Property owners’ claims not ripe because they failed to remedy deficiencies in plat application says Fourteenth Court of Appeals.

Riner v. The City of Hunters Creek, 14-12-00339-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] June 20, 2013).

This is a denial of a replat application where the court held the property owners did not pursue all avenues to remedy any deficiencies, so the claims were not ripe for consideration by the court.

The Riners own a home on a large lot in the City of Hunters Creek Village which they wished to subdivide into three lots. City’s planning and zoning commission denied the preliminary plat application but the Riners did not appeal to the Board of Adjustment, seek a variance, or try to remedy. Instead they filed this suit. They claimed the Commission disapproved the plat primarily because the Commission misconstrued an ordinance specifying the minimum lot size of residential properties and erroneously excluded the area beneath a public-street easement. The City filed special exceptions but the Riners did not amend their pleading even though ordered by the court. The trial court dismissed their claims and the Riners appealed.

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals first held that the “special exception” was for failure to alleged jurisdictional facts and was therefore, in reality, a plea to the jurisdiction. The Riners’ pleadings focused on the “primary” reason for the plat denial even though the Commission listed 14 reasons.  The Commission is statutorily entitled to insist on compliance—and not simply “substantial compliance”—with “technicalities.” Because the Commission disapproved a plat that admittedly did not satisfy technical requirements, the question of whether the Commission also misconstrued the ordinance concerning lot size cannot be shown to be “essential to the decision of an actual controversy” (a ripeness requirement). The court noted that at least two of the fourteen examples were legitimate reasons to deny the plat so the court need not address all fourteen (one of which is the alleged misinterpretation of lot size). Riners could have isolated the “essential question” of lot size by remedying the remaining deficiencies and reapplying to the Commission, but they did not do so. Because the Riners did not seek a variance or attempt to remedy the deficiencies, their claims are not yet ripe for consideration. They also did not submit any appeal to the Board of Adjustment. The evidence on file (mainly several well phrased letters from the Commission’s attorney) also indicated that the attempt to remedy the deficiencies would not be futile. The way the City handled this controversy can be instructive and helpful to other cities.

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