A proposed new development that would bring 92 upscale homes to Crawford has divided the community, cost the mayor her job and spawned a breach of contract lawsuit against the city.
David Cunningham and David Holy of DCDH Development thought they had gone through the proper channels for their new subdivision just northwest of Crawford on Prairie Chapel Road. Crews spent a week in mid-March cutting in roads and clearing land for lots.
That was when a horde of Crawford residents who previously had not been following City Council meetings and were unaware of the development woke up and flooded City Hall and former Crawford Mayor Marilyn Judy with complaints.
Many simply are opposed to change and growth. Some feared the new subdivision would overload the schools, despite a 90-student decrease in enrollment since the district peaked at 635 students in 2003-04. Others were concerned the development would tax the city’s water supply and wastewater infrastructure, although studies indicated otherwise and the developers agreed in March to kick in an additional $250,000 to help support the city water system.
City council members, who annexed the area containing the proposed subdivision in December, have since put approval of the final plat on hold, leaving Cunningham and Holy in limbo, holding a “developers agreement” with the city but wondering if the project will become a reality.
Judy, who taught in Crawford schools 24 years before serving as mayor for three years, supports the subdivision, not only for the needed tax revenues it would bring the city but also to boost attendance and funding at Crawford schools.
Judy attributes her defeat by Franklin Abel, a retired air-conditioning company owner, to the controversy over the development. Another council member who also supported the subdivision did not run for re-election and was replaced by a detractor of the project, further derailing plans for the subdivision.
With no action by the council on the final plat, Cunningham and Holy turned to Waco attorneys Jim Hering and David Deaconson to sue the city, alleging breach of contract and violation of the Texas Local Government Code that requires a municipality to act on a plan within 30 days after it is filed.
The code says a plat is considered approved by the municipal authority unless it is disapproved within that period.
Citing inaction by the council and its insistence that further infrastructure studies be performed since the developer agreement was executed, the developers’ lawsuit, filed May 22, asks 170th State District Judge Jim Meyer to declare the final plat approved.
The lawsuit also asks the judge to order the council to “perform its ministerial duty” to approve the plat and to declare that the plaintiffs have “vested rights” evaluated under the ordinances in effect at the time the final plat was filed and without the burdens of a citywide infrastructure study proposed after it was filed.
Hering, who has served as mayor in neighboring McGregor for 19 years, said he will seek a hearing in the case soon.
“My clients still believe that Crawford is made up of good people and they believe they can do some good for the city by bringing in quality houses that would serve their school district well,” Hering said. “And because it has been annexed, it would also generate significant tax dollars that the city needs. All they are asking is that the city abide by the agreement that DCDH believes they had all along, and that is to develop a subdivision of quality homes. They are ready to do it.”
Crawford City Attorney Charles Buenger did not return phone messages Tuesday, but his associate, Kathleen Dow, said the city is “prepared to vigorously defend the case.” She referred questions about the lawsuit to Buenger. Dow filed a response to the lawsuit last week with a general denial of the allegations.
The city will have to go forward without the financial backing of its insurance carrier, the Texas Municipal League risk pool. In a letter dated June 14, Susie Green, Texas Municipal League associate director of legal services, informed the city that the nature of the lawsuit exempts the risk pool from providing funds for a defense.
Abel, who won election as Crawford mayor in May, did not return phone messages Tuesday.
According to the lawsuit, Holy and Cunningham planned a subdivision with 92 lots, with 53 lots to be developed in the first phase featuring homes with an average price of $350,000. They presented their plans to the city council in June 2018.
The city annexed the property in December with the agreement that the city would provide services to the subdivision in exchange for Holy and Cunningham executing a development agreement that said they would pay for any additional costs of extending services and providing utilities.
With plans appearing to move forward, DCDH paid the city $3.9 million to cover all costs for a construction plan and plat reviews, the lawsuit states.
“As the conversations on the topic of water progressed, the city hired its second engineer, Miles Whitney of Cayote Consulting LLC to perform a study to determine the adequacy of the water supply and whether such supply could service the proposed subdivision,” the suit states. “This is the same study that (previous engineer) Johnny Tabor proposed in August 2018.
“Discussion surrounding the availability of water focused on the city’s surface-water reservoir that, in addition to two city wells, made up the city’s three sources of water. The reservoir had been inactive for several years and city leaders believed that the addition of plaintiff’s subdivision would be a good opportunity to revitalize the reservoir’s capabilities of providing water to the city,” according to the lawsuit.
In March, DCDH and the city executed the developer agreement, which the lawsuit states was approved by Buenger and focuses on the city’s obligation to provide water to the subdivision in exchange for DCDH contributing $250,000 to improve infrastructure in and around the city reservoir east of Crawford.
After the agreement was signed, Judy told Holy and Cunningham they could start construction. A week after they started “turning dirt,” Judy asked them to hold off until the final plat was approved, which she represented to them as “nothing more than a formality,” the suit alleges.
However, at a council meeting called to vote on the final plat, “a significant number of angry citizens” made it clear that they opposed the subdivision.
“The discussion between the citizens and their city council became so heated that at least a dozen citizens had to be escorted out of the meeting by the city’s chief of police,” the lawsuit states.
After the meeting resumed, the engineer reported there was a sufficient water supply to support the subdivision. The developers reminded the council that any concerns regarding water had been addressed in the developer agreement.
The lawsuit contends that subsequent discussion between council members showed a “clear division,” causing a vote to be delayed.
“The more obvious reason for the delay was that those opposing the subdivision were siding with the boisterous citizens in attendance and were hoping that the approaching city election would shift the support, and therefore, shut down the proposed residential development,” the lawsuit contends.
Judy said the subdivision controversy clearly caused her defeat.
“I think the public was misinformed on how this was going to benefit the school and the city and those rumors were spread throughout a closed Facebook group, social media, and people believed what they read on Facebook,” Judy said. “It was a closed account, and I couldn’t even address what was on there.”