CORYELL COUNTY — Steve Burke, Orville Maaninga and most of their neighbors in Sun Set Estates north of Copperas Cove say they are sick and tired of living on a stretch of bad road.
The neighbors have had a bumpy ride in recent years trying to find someone — first the land developer then the county government — to fix about 1.5 miles of broken pavement on Kenney Drive and Nathan Street in the subdivision.
Their efforts met with no success until last week, when the Coryell County Commissioner’s Court and County Attorney Brandon Belt offered Maaninga, Burke and their neighbors a convoluted solution to the problem.
Belt said the Sun Set Estates neighbors can call a public meeting and circulate a petition for the creation of a road district, which will be placed as a referendum on the general election ballot in November.
If the neighborhood goes to the polls and voters approve creation of Road District 1, the district could borrow money to repair the streets to county standards at an estimated cost of $50,000.
The road district, whose governing board would be the commissioners’ court, would use the borrowed money to have the paving done by the county road department through an inter-local agreement.
The road district, which is a subdivision of the state and a taxing entity, would levy a property tax on the neighborhood to raise revenue to retire the debt.
Once the roads are up to standards and the loan is paid off, according to the plan, the road district would be dissolved and the county would assume maintenance of Kenney Drive and Nathan Street as county roads.
“We’re thrilled,” Burke told the commissioners.
A road with age
When Burke moved into his new house on Kenney Drive 10 years ago, the street was “nice, drivable, paved,” he said.
Developer Melvin Hempel had touted “paved roads” on the sign at the subdivision entrance on Farm-to-Market 116.
Burke said he understood the developer was responsible for paving the streets initially, but that the county would eventually take over maintenance.
After three or four years, the substandard asphalt on Kenney Drive and adjoining Nathan Street began to crumble.
The streets became infested with potholes, ugly pock marks that wreaked havoc on shock absorbers, tires and residents’ patience.
When people complained to Hempel, Burke said, the developer responded by patching some of the potholes.
“They throw a shovelful of asphalt in the hole and roll over it with a truck tire,” Maaninga said.
The patchwork was not a permanent fix and left the road surface rougher than ever, he said.
In July, Hempel pleaded no contest to a charge of violating subdivision regulations and paid a $700 fine plus court costs, Belt said.
Hempel has since deeded his land in the subdivision to his son, Donald Hempel, according to the county attorney.
When Sun Set Estates residents first asked Coryell County to fix the streets, Burke said the commissioners “turned their backs on us.”
The streets were rejected, the neighbors were told, because the paving did not meet county road standards.
When Burke moved to Sun Set Estates, he said, it was his first time to live outside a city.
He found it hard to understand why nobody seemed to be responsible for road upkeep.
“How do we fix the road?” Burke said. “There has to be some fiduciary responsibility somewhere.”
In 2012, “we started to come together as a neighborhood” to address the problem, he said.
They considered asking everyone to chip in to bring the roads up to county standards, but that was too expensive and not everyone wanted to pay.
The commissioners suggested they form a homeowners association, but many neighbors found that idea unappealing.
Burke, a retired sergeant major with friends at Fort Hood, flirted with the idea of offering the streets as a venue for a road-building training exercise for an Army engineering unit. No go.
Maaninga will host a neighborhood meeting at his home at 810 Kenney Drive at 5:30 p.m. May 6 to discuss the road district proposal.
“This is a first step,” Maaninga said. “We still have to patch the holes while we are waiting.”
Maaninga and Burke said they and their neighbors are not happy that, despite paying county taxes for road maintenance, they must create a road district with more taxes before the work gets done.
The “selling point” of the road district plan, Burke said, is that the roads will be fixed and the cost will be shared by all landowners in the subdivision, including the Hempels.
“There is a solution at the end of the tunnel,” Burke said. “Is it perfect? No. But all parties involved will be part of the solution, including the person responsible for the problem.”
Melvin Hempel could not be reached for comment.
Interviewed by telephone Friday, Donald Hempel said he has no involvement with the development of Sun Set Estates. “I live there, but that’s it.”
Asked about the proposed road district, he said he was not aware of it.
When told of the May 6 public meeting, Donald Hempel said he might attend.