Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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The Tarrant Regional Water District supplies water to two million Texans across 11 counties and is a governmental agency with the power of eminent domain. In 2010, the Water District and the City of Dallas approved a financing agreement to build a 150-mile pipeline to transport water owned by Dallas in Lake Palestine to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Construction began in 2014. The proposed route crosses the 1,000-acre LazyW Ranch five miles northwest of Athens in Henderson County, with a 150-foot-wide underground easement, about 3,375 feet long, covering 11.623 acres. The owner, Bennett, opposed to the project, obtained legislation creating the LazyW District, a municipal utility district. Bennett sued the Water District for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act; the court of appeals concluded that the Water District was immune from suit. Bennett repeatedly tried, unsuccessfully, to replace incumbent board members who support the Project’s use of the Ranch and dedicated a small cemetery on the Ranch in the proposed pipeline's path. The Water District offered the Lazy W $169,218 for the easement, and when the offer was rejected, petitioned for condemnation. Bennett asserted governmental immunity. The court refused to proceed further without deciding whether the case should be dismissed. The court of appeals granted mandamus relief. The Supreme Court of Texas vacated, rejecting an argument that the trial court cannot rule on the Lazy W’s plea to the jurisdiction until the commissioners issue their award. It is important that the special commissioners convene and render an award expeditiously and without interference from the court. The trial court had the obligation to consider the Lazy W’s assertion of immunity when the plea to the jurisdiction was filed. View "In re Lazy W Dist. No. 1" on Justia Law

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The Town of Lakewood Village, a Type A general-law municipality in Denton County, has a population of 620; its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) extends one half-mile beyond its boundaries. Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code 42.021(a)(1). The ETJ encompasses part of the Sunrise Bay subdivision. Other parts of the Subdivision are within the city limits and ETJ of Little Elm, a home-rule city that has a larger population. When developers planned the subdivision in the mid-1990s, Little Elm and Denton County approved the final plat. The developers did not file a plat with the Town, which does not provide any services to the Subdivision. Little Elm provides water to the Subdivision. Little Elm and Denton County maintain its roads. In 2013, Bizios purchased a Subdivision lot, located entirely within the Town’s ETJ. Bizios obtained approvals and permits from Denton County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Subdivision’s architectural review committee. The County inspected the construction. Bizios did not obtain building permits from the Town, although its ordinances adopt building codes and make them enforceable within its ETJ. The Town filed suit after Bizios ignored its orders to stop construction. The trial court granted the Town a temporary injunction. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court of Texas agreed that a Type A general-law municipality does not have authority to enforce its building codes and building-permit requirements within its extraterritorial jurisdiction. View "Town of Lakewood Village v. Bizios" on Justia Law

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Coyote Lake Ranch, about 40 square miles, in the Texas Panhandle, is used for agriculture, raising cattle, and hunting. It is primarily grass-covered sand dunes, with some is irrigated cropland. Water comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, the principal source of water for the Texas High Plains, including the City of Lubbock, about 90 miles southeast of the Ranch. In 1953, during “‘one of the most devastating droughts in 600 years,’” the Ranch deeded its groundwater to the city, reserving water for domestic use, ranching operations, oil and gas production, and agricultural irrigation, by one or two wells in each of 16 specified areas. In 2012, the city announced plans to increase water-extraction efforts on the Ranch, drilling as many as 20 test wells in the middle of the Ranch, followed by 60 wells across the Ranch. The Ranch objected that the proposed drilling would increase erosion and injure the surface unnecessarily. The court of appeal dissolved a temporary injunction entered in favor of the Ranch. The Supreme Court of Texas remanded, agreeing that an injunction “so broad as to enjoin a defendant from activities which are a lawful and proper exercise of his rights” was an abuse of discretion. The court cited the accommodation doctrine as applicable to a interests in groundwater: a lessee has an implied right to use the land as necessary for production and removal of the resource, with due regard for the landowner’s rights. View "Coyote Lake Ranch, LLC v. City of Lubbock" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs in this case were more than 400 residents and homeowners in the upper White Oak Bayou watershed in Harris County. From 1998 to 2002, most of Plaintiffs’ homes were inundated in three successive floods. Plaintiffs filed an inverse condemnation suit against several government entities, arguing that Defendants knew that harm was substantially certain to result to Plaintiffs’ homes when Defendants approved private development in the White Oak Bayou watershed without mitigating its consequences. Defendants responded with a combined plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment, contending that no genuine issue of material fact had been raised on the elements of the takings claim. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the plea to the jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a fact question existed as to each element of Plaintiffs’ takings claim, and therefore, the government entities’ plea to the jurisdiction was properly denied. View "Harris County Flood Control Dist. v. Kerr" on Justia Law

