SW Houston townhome residents concerned over lack of fire hydrants

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - White signs with red and black letters warn residents of a new southwest Houston neighborhood they are entering an area considered a fire hazard.

The signs were posted by the city Fire Marshal's Office in response to complaints about a lack of hydrants in the gated Contemporary Main Plaza subdivision off South Main Street, not far from the 610 loop.

"This is a life, safety issue," said resident Mia Hinojosa. "There's families that live here, there's kids, there's animals."

Residents told Local 2 Investigates they have been asking the builder, Contemporary Garden Homes, since March when more fire hydrants would be installed inside the neighborhood, but received only "vague answers."

"There were clearly a number of balls dropped, without speculating, there's supposed to be code enforcement," said resident Jimmy Friday.

When residents voiced their concerns to city officials the Fire Marshal's Office, District K council member Larry Green and Public Works and Engineering employees became involved in the situation. An email sent by a Public Works employee on April 24 regarding this issue stated, "Many of the homes have owners occupying the residences, however, in a fire event there is not sufficient water supply on the site to fight a fire, leaving the residents in an unsafe condition."

Chief Richard Galvan told Local 2 it was determined the neighborhood did not have enough fire hydrants to meet city code. Galvan said his office posted the fire hazard signs and put in place a "stop work order" regarding homes in the subdivision that are still under construction. Galvan told Local 2 the builder submitted plans for the subdivision showing hydrants would be installed on the property, but those hydrants were not installed.

President of Contemporary Garden Homes, Bill Gray, disputes the city's assertion that hydrants are required inside the neighborhood or that he ever submitted plans indicating hydrants would be installed. Gray told Local 2 he believes a hydrant located outside the subdivision's entrance and another located on an adjacent, separate property near the back of the neighborhood meets the city's code regarding fire protection for the neighborhood.

Gray declined Local 2's request for an on-camera interview but did send us a copy of a letter he said he was sending to Mayor Annise Parker regarding this issue. In the letter, Gray writes plans for the subdivision never indicated fire hydrants would be installed in the community and argues city inspectors never indicated hydrants would be required when the plans were approved.

"The plan was reviewed and approved by Code Enforcement in 2007," Gray writes in his letter to Mayor Parker. "The site utilities and paving were installed in the 2007-2008 time frame and the installation was inspected and approved by code enforcement. Regarding fire hydrants, where was the Fire department when the plan and utility installation were approved? Now, six years later, the Fire Marshall (sic) and Code Enforcement swoop in and shut down a going concern business and act like we are the bad guys. They are punishing us for something that they never said we had to do until now."

Galvan and officials with the Public Works Departments argue it is Gray's responsibility to know city code. Galvan noted the fire hydrant near the entrance of the subdivision only covers part of the community. Galvan also said the hydrant located on the adjacent property is not adequate because it is on a separate piece of property and reaching this hydrant would require firefighters to drive to the back of industrial complex.

Galvan told Local 2 the "stop work order" would be lifted when the builder submits plans and a timetable to the city as to when the hydrants will be installed. Gray argued he has submitted those plans but the city is dragging its feet on approval. Galvan said the plans submitted by Gray were not "quality plans."

Galvan said he, along with members of Councilman Green's office and the city Planning Department are scheduled to meet with Gray and his engineer again on Thursday to go over plans for the installation of the hydrants and a timetable for that installation.

Galvan said he has issued three citations to Gray's company for violations of the "stop work order." Gray said the citations were the result of a miscommunication regarding the delivery of sheet rock and work on a wrought-iron fence that was scheduled prior to the Fire Marshal's order.

"This should have been done the right way in the first place," said Hinojosa.

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