HARLINGEN - Call them "ranchettes" or grazing land or the site for a future dream home.
But Cameron County officials are not very optimistic about 10-acre tracts of land being offered for sale along Coco and Louisiana roads north of La Feria, the same area where county workers spent months after last July's Hurricane Dolly, pumping around the clock trying to remove floodwater.
Alejandro Sanchez, assistant Cameron County engineer, said that, even though anti-colonia legislation was passed by the state in 1991, the size of the tracts of land being offered prevents the county from doing anything to stop their sale.
"The state basically assumes that, if it's more than 10 acres, it will typically be agricultural use," he said. "They don't have to go through the subdivision process. They don't have to file a plat."
Land purveyor Art Ortega said he's offering the 10-acre tracts for $50,000 each.
"Yes, you can build there," he said. "There was a flooding problem out there last year. We're disclosing it."
Some parts of the land for sale did not flood and has a higher elevation than other parts, Ortega said.
The buyer would either have to purchase one of the tracts on higher ground, "or raise it up," he said. Anyone buying one of the lower tracts would have to add fill dirt to raise the elevation of the building site, he said.
He is not developing a subdivision and does not plan to build any roads on the site, Ortega said.
The area where the lots are being sold is bounded by Coco Road on the south, Louisiana Road on the west, Toribio's Road on the north and FM 506 on the east, he said. Buyers can build roads or driveways from one of those roads, he said.
David Garcia, assistant Cameron County administrator, said the site where the lots are being sold is in the area where the county used tractor-powered pumps for many months trying to dry out roads and remove water from homes.
Many residents of the area had to move out for months; some had to permanently abandon their houses, according to news accounts that followed Hurricane Dolly.
County officials visited the area Friday to learn more about what is being planned in the area, Garcia said.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Edna Tamayo said Thursday she was shocked to learn that more people might be sold land in the area for homesites.
"I was out in my precinct and I saw those signs and I was shocked," she said. "It definitely floods there. I caution anyone to please check with the county first before buying anything there. I'm really worried about it," the commissioner said. "I don't want somebody to buy some land and then they can't do anything with it."
Prospective buyers should visit the county engineering department in San Benito to talk to county building officials and look at a flood elevation map before investing money, Tamayo said.
"We can show you a flood zone map, but a lot of people don't know that, until after they buy a property," Garcia said.
For potential buyers who have access to a computer, there are also Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain maps, Garcia said.
But Gustavo Olivarez, assistant director of the county's environmental health department, said huge areas of Cameron County flooded last
Until an engineer hired by the landowner or buyer does a report on the property and conducts a percolation test to see if the ground is suitable for a septic tank installation, the county can't really tell someone if they will be able to build on a property, he said.
"You have to hire an engineer and have them do a soil analysis," Olivarez said. "You can't assume anything until they get the percolation tests done."
Because the tracts are 10 acres, there isn't much the county can do, he said.
"If it were a subdivision, it would be easy (to stop the development)," he said.