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The City of Dallas sued TCI West End, Inc. for civil penalties under Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code 54.017, as authorized by section 54.012, asserting that TCI violated a city ordinance by demolishing a building located in a historic overlay district. Following a jury verdict in the City’s favor, the trial court awarded the City $750,000 in civil penalties. The court of appeals reversed, concluding (1) sections 54.012 and 54.017 apply only to health and safety ordinances, not general zoning ordinances regulating the use of land; and (2) in the alternative, there was insufficient evidence supporting the jury’s finding that TCI had actual notice of the ordinance provision before demolishing the building. The Supreme Court reversed the portion of the court of appeals’ judgment concluding that Chapter 54 did not authorize the City’s enforcement action against TCI, holding that the court of appeals’ holding was incompatible with the statute’s plain language. View "City of Dallas v. TCI West End, Inc." on Justia Law

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The City of Lorena approved a subdivision plat. The City, however, subsequently enforced a moratorium against the property, citing the municipality's additional sewage system capacity requirements. The landowner sued for a declaratory judgment that the moratorium did not apply against its approved development and for damages, alleging a regulatory taking under an inverse condemnation claim. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the moratorium could not apply to the property because the property had been approved for development before the moratorium took effect. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the moratorium did not apply to the property because the City approved the property for subdivision before it enacted the moratorium; and (2) in regards to the inverse condemnation claim, the trial court needed to resolve factual disputes before the merits of the takings claim could be judicially addressed. Remanded.View "City of Lorena v. BMTP Holdings, LP" on Justia Law

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This case involved an inverse-condemnation dispute over ten acres. At issue was who had title to the parcel: the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the City of Edinburg (City), or API Pipe Supply and Paisano Service Company (collectively, API). In 2003, the trial court awarded the City a "fee title" to the property subject to a drainage easement granted to TxDOT. In 2004, the trial court entered a judgment purporting to render the 2003 judgment null and void. API claimed the judgment gave API fee-simple ownership, subject to a drainage easement granted to the City, and, via subsequent conveyance, to TxDOT. In 2005, TxDOT began its drainage project. API, relying on the 2004 judgment, brought a takings claim for the value of the removed soil. The trial court held in favor of API, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the suit, holding (1) the 2004 judgment was void and therefore could not supersede the valid 2003 judgment; (2) API was statutorily ineligible for "innocent purchaser" status, and equitable estoppel was inapplicable against the government in this case; and (3) because API held no interest in the land, API's takings claim failed. View "Dep't of Transp. v. A.P.I. Pipe & Supply, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute over the fair market value of acreage on which a gas processing facility was located. At issue was whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting an expert's testimony that allegedly violated the value-to-the-taker rule, which prohibits measuring land's value by its unique value to a condemnor in determining a landowner's compensation. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the expert's testimony violated the rule because it impermissibly focused on the condemnor's interest in retaining the property and was therefore inadmissible. Remanded. View "Enbridge Pipelines L.P. v. Avinger Timber, LLC" on Justia Law

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The City notified a building owner that her property was in disrepair and that, unless she repaired it, the City might demolish it. After the owner failed to remedy the problem, the City declared the property a public nuisance and condemned it. Rather than appeal the nuisance determination, the property owner asserted a takings claim after the demolition. The City field an immunity-based plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court granted. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that the administrative-level decision to demolish the owner's property did not preclude her from seeking a de novo review of that decision in a constitutional suit. The Supreme Court reversed in part and rendered judgment dismissing the owner's claims, holding that because the owner never appealed her nuisance determination, her takings claims were barred, and the trial court correctly dismissed them. View "City of Beaumont v. Como" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to article V, section 3-c of the Texas Constitution and Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 58.1, the court accepted the petition from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to answer three certified questions. The central issue in this case was one of first impression: whether private beachfront properties on Galveston Island's West Beach were impressed with a right of public use under Texas law without proof of an easement. The court concluded that land patents from the Republic of Texas in 1840, affirmed by legislation in the New State of Texas a few years later, conveyed the State's title in West Galveston Island to private parties and reserved no ownership interests or rights to public use in Galveston's West Beach. Texas law had not otherwise recognized such an inherent limitation on property rights along the West Beach. Accordingly, there were no inherent limitations on title or continuous rights in the public since time immemorial that served as a basis for engrafting public easements for use of private West Beach property. Although existing public easements in the dry beach of Galveston's West Beach were dynamic, these easements did not spring or roll landward to encumber other parts of the parcel or new parcels as a result of avulsive events. New public easements on the adjoining private properties could be established if proven pursuant to the Open Beaches Act, Tex. Nat. Res. Code 61.001(8) or the common law. View "Severance v. Patterson, et al." on Justia Law