Residents of Lubbock’s Colonial Heights neighborhood came to EverythingLubbock.com after months of unsuccessfully trying to set up meetings with public officials. They said their neighborhood’s disrepair the last few years has made Colonial Heights an unhealthy and unpleasant place to live.
Colonial Heights is in East Lubbock County, right off of FM40 and just blocks from the city limits. But the fact that it sits in the county means that there are fewer resources and officials to monitor conditions there.
The coalition of residents speaking to EverythingLubbock.com met at Genesis Baptist Fellowship which sits in the heart of that neighborhood. The residents explained that their church property and their own homes have been devalued by the illegal trash dumping, abandoned homes, eight foot tall weeds, roaming pigs and rodents, and rough roads. They said that especially over the last few years as the conditions have declined, they feel less and less safe.
Debbie Anderson has lived in Colonial Heights for 27 years and said that the conditions have changed so dramatically that she no longer lets her grandchildren play in the neighborhood. She’s been advocating for a safer, cleaner neighborhood for three years and is determined to continue.
“It’s important to me because I live in the house my husband grew up in and he’s lived here all his life. I know many of our church members [at Genesis Baptist] are the same way, they’ve lived there all their lives,” Anderson said. “I don’t see why they should uproot and move somewhere else because the county cannot do their job.”
It’s no secret that Anderson is hoping for more help from the county with her neighborhood. She and her neighbors feel there’s too much mess to handle on their own. Anderson has gone to great lengths to document what’s happened in her neighborhood over the last few years, she has photographs of massive swaths of weeds, dilapidated vehicles, abandoned houses, huge piles of dumped trash, piles of dumped tires, dead animals lying in the streets, sewage being pumped into piles of weeds, and trailer homes burning to the ground.
The Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office has one environmental officer and the residents have been dismayed with what they see as the lack of authority that officer has to enforce codes. For example, they explained that homeowners with severe weeds would be granted additional time to go without fines if they made only minor progress in trimming their weeds.
“This is a hazardous area,” said Pat Githens, pastor of Genesis Baptist, ” We’ve got fire danger here, we’ve told the county commissioners this and they do not enforce the ordinances of having people cut their weeds and clean it up. You’ve got health hazards here, you’ve got garbage filled areas, pigs running up there in the garbage filled lot,” explained Pat Githens.
Lubbock County Commissioner Lorenzo “Bubba Sedeno oversees Precinct 3 which includes Colonial Heights. He disagrees with the neighbors, he feels county officials have done all they can in that area.
“There’s neighborhoods like this all over the county, [Colonial Heights] is probably the worst,” Sedeno explained.
Sedeno said that Colonial Heights has been in existence since the late 1950’s and has more than 300 residents.
In April of 2014, Sedeno joined community members like Githens and Anderson for a meeting, discussing the problems in the neighborhood and what the county hoped to do to improve things.
After that meeting, Anderson thinks that not much has changed, she sees the same fire hazards, weeds, abandoned cars, trash, piles of pallets, and roaming animals.
Other neighbors in the area who declined to share their names agreed that the dumping has gotten out of control but they are doubtful they will see the enforcement needed to change conditions there.
Sedeno said that’s because county officials have little power to enforce environmental regulations on private property.
“From the rain we’ve had from the summer time, we got some eight-foot weeds, not just [in Colonial Heights], but all over Lubbock County, and [ county officials] can’t touch them,” Sedeno explained.
If the county finds a violation in a neighborhood, the county environmental officer writes the property owner a letter. If the resident still doesn’t comply, the Justice of the Peace in that area is tasked with finding the resident, Sedeno explained.
“If we had enough money I would like to hire a private contractor and go into those neighborhoods and cut those weeds because it is a fire hazard,” Sedeno added. “But I can’t do it, I can’t do it because we only go so far.”
Sedeno said that in the past, Colonial Heights has been a neglected part of the community, and during his term he’s made it a priority to improve conditions there. He was able to repair some of the roads there which had been preventing children from getting to their school buses.
County resources have been going to Colonial Heights, Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe explained that out of Lubbock County’s $14,000 budget for “clean-up,” approximately three-quarters of that money went to helping Colonial Heights.
“We continued to work, we paved a road there, we got rid of some illegal dumping, we ditched and caliche-ed those roads out there,” Sedeno said.
But even Sedeno admits, there are limits on his ability to help out the neighborhood. He’s been in contact with state representatives to look at changing laws to allow county officials more power to enforce in areas like Colonial Heights.
“Until those laws go into effect that can put some teeth into these kind of problems, [change] ain’t gonna happen,” Sedeno said.
Though Anderson and her neighbors want another meeting with Commissioner Sedeno and Sheriff Rowe, Sedeno said he’s not sure it would help anything.
“If we get another meeting, we’re gonna have that same discussion,” Sedeno said.
He encouraged residents to take initiative to clean up the neighborhood on their own, but Anderson said, she and her church members have already been doing that.
They’ve attended county commissioners meetings, organized cleanups, visited with neighbors, and requested meetings with county officials.
The residents shared their email records with EverythingLubbock.com, showing at least three unanswered attempts to set up meetings with county officials about their neighborhood during 2015.
The neighbors remain concerned that there are no consequences for those who dump trash or create health hazards in their neighborhood. While they wait to speak with county officials, they also plan to contact state officials for help.
“Just if anybody else knows how or who we can contact, we’re at our ropes end, we don’t know what else to do,” Anderson said.