKED INTO OUR CITY CODES AND ALSO HAVE DONE SOME RESEARCH IN THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODES. I KNOW OF NO OTHER VIOLATIONS.

    6. Finally, I found the following on your website:

    “What if I don’t get a permit?
    If a permit, when needed, is not obtained before construction, you have violated city codes and regulations and you will be subject to fines and penalties. You will be required to obtain permits for the work, and it must pass inspection, or you will have to return the structure or site to its original condition.”

    http://www.cityofkeller.com/index.aspx?page=60

    I assume this is true or you would not have posted it. Where is this in your ordinances and at what point if the delay continues will the City invoke this remedy?

    THIS SECTION FROM THE ABOVE LINK RELATES SPECIFICALLY TO THE BUILDING INSPECTION DEPARTMENT AND DOES NOT ADDRESS CIVIL ENGINEERING SITE ISSUES.

    I appreciate your consideration of these comments.”

  • WRC

    On a lighter note, after I read what the City sent me in response to my Open Records Request, I saw three obvious omissions. After I pointed these out, the City supplemented two of the categories with additional documents. As to the third, I found amusing their verbal gymnastics explaining how mailing certified letters actually meant emails that were sent. Here it is (my question is normal, the City’s response is in all caps):

    “I HAVE RESPONDED BELOW TO YOUR E-MAIL TO ME DATED MARCH 10, 2010.

    1. Attached are emails that refer to letters sent by [Staff] to [the homeowner]; the emails refer once to a certified letter and once to the mailing of three separate letters. [the homeowner’s engineer] also refers to a letter. The language is not consistent with emails, but rather indicates that one or more actual letter(s) were mailed. I did not receive copies of any of these letters.

    “I HAVE SPOKEN TO [Staff]. [Staff] HAS ADVISED ME THAT HE DID NOT SEND A CERTIFIED LETTER DATED DECEMBER 9, 2009 AS STATED IN HIS E-MAIL … DATED DECEMBER 12, 2009. HE ACTUALLY PRINTED AND HAND DELIVERED AN E-MAIL DATED DECEMBER 8, 2009 TO [the homeowner]’S RESIDENCE.

    [the homeowner’s engineer]’S E-MAIL DATED DECEMBER 14, 2009 MAY ALSO BE REFERRING TO THE E-MAIL THAT WAS HAND DELIVERED IN AN ENVELOPE TO [the homeowner]’S RESIDENCE BY [Staff].

    [Staff] HAS ALSO ADVISED THAT THE “THREE SEPARATE LETTERS” HE REFERRED TO IN HIS DECEMBER 15, 2009 E-MAIL TO [Staff’s boss] WERE ACTUALLY E-MAILS DATED NOVEMBER 16, 2009, NOVEMBER 20, 2009, AND DECEMBER 8, 2009 THAT WERE PRINTED AND HAND DELIVERED TO [the homeowner]’S RESIDENCE.

    I HAVE VERIFIED THAT THERE ARE NOT ANY LETTERS OR CORRESPONDENCE OTHER THAN WHAT I HAVE ALREADY PROVIDED TO YOU IN RESPONSE TO YOUR REQUEST.”

    Maybe so, but i have always been a big believer in Ockham’s Razor (“The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”). The simplest explanation here is that somewhere there are one or more letters……..

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