San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 7th, 2009
Give counties the authority to manage growth

Courthouse Connections: A column
By LIZ SUMTER
Hays County Judge

Our mothers told us that nothing worth having comes easy, and boy was she right.

For decades, counties have struggled with growth, economic development, natural resource and property value issues with limited success. County officials have come under fire from their constituents for not protecting their property values, letting their wells run dry or allowing a not so desirable neighbor move in next door. Rightfully so for heaven’s sakes, after all we are the closest elected official, reachable at all hours of the day and the one you see at church, the post office, grocery store and yes, every so often the local eating and drinking establishment – we are your neighbor and we are supposed to fix it.

We share your frustration and we intend to fix it. Eighteen months ago more than 40 Texas Hill Country elected officials came together to discuss our common challenges and despite our differences – yes, there are differences from county to county – chose to work together to fix it.

Our biggest common challenge – being located in a fragile region experiencing a tremendous rate of growth. Ninety percent of the Texas Hill Country lies in unincorporated areas governed solely by county government. A government that has little to say about how and where development occurs. Scary? You betcha – Worth fixing? Without a doubt – Easy to fix? Well, that depends on the state legislature and the county elected officials.

We don’t have to tell you that our water resources are becoming scarce and are at serious risk; that our ranches and farms are being sold and fragmented into subdivisions; our roads are becoming overcrowded; and the locals increasing frustration with that god awful neighbor. It is the topic of discussion that permeates throughout the counties local watering holes.

Every legislative session in Texas, bills are filed to grant our counties some very basic planning tools common in just about every other state. So far, we haven’t succeeded. This year is different, the Hill Country region built consensus around very modest, necessary legislation that will allow us to be better neighbors with each other. We believe, now more than ever, counties need authority to chart a new course for responsible growth in the Hill Country.

We are asking for three ways to better manage growth:

First, we want to be better neighbors to each other. We recognize that development is a good thing, vital to our existence, and should be encouraged. We also recognize that sometimes being good neighbors means being a little further apart. We need the authority to establish minimum setback requirements between incompatible land uses. Today, new industrial or commercial developments can be located right on the lot line of an existing neighborhood, school, home or family ranch. This can make for bad neighbors, whether it negatively impacts on public health and safety, agricultural activities or property values, really doesn’t matter – the result is the same – bad neighbors, just because they are too close to each other.

Second, infrastructure cost recovery fees. That’s just a fancy way to say new developments get to share the financial load with the rest of your neighbors. It is no secret that the monies for building roads are getting fewer and the burden of upgrading county as well as state roads are up to the folks in the county. With the rapid growth we are experiencing, many county roads are too narrow and are designed for limited traffic volumes. Increases in traffic, brought on by new development, often cause the county and/or state road that accesses the development to become overcrowded and unsafe. A dedicated fee from developers is necessary to make the roadway safe and provide for proper drainage to share the financial load.

Third, we don’t want our wells to go dry if we can avoid it. The ability to set density rules in areas that are particularly vulnerable to water depletion and water quality degradation would help us manage growth and plan for future development. The Texas Hill Country region’s topography, flooding issues, fragile aquifers and limited water supply warrant special legislative consideration.

Remember how Mom said that nothing worth having comes easy? Well, the county elected officials are doing their part, now we need you to do yours. Contact your state legislators and tell them you support HB3265 – you want to be better neighbors – you just need your county elected officials to have three things – setback, infrastructure cost recovery fees and density authority. Then the next time we see each other in church, we can talk about healthcare.

State Representative Patrick Rose

State Senator Jeff Wentworth

Email Email | Print Print

--

9 thoughts on “Give counties the authority to manage growth

  1. There are two aspects of authority that give it a bad name…abusing authority…and failing to enforce the authority we have.

    Hays County is notorious for abusing its authority by failing to enforce the authority it has…and worse, deliberately bending and breaking our laws for special interests.

    While I agree with Judge Sumter about the need for more authority to protect our water wells, that authority should be vested in the governmental entity specifically created to focus on groundwater issues and comprised solely of groundwater professionals. For us that is the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.

    Sumter writes: “Today, new industrial or commercial developments can be located right on the lot line of an existing neighborhood, school, home or family ranch.” I take her to mean the county doesn’t have zoning authority, but, “…located right on the lot line…” is a mischaracterization because our current laws require setbacks from property lines for all forms of development, whether residential, commercial or industrial.

    I suppose Judge Sumter had in mind Commissioner Jeff Barton’s recent support to cram the huge U.S. Foodservice facility and its excessive truck traffic problem down the throats of residents in Buda by selectively changing zoning contained in the Buda Master Plan. A citizen uprising stopped that nonsense. Unfortunately, voters didn’t see through Barton’s plan to convert FM 1626 into an expensive IH35 bypass that depends on a new expensive SH 45West to connect with already overloaded MoPac.

    If our elected officials simply required county employees to competently enforce our existing development rules and regulations, our property values, public health and safety, and living conditions would be served. More authority ill used serves only special interests.

    Being a good neighbor is less a matter of separation than of living by the rule of law. Without an honest and capable referee motivated to enforce the rules, neighborly conduct becomes just a matter of personal choice.

    All authority can be used for good or for ill. Those we elect to public office determine which outcome occurs.

  2. The abuse of powers perpetrated by the sumter led commissioners court shows exactally why the Texas legislature has never given much power to counties, and gives plenty reasons why they should not

  3. I supported Ms. Sumter initially and thought she only had a whisper of a chance to be elected, but now, I question my political voting wisdom. Where did her votes emanate? Is mayor Susan a municipal version of our county autocratic figure head in Sumter?

  4. Andy,

    Can you be more insightful and provide some specific examples of, “the Sumter led commissioners’ court” abuse of power?

    That would be helpful.

    It is my observation that the court in fact is led by Commissioners Barton and Conley, not Sumter. Just watch the on-line videos of commissioners’ court meetings to see what I mean.

    As for your open ended abuse of power claim, that is an empty claim by someone who so readily violates the law and his code of professional ethics…and I can be specific if you like.

  5. Sir, it is with great regret to others on this thread that I rescind may vow not respond to your postings, but I must concur with your analysis of who runs OUR county court aka B/C.

  6. Charles,

    I am curious as to how much you donated toward Liz Sumter’s campaign. I hope you will disclose.
    BTW, I am not Nick Ramus.

  7. Hi Joshua,

    I know you are not Ramus.

    The answer to your question is ZERO, and you can verify that by examining Sumter’s campaign financial reports. You can read or download them from the Hays County web site.

  8. Charles – just shut up. Go blog on that idiotic site you own.

    What’s amazing is that you claim that Barton and Conley run the court. But they don’t even constitute a majority. Didn’t they teach you how to count in graduate school? Guess not. That’s why you keep losing elections.

    Or is it that your warped view of the world only perceives that Barton and Conley lead the court because Sumter and Ford have wised up and totally brushed you off.

    What’s even more amazing is that Sumter is starting to sound just like Barton. Well, kind of. I think she is starting to get it. Maybe.

  9. Oh and mr odell,
    Youre at least smart enough to know that a handful of cash under the table wont be recorded in a campaign report? I’m sure that’s how you make your donations. You and your political action organization (HAYSCANT)can’t be tied to a thing.
    And as for who runs the court? Who has the gavel? Who’d let you speak as though you had credibility unless she owed you something?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

:)