Subdivision Mistake To Cost Taxpayers Millions

A big mistake will cost Smith County taxpayers millions of dollars.

An entire subdivision, with 70 lots and more than two dozen homes, is in the path of the future Loop 49. So, those homes will have to be demolished and the residents will have to move.

They're located in the West Oaks subdivision, just west of CR 1147, between Hwy 64 and FM 724.

The land was once open pastures, owned by a local surveyor, Dennis Walker. Last year, it became West Oaks subdivision and some two dozen homes were built there -- homes that will have to be destroyed and residents who will have to move to make way for Loop 49.

"I feel like somebody had to know," Horace Dean, one tenant, said. "You know, how can a loop being started on the other side of town and it's coming this way, and y'all letting people build new houses and letting people, you know, move in them?"

That's the question County Judge Becky Dempsey wants answered. How could 70 lots of land be overlooked? The Sheriff's Department is trying to figure it out.

"I'd like to know all the facts surrounding how that plat came to us without it being routed through TXDOT, without it being routed through the city of Tyler," Dempsey said.

She says the county engineer broke procedure.

Walker submitted his plat, or subdivision blueprint, to the county engineer, who was then supposed to check with TXDOT to make sure there weren't any plans to build a highway there. But instead, the engineer went directly to Commissioners Court to get approval for the plat. The plat was approved. And that's how this fiasco began.

"The information I've received from TXDOT shows that Mr.Walker participated in a public hearing, where he indicated that he was in favor of the proposed route," Dempsey said. "That proposed route goes right through the land that he owns."

The Sheriff's Department is trying to see if there is any evidence to file criminal charges against Walker.

Walker declined to appear on camera, but denies any wrongdoing. He says his lawyers will prepare a formal statement later this week.

"It made me angry," Rasheena Lacy, another tenant, said. "But they say they'll compensate us, but that's not enough for having to relocate."

Taxpayers will pay even more. What would have been more than $300,000 has now skyrocketed to more than $4 million.

In addition to the homes already occupied in West Oaks, there are a few new homes still under construction. They will also have to be demolished.

Julie Tam, reporting.