State lawmakers were invited to take part in a tour of the Colony Ridge development in northwest Liberty County on Thursday, in a move to help them understand the truth behind recent headlines that have demonized the community’s residents, local officials and the developer.
In recent weeks, some state and national media have accused Colony Ridge of being a safe haven for illegal immigrants, a lawless community, and a place where even law enforcement fears to tread.
Following the tour, two of the lawmakers who attended – Rep. Christina Morales (D-House District 145) and Rep. Brisco Cain (R-House District 128) – shared their thoughts on the development with both saying the community appears similar to other residential communities they have seen in Texas.
The tour on Thursday coincided with a heavy downpour of rain. Morales said she had been warned prior to her visit about flooding problems in Colony Ridge, but she didn’t find any reason for concern. She also likened the homes in Colony Ridge to those she sees in Houston and other parts of Harris County.
“It seems like a normal neighborhood,” said Morales. When asked by reporters if she found anything about the development that should be addressed in a third Special Session that begins next week in Austin, she replied, “I do not believe that this is anything that we need to be alarmed about or using up taxpayer dollars to talk about in a special session.”
Rep. Cain said the development was “better than what I was expecting” and said that media reports decrying the development “were not showing the full picture.”
“From what we have seen, it looks a lot like places you might see in East Texas or my family’s place in Louisiana,” he said.
Cain told reporters that he wants to see crime statistics for the community before passing judgment and said that other state lawmakers who are being critical of the development should come see it themselves.
When asked why the development has so many people up in arms against it, Cain said, “Twitter makes people angry.”
One state representative who was notably absent from the tour was Rep. Steve Toth (R-House District 15), who canceled at the last minute, according to Colony Ridge representatives. On the evening before the tour, Toth, Rep. Brian Harrison (R-House District 10), Rep. Nate Schatzline (R-District 93) and Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-District 94) penned a joint letter to Governor Abbott requesting that Liberty County and Colony Ridge be placed in a state conservatorship.
In the letter, they wrote, “New information is coming to light daily and suggests that Liberty County’s Commissioners Court may have failed to protect their citizens by supporting the Colony Ridge developments. By establishing a conservatorship, the State could coordinate law enforcement operations and county restrictions to clean up and clean out Colony Ridge.”
The notion that Liberty County Commissioners Court is at fault in some way frustrates County Judge Jay Knight, who has called for a special commissioners court meeting on Tuesday where commissioners and County Attorney Matthew Poston will meet in executive session regarding the conservatorship request.
“Much like the way the Texas Education Agency takes over school districts with problems, this would allow the state to take over the county. I believe this request for a conservatorship is the result of some extremely right wing Republican groups who are upset with the federal border policies and are reacting unfairly toward Liberty County,” Knight said. “It’s a presidential election year and all of the folks who signed that letter are up for reelection.”
Knight said he was never contacted by any of the four legislators who signed the letter and is doubtful they even visited the community before making their assessments.
“I would bet money that they haven’t been to Liberty County, nor has my congressman spoken to me about any of this,” Knight said, referring to U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, who earlier this week led the Texas House Republican delegation in a letter to Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton regarding Colony Ridge.
In that letter, Babin said, “My Texas colleagues and I are incredibly concerned with the reports we’re seeing about Colony Ridge. This appears to be a symptom of our nation’s failure to secure our borders. We believe the state should thoroughly investigate the issue and will continue seeking legislative solutions to address illegal immigration and prevent future situations like Colony Ridge.”
The letter also cites some of the same new sources that incorrectly attributed crimes to Colony Ridge that originated in Houston or in neighboring communities and counties.
Several years ago, Judge Knight, the late State Rep. John Otto, Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur and County Court at Law Judge Wes Hinch (who was county attorney at the time) went to Austin to ask that state laws, particularly Local Government Code Section 232, be amended to allow counties to pump the brakes on developments, particularly large ones that would strain the resources of the county, municipalities and school districts.
See video from the appearance in Austin here:
“The concern was that it would inundate the schools, resources and infrastructure. John Otto talked explicitly about it and nothing was done,” Knight said. “Now they are suddenly concerned. It’s definitely an election year.”
In the last presidential election, Liberty County was a landslide win for President Donald Trump, who claimed 80 percent of all votes cast. Knight said that Republican office holders in state and federal seats who are attacking Liberty County now risk disenfranchising the 3,000 or so registered voters who live in Colony Ridge.
“There is a lot at risk here. You could potentially turn a red state into a blue state by alienating voters,” he said.
Being in the crosshairs of angry politicians and residents regarding the Colony Ridge community is nothing new for Knight. Years ago, while the development was well underway, he received a package in the mail containing chicken feet with some type of voodoo or witchcraft curse. The message that accompanied the chicken feet said, “You know what you did, you know who you are.”
Knight says he has a pretty good idea who sent the curse and believes it is someone who has been very vocally opposed to the development.
Colony Ridge is not the only major housing development taking place in Liberty County at the moment, but it is the only one facing such harsh criticism from state lawmakers. The scope of the massive development, which has an estimated population of 40,000 people, is partly to blame.
As it has been widely reported, there are many unfinished homes that appear to be under construction by property owners. Dilapidated trailers and homes dot the landscape as well, but the community also has hundreds of brick-and-stick custom homes being built by large homebuilders from the Houston area, which is often overlooked in the more salacious news reports.
Sheriff Bobby Rader, who says he has been falsely quoted with calling the community a “no-go zone,” believes the crime rate is likely no higher in Colony Ridge than in other communities of its size. Not including state troopers, there are roughly 11 full-time law enforcement officers (nearly all of whom are funded by Colony Ridge developers and residents) patrolling and working in the community. By next year, there will be a new county annex in the community where the sheriff’s office and constable’s office can process people who are arrested before transferring them to the county jail in Liberty.
“The population in Colony Ridge is greater than all five of the incorporated cities in Liberty County that have police departments – Liberty, Dayton, Cleveland, Plum Grove and Daisetta. The larger cities each have 15 to 16 full-time patrol officers,” Rader said. “We have fewer deputies patrolling Colony Ridge than any of those larger cities. We don’t have enough deputies, in general, patrolling Liberty County.”