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

April 30th, 2009
Salt Lick to center likely development

Ken Manning, a consultant for Salt Lick owner Scott Roberts, addresses the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Butera.

News Reporter

Perhaps the most famous restaurant in Hays County could soon lie in the middle of a new development to be supported by a two-cent sales tax increase.

The Hays County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to support state legislation that would create a municipal management district (MMD) encompassing 540 acres of ancestral land belonging to Scott Roberts, owner of the famed Salt Lick Restaurant.

House Bill 4825, sponsored by State Representative Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs), would empower the proposed MMD to provide its residents with parks, lakes, gardens, fire protection and emergency medical supplemental services, recreational facilities, sports facilities, open spaces, fountains, plazas, alternative energy facilities, solid waste management, a convention center, and a wastewater treatment and disposal facility, among the dozens of construction improvements and services.

Robert’s proposed 540-acre development would include 100 residential units averaging an acre each, specialty shops, a winery, 50 acres of vineyards and over 200 acres of common open space for hiking and biking. The Salt Like Restaurant lies within the development.

“For me, I have a natural caution about special districts, but the last one and this one are proofs that there are good exceptions out there that are really appropriate times and places for these districts to be used,” Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton said.

The “last one” Barton referred to is the Parklands Municipal Utility District No. 1, encompassing a triangle between Niederwald, Uhland and the outermost limits of the Kyle extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) in northeastern Hays County. Commissioners unanimously supported pending state legislation that would expand the area of Parklands MUD No. 1 by 1,257 acres and give it roadway powers to reimburse developer Walton Texas Limited Partnership for road improvements within the district. The Parklands MUD is expected to propose a property tax of $0.95 per $100 valuation on residents in the MUD.

Ken Manning, a consultant for Roberts, addressed the court Tuesday, describing the proposed Driftwood Economic Development MMD.

“We’re proud of the some of the things that we’re proposing,” Ken Manning, a consultant for Roberts, told commissioners. “But, up front, it’s going to cost a little more money to make sure that things are successful … In order to do that, we need a revenue stream that we’re confident will be there in draft review. So we’re proposing a two cent sales tax on commercial activity out there, including The Salt Lick, so you’ll have a revenue stream from day one. We’re proposing an ad valorum tax that would be limited to $0.15 per $100.”

Sumter asked Manning if the two cent sales tax could stack with the state and local taxes, bringing the total to 10.25 cents, to which he replied in the affirmative.

The proposed legislation would prohibit Driftwood MMD from using eminent domain, issuing bonds, borrowing money or imposing property taxes without voter approval. The district would be governed by five directors serving staggered four-year terms.

The initial directors would consist of Silver Garza, Scott Roberts, Curtis Wilson, Ken Manning and Michelle Fischer. The proposed legislation would enable the owner or owners of at least 40 percent of the assessed value of property in the district to submit a petition to the commissioners court requesting an election of the board. Driftwood MMD’s board would only impose a tax on residential property in the district if the revenue requirements of the district would not be satisfied by the other imposed taxes.

“(Roberts) is doing things above and beyond what we normally see under a development, even to the point of moving oak trees, transplanting oak trees so they stay on the property,” said Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), who represents residents in the proposed district.

Manning said after the commissioners court meeting that the developer will require every house and every commercial building to capture the first two inches of runoff from roofs in a cistern.

“Over the next 48 hours, we would pump that cistern dry and inject that water back into the Trinity Aquifer,” Manning said. “(By doing so) we’ll offset the impact of pumping groundwater to irrigate the vineyards. So, hopefully, that will net out to be a break even kind of deal.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requires an 80 percent reduction in total suspended solids for stormwater management.

“Except, we don’t think that’s good enough,” Manning said. “We committed to 90 percent and have all our plans approved in that regard.”

After the commissioners court meeting, Manning said the developer would achieve the 90 percent reduction by enabling overland water flow across streets, installing drainage buffers and constructing stormwater detention ponds. Manning said three such ponds are in the works – one in center of the largest vineyard, one near the residential lots and one for the purpose of capturing runoff from the specialty retail shops. He said surface area of the ponds would total about two acres.

Manning said he is aware that refraining from using groundwater to replenish stormwater management ponds has been a “consistent message” relayed from Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) board members, who are concerned about water waste due to evaporation from stormwater management ponds. Manning said that in times of drought, the developer would use LCRA-supplied water to replenish the ponds.

“We would have design guidelines that everyone has to comply with,” Manning said. “When you buy a lot, hire and architect or builder, then you’ve got to bring a plan in that gets reviewed by a design review committee. That’s really the land planner and the owner — the developer — (who would) control that process. So you have to get what you want to do with your lot approved with this committee.”

The design review committee’s members would be appointed by the developer.

Manning said the commercial section of the proposed development would require the construction of a wastewater treatment plant, which, he said, would not utilize direct discharge into any nearby creeks.

“We just don’t think (direct) discharge in the aquifer recharge zone is a responsible thing to do,” Manning said.

Roberts’ family first arrived in the Driftwood area in the 1860s.

“You’ve got people who have been on the land for generations and they know it’s ultimately going to be developed,” Manning said. “But they want to see it develop in a way that they’re going to be proud of, as opposed to, ‘How am I going to maximize how much money I make off of this?’ So you have a different set of motivations when you’re dealing with people who have a personal — Scott grew up on this land. He’d just as soon (see) it be a park. But that’s probably not realistic. But you really have a different mindset when you’re dealing with a property owner who has a personal connection with the property.”

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