Floods displace townhouse residents


By Christine Bolaños

Two Liberty Hill families remain displaced after their units at Liberty Trails Townhome Apartments were flooded last weekend.

One family is wondering when they can return home while the other may soon be looking for a new place to call home.

“There were seven units total that flooded, but two of them flooded really bad,” said resident Starla Holder, who occupied one of those two units.

Holder has not gotten a break after her unit flooded on Oct. 24 and then again on Oct. 30. She said management at the apartment complex told her they expected to address issues swiftly, but then the area was once again hit by severe weather.

The first time, Holder and her husband woke on a Saturday morning to find their townhome about two-and-half-feet deep in water. When they called maintenance they discovered a worker had been at the complex since 5:30 that morning.

“No matter what he was trying to do it was like someone had a faucet on,” Holder said.

A carpet cleaning company arrived later in the day to start sucking out water, but the water kept flowing in.

“He couldn’t even keep up with it and told us he’d just leave it until Sunday when the rain was supposed to stop,” Holder recalled.

Next came the dehumidifiers and blowers to dry out the place. That caused a mixture of sheet rock and dust in the air making it next to impossible to stay in the unit.

Holder said she and her husband tried to get the apartment complex to cover the cost of storage to prevent further damage to their personal belongings. She said they had to call several storage unit companies before finding one that actually had a vacancy.

The situation was not getting any better and the apartment complex ended up putting the couple in a nearby hotel.

They spent a couple of nights at the hotel and whatever free time they had from work and driving back and forth from Liberty Hill and Cedar Park they would stop by Liberty Trails to check on progress.

“The corporate office wasn’t going to clean anything until they had the water problem solved,” Holder shared.

The couple spent a night at the unit but had difficulty breathing and were once again sent to a hotel.

Then things got really bad. It rained again the following Friday, Oct. 30. They got some antique furniture and other personal items out of the unit, but Holder said she is still waiting to get reimbursed by the apartment complex.

She said not having a home means having to buy food three times a day. A quickly escalating cost. So she talked to the apartment complex about getting reimbursed for that. She said she got a gift card from them last week.

Meanwhile, she is still at a hotel. Worst of all, her dog is stuck outside in the garage at the apartment complex because Holder does not want to keep her pet in a hotel room all day long.

“I guess everybody’s tempers are getting to the end because it’s getting so stressful,” Holder said. “We’ve stayed 15 days at a hotel already.”

Liberty Trails expected the couple to pay rent for the month, but Holder said they refused as they are not even staying there right now. They asked the apartment complex for the number to the corporate offices to try to find a solution but said employees there would not release the contact information to them.

Liberty Hill Water provided the number to them and upon speaking directly to corporate offices they were able to take care of the situation.

“They said they would take care of the rent for the month,” Holder said.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Liberty Hill city officials said the apartment complex is not situated on a 100-year flood plain.

Frank LoTurco, vice president at Picerne Real Estate Group, which developed the complex, echoed the comments and said the weather was the true culprit.

“We weren’t the only ones that had some issues when it came to some apartments that got some water in them,” LoTurco said.

Out of some 100 units, only two were severely affected by the floods, he pointed out.

“We did do our best with our residents that were affected,” LoTurco said. “We initially put them up in a hotel for the time being until we could get in there and extracted any water in the apartments and dried out the apartments. All the while, we put them in a hotel where they were at least dry and out of the issue areas.”

He said the affected residents received gift cards for food and other items they may need during their hotel stay.

“Not to mention we obviously jumped right in there and started to rectify the issue of water getting into apartment homes,” he noted. “Till this day we’re still doing that. We’ve been working diligently.”

While it may not immediately be visible to an observer he reported there has been progress.

“From an exterior standpoint we have done a lot as well to make sure this doesn’t happen any longer,” LoTorco said.

“We’ve added more gutters, more drainage pipes, we ensured that by pouring concrete and creating more swell and water runoffs, that water doesn’t get into apartments.”

He said the company also cleaned storm drains.

“We feel pretty confident we’ve resolved any issues and any further issues from happening,” he said. “I can’t say that for sure, but I certainly feel like we’ve done quite a bit to rectify the situation.”

It’s important for the displaced residents to be as comfortable as possible, he said.

“We rented a U-Haul so they can get stuff out of their first floor unit,” he added.

He stressed that for safety reasons the company doesn’t want residents moving back in until work has been completed.

For their part, city officials believe the developer and engineer should quickly rectify the situation, but said the apartment complex met building requirements in that it was not built on a 100-year flood plain.

“It looks like the owner and their engineer probably should have done a better job at looking at what the elevation needed to be there,” City Manager Greg Boatright said.

He said Williamson County administers flood plains and the city approves plans that have the seal of approval from the appropriate engineer.

“If it’s not located in the 100-year flood plain we depend on the developer and their engineer because it’s their project,” Boatright explained. “We depend on their drawings to make sure everything they’re proposing to do on the site is safe and will handle the amount of water they’re producing on their piece of property and the inflow off-site onto the property.”

Naturally, the city would not have approved the apartment complex for building had it been in the flood plain.

“I’m assuming in this particular case the engineer of record that designed the site designed to it where he felt like he had proper elevation on his building pads to where it was not in danger of taking on water,” Boatright said.

However, he said, the apartment complex experienced flooding shortly after it opened in the summer. While he acknowledged the heavy rains, he said a commercial developer who has probably built hundreds of apartment complexes should be prepared for this type of issue.

“You wouldn’t expect that to be an issue, but it is,” he said. “It’s not the city’s role to try and correct the problem. It’s up to the developer. We’ll play whatever role we need to do in reviewing revised plans to be privy to trying to correct the situation.”

But future plans don’t fix the situation Brian Reefe finds himself in. He, along with his pregnant girlfriend, are the residents from the other unit. They are considering moving.

“The first time it happened they said they would come out and fix it and then it rained again,” Reefe said. “The excuse was there was not enough time to fix it. This time nothing changed and it flooded again.”

He estimates his family has been staying at a hotel for about 10 days now.

He said it has been especially rough on his girlfriend who is months away from labor.

“Not being able to be where she feels comfortable,” he said. “We worry about switching hotels and everything that’s going on — if it’s going to affect the baby.”

To make matters worse, he already paid rent for the month because he did not want to be penalized with a $100 late fee. Now, he is having trouble getting reimbursement.

He said his family didn’t receive a gift card for food until the other affected couple complained to apartment officials. He had to pay for storage out of his pocket.

“I think they should be more considerate of what we’re going through even though they’re not responsible,” Reefe said. “They may not know what’s going on but they could have done some things to make us feel more comfortable — mainly sticking to their word.

“If they say something is going to happen on a certain day, especially when we’re assured things are going to get done as soon as possible and we’re still waiting,” he said.