Zachary Property Owners Remain Uncompensated

September 28, 2010

At heart of the Floodway issue in Zachary, Louisiana is the compensation owed to the property owners for the devaluation of property caused by the rezoning of property to floodways. The Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights states:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation


Though the government does have the right to expropriate land from individuals, those property owners must be compensated. What FEMA has found is a loophole that gives FEMA control over the land without actually owning the land. Since FEMA is not responsible for the zoning of land, they must be given control of the land by local officials. Because city officials rezoned property as floodway zones, those property owners must be compensated by the city.

While floodways may sound like they are in the best interest of the city, floodways ultimately devalue the property that are inside floodways as well as property just outside of floodways. We have continued to do research and have found two stories that we believe that should be and ought to be of interest to property owners in Zachary and other cities throughout Louisiana. Both of these stories help explain what happens to property when floodways are expanded.

The first story is from Near Northwest Houston in which property owners found out later that their property had been rezoned into floodways. This news article will help you understand what is happening in Zachary, but one paragraph stands out.

Little White Oak Bayou also flows through Little York Annex, west of Independence Heights. Carol Kleiber’s home and several parcels of land she owns are also in the floodway. Her home was built in the 1920s on seven acres near the bayou. She owns a nearby mobile home park in the floodway. Ms. Kleiber says she will not be able to build on this land or add mobile homes because of the floodway restrictions. “This affects my home and business as well,” she says. She points out that a home in the neighborhood burned and all that is left is a slab. Nothing can be done with this property because it is in a floodway. She explains that an auction of the property was canceled when it was learned it was in a floodway. “Now the vacant land with a slab just sits there,” she says, “and there is no way to build anything on it.”

The Houston Chronicle also reported on the subject and most notably is the property value lost:

In the spring of this year, Houston property appraiser Floyd E. Sumrall Jr. performed two appraisals of the same vacant lot in northwest Houston and submitted two dramatically different reports of its estimated value.

Appraisal 1, April 12: $131,000. Appraisal 2, May 10: $8,300.

The reason for the change was simple: After the first appraisal, Sumrall learned from his client, Bruce Norcini, that the property was in the White Oak Bayou floodway, and a new city ordinance prohibited construction on vacant land in floodways. The property was useless for development.

In a 40 day period, the same piece of property lost $122,700 in value simply because it was in a floodway. That’s a 93% decrease in value. Clearly the property owner is losing value and, according to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, should be properly compensated. To often, however, the property owner is unaware of such changes and are never compensated for their loss caused.

We have received many emails and comments, many which suggest that we are working for a candidate. We are not working for any of the candidates. We believe that many of our readers will be very grateful for calling this to their attention and will become loyal readers for a very long time. That is our goal, to bring people the truth.

To back up our assertion, we are going to provide you with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s opinion stating the same and released on May 24, 2010. Opinion #09-0274.

#09-0274

La. Const. art. 1 ยง 4 states that property shall not be taken or damaged by the state or its political subdivisions except for public purposes and with just compensation paid to the owner for his benefit. This compensation is required upon a judicial determination that the property has been taken or damaged in a constitutional sense. Since these flood map updates inadvertently decreased the value of the property at issue, a developer may bring an inverse condemnation action against any responsible party. This action must be brought in a court of law asserting all facts that indicate a constitutional taking did in fact occur.

Click the following link to download A.G. Caldwell’s opinion: AG_Caldwell_Zachary_Opinion.

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