by BRAD ROLLINS
After nearly six hours of often volatile discussion, a majority of the Hays County Commissioners Court appeared to agree on Tuesday that the city of Kyle will, in fact, be afforded the privilege of returning about $1.2 million in parks funds it doesn’t plan to use.
In May 2008, the city was awarded $2,479,000 from $30 million in parks and open space money to develop a 43-acre regional park east of IH-35, later named Kyle Vista Park. But last month, the city council approved an interlocal agreement with the county in which they would relinquish the larger grant and instead receive half that amount for improvement projects at Gregg-Clarke Park, City Square Park and Plum Creek Preserve & Nature Trail’s Lake Kyle Park.
Under the agreement, the unused portion of Kyle’s grant would be used to buy 50 acres adjacent to the landmark Jacob’s Well near Woodcreek in the western side of the county. The commissioners court voted 4-1 to approve the purchase from Westridge Partners LLC which had expressed its intent to build a condominium development on the property and had sued the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association and the city of Woodcreek for access to the artesian well and the right to build a road to its property. Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley spearheaded the property’s acquisition, which is also expected to settle litigation when finalized.
County Judge Elizabeth Sumter cast the only vote against buying the land, which adds to 46 acres surrounding the well which the county previously committed $3 million to purchase.
Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton called the arrangement with Kyle a model of cooperation for the county, the politics of which are often marked by tension between the quickly urbanizing eastern side and the more rural western side.
“The city of Kyle is stepping forward for this work of cross-county cooperation, willing to give up some funds to preserve a county treasure,” Barton said. “It really is sort of an enormous moment for us, at least potentially.”
Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson, along with council members David Wilson and Brad Pickett, appeared before the court to remind them, not too subtly, that the city has the option of keeping the entire $2.5 million and finding a way to use it for its intended purpose.
But with the $30 million pot of money quickly dwindling, other cities and community groups took exception with what was characterized as backroom dealing. Roughly $11 million of the money is uncommitted, not counting about $5 million the county expects to use for the purchase 1,000 acres of the Nicholson Ranch near the Blanco County line.
“They should get back in the queue with the rest of us,” said Carl Owens, representing a group called Swimberley that wants part of the funds to build an aquatics facility. A contingent from Dripping Springs that wants money to develop the Harrison Ranch Park also took exception with the Kyle arrangement.
Because it wasn’t posted for action on Tuesday, the commissioners court couldn’t take a vote on Kyle’s interlocal agreement. But four of the court members, all except Sumter, said at some point during the discussion that they will support the agreement.
Said Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford, “At the end of the day, they deserve it. They didn’t have to give the money back but they did and were magnanimous about it.”
San Marcos Mercury Editor and Publisher Brad Rollins is also editor of the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Mercury and the Free Press.