A Galveston homeowners group is gearing up to sue the city for records it claims could stop the rezoning of a west island property.
The Laffite’s Cove Property Owners Association, with the backing of the Pirates Property Owners Association, is prepared to spend up to $25,000 on the lawsuit, which association leaders hope yields maps showing the history of the property’s zoning.
The property, 13718 Stewart Road, is in the process of being rezoned from residential to “resort/recreational.” The effort has caused outrage among some nearby homeowners in Laffite’s Cove and Pirates Cove, who say a zoning change could lower property values in the area.
The land’s owner, John W. Hamilton, has the property up for sale, and a contract is pending.
“It opens up just a can of worms of all kinds,” said Jed Goodall, president of the Laffite’s Cove Property Owners Association.
“You could have a biker bar, you could have a nightclub. If that were to happen, it would just absolutely kill the property values in Laffite’s Cove or Pirates Cove.”
Homeowners had previously expressed distaste at the idea of an RV park in the area. Realtor V.J. Tramonte, who is representing the owner in the sale, said he was never approached about an RV park and that he couldn’t disclose the name of the potential buyer.
Officials with the city planning commission, which has to preliminarily approve the zoning change before it is finalized by the city council, have said the property never should have been residential in the first place.
When the city overhauled the island’s zoning in 2015, the Stewart Road property was accidentally changed from commercial to residential, planning commission Chairman Bruce Reinhart said.
The homeowners association doesn’t buy it. Open records requests have yielded a map from 1991, stamped with the city of Galveston seal, showing the 13718 Stewart Road property was zoned as “neighborhood services” on the bottom strip of land, with the rest zoned as “single-family residential.”
Janice Norman, planning manager for the city of Galveston, said in an email to Tramonte that she reviewed a former zoning map and does not believe it was ever commercially zoned.
“After reviewing the map and looking at the details this was not rezoned in error,” Norman said in a Jan. 9 email to Tramonte. “This was always a residential zoning district except the bottom part of the lot and it was Neighborhood Services, which is not commercial.”
Norman did not respond to a request for comment. Tramonte declined to comment on the rezoning issue.
Marc Hill, a Laffite’s Cove resident and attorney who was hired by the neighborhood homeowners association, said he now intends to file a lawsuit asking a judge to order the city to hand over appropriate documents showing the zoning history of the area.
“I believe if everything comes to light, I believe the planning commission and city council will do the right thing,” Hill said.
Hamilton, who declined to comment, has previously said the land should be rezoned because the area to the west of his property is “resort/recreational.” The 1991 record also contradicts that, Hill said.
Reinhart, the planning commission chairman, declined to comment. “This is just getting so out of hand,” he said.
Those in the area have also been putting pressure on their councilwoman, Carolyn Sunseri. Sunseri, of District 6, had previously said she supported Hamilton’s desire to change the zoning, but now she said if the land truly was residential, then it should stay that way.
“Evidently there is information out there that we have not seen,” she said. “We’re just trying to gather everything to give clear information to the planning commission so they can make a decision.”