Water containers provided by the city of Denton sit in front of homes in Green Tree Estates in December. The City Council heard an update on the situation during a work session Tuesday.

Little progress has been made toward a permanent solution for a Denton neighborhood that lost access to running water in November, city leaders learned Tuesday.

Staff members updated the Denton City Council on efforts to connect part of the Green Tree Estates mobile home neighborhood to the city’s water system. The city declared a public emergency and began delivering water to 14 Green Tree homes in November after a private water well owner cut off service.

Council members, city staff, residents and advocates have met regularly to tackle the issues blocking a permanent solution. As of Tuesday, none of the 14 families completed a courtesy inspection of their home — a key step to making sure no plumbing repairs are needed before their mobile home is connected to a higher-pressure system.

“We are having trouble gaining the necessary level of trust to be helpful to each other,” said council member Paul Meltzer on Tuesday.

City officials and residents got off on the wrong foot when the crisis emerged in October. At the first neighborhood meeting, the city offered resources expecting that Green Tree families would be displaced. Five of the families own the home they live in. In addition, the first meeting was conducted in English. Spanish is the first language for most of the families living there. For subsequent meetings, the city has since offered translation services.

City officials encouraged the residents to get legal advice, which they did. But their attorney also advised the residents against the city’s courtesy inspections, since an inspector would be required to report any other life-threatening issues they observe, and that could make things more complicated.

Instead the residents opted to bring in their own inspector to assess their homes for needed repairs.

A neighborhood advocate told a Univision television reporter in Spanish that the residents want to calculate the total costs before deciding to connect to the system. The City Council did not hear testimony from residents during its work session Tuesday afternoon, although council member Deb Armintor said she, too, understands that the residents need time to consider all of the costs to connect.

Ryan Adams, the city’s deputy director for public affairs, told council members that residents also said that they needed more time for the assessments and the work, and therefore asked for the public emergency to be extended until May 2021.

Several council members balked at that much of an extension. Council member Jesse Davis said the city could soon face similar problems in other neighborhoods served by water wells — although he described Green Tree’s unchecked, Wild West development and continued service after annexation as “predatory.”

Council member Keely Briggs asked that plans for Green Tree come back in time for council members to extend the emergency if residents were in the middle of connecting, but not quite finished with the installation. Other council members agreed, so long as homeowners were making reasonable progress toward meeting a May 22 deadline to connect.

Without the emergency declaration, the city doesn’t have the authority to use the neighborhood’s private roads to deliver water to tanks at each home. Residents are being billed for the water beginning this month.

Council members also agreed to discuss the costs of connecting individual Green Tree homeowners again next week. That’s when the city staff should be finished researching how to prorate the main water line.

At first, the city estimated connecting 14 homes and dividing up shared costs equally among them. But connecting the neighborhood isn’t an all-or-nothing prospect. Individual homeowners can come forward, too, staff said.

The prorated charges mean individual homeowners pay a small share of the total cost of the water main, no matter how many homeowners ultimately connect.

Mayor Chris Watts said the city can only work with the property owners to connect service. As such, it wasn’t clear what could become of those families who are renting their mobile home and asking for access to city water.

Scott McDonald, the city’s director of development services and building official, reminded council members that the city’s code requires landlords to provide habitable structures.

The city is researching what it means if those landlords don’t connect by May 22.

“Then you have properties that do not have running water,” McDonald said. “We’re still looking into that.”

Staff writer Zaira Perez contributed to this report.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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