Texas developer ignores multiple violations and builds dozens of homes without a single permit

ByMiya Shay KTRK logo
Sunday, April 7, 2024
Houston developer ignores multiple violations and continues building dozens of homes without permits
Residents in Shepherd Forest can't figure out how one developer has managed to continue construction on a large commercial site without any permits.

HOUSTON, Texas -- In a city where putting a new roof on a house or remodeling after a flood would require a homeowner to pull a permit, residents in Shepherd Forest, Texas can't figure out how one developer has managed to continue construction on a large commercial site without having any permits.

"We have been fighting the developer on this project for over two years with no warning," Sherry Evanicky, one of many long-time homeowners in the Shepherd Forest neighborhood, said.

Our Houston sister station ABC13's SkyDrone13 captured extensive work that has been done on the property. There are several visible concrete slabs and mounds of dirt that stand well above 10 feet tall.

Yet, outside the pine fencing is layer upon layer of red tag notices from the City of Houston.

According to City of Houston records obtained by ABC13, developer Scott Lichtenberg has been working on this project since 2022. At times, plans have called for 70 townhomes, or apartment units that could house hundreds of families. But, with no plans approved, nobody knows exactly what will be built. At one point, plans show it was supposed to be called "Marigny Heights."

"We've been fighting with the city, and yet he still has not yet ever been approved for a permit, and yet he has poured concrete and brought in dirt," Evanicky said.

Municipal court records obtained by ABC13 show that Lichtenberg's been fined several times. Citations have been written up for no permitting for the concrete slabs and no TCEQ permit from the State of Texas, among many other violations.

At one point, there was even an arrest warrant. However, each violation is a Class C misdemeanor, which has very little teeth, the equivalent of a parking ticket.

"It's very frustrating for all of us," Delinda Holland, another long-time resident, said. "We're not trying to stop development, but they have to be responsible and follow the law the city has on these things."

Holland says the Shepherd Forest Civic Club has asked for a reasonable resolution, requesting the developer to not build without proper permits. They say they have been ignored at every turn.

Being a civic club and not a homeowners' association, the neighbors say they don't have the funds to hire an attorney to file suit.

ABC13 went looking for Lichtenberg at his home, which is also listed as his business address. Nobody was home.

However, Lichtenberg did reply to a text message. When we told him we were asking about the Shepherd Forest development, he sent back a terse reply:

"I don't talk to the fake news. Thanks."

City Council Member Abbie Kamin, Houston Public Works, and The City of Houston Legal Department are all aware of the issue. Records reviewed by ABC13 show the city is monitoring and engaged in the situation.

However, neighbors say they don't understand why the city has not filed a lawsuit in civil court, which would have more teeth than the red tag citations.

"Makes me very sad for our residents and the people who are going to live here," Patricia Williams, a former president of the Civic Club, said. "If you don't have permits, how do you know it's going to be done properly?"

Court records show Lichtenberg is scheduled for a trial date in May. It's unclear whether he will show up for court. Records show he did not appear in court for his last summons in January.

Council Member Abbie Kamin, who represents the area of concern, issued the following statement:

"Council Member Kamin has been working with residents and city department's, hoping to bring a heavier arm of enforcement down-even bringing departments on site. Thats when ticketing and red tags picked up. Since then Council Member Kamin has pushed for a court proceeding which is still playing out. In the meantime, she remains concerned that a developer could so egregiously disregard city rules and permit regulations, including protections for nearby residents against flooding.

She appreciates all that departments are doing to explore what options or tools the city may have. After publicly raising the issue multiple times at council, she asked if demolishing the site would be legally permissible, similar to how some nuisance properties are addressed (though that too can be a very lengthy process involving the courts)."

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