GUEST COMMENTARY by STATE REP. JASON ISAAC
He refers to this as “land planning” in the name of “environmentalism” and warns that it is “the greatest threat in 200 years to our traditional right to own property.”
That threat is being played out right now in the Wimberley valley of Hays County. Local elected officials and other citizens against responsible development are waging a campaign against a landowner exercising his property rights in obtaining a Municipal Utility District (MUD). MUDs have been used for years as an effective tool for responsible development.
Currently, the landowner has the ability to develop his land as he chooses. Additionally, the landowner could currently sell the water on his land to the highest bidder, meaning that the water could leave the Wimberley area. He currently has the right to subdivide his property into over 800 lots, each with their own well and their own septic system. The creation of the Municipal Utility District gives us the opportunity to limit what can be done on the property to protect the natural resources should the property be developed.
The conservation and protection of natural resources in the area are important to me, and I believe that this MUD will help to ensure that the land is managed responsibly with an emphasis on conservation. Here’s why: There is language in the proposed bill that is not standard language for a MUD. The bill states that the district will “provide for the preservation and conservation of the natural resources within the district, while protecting private property rights to develop and beneficially use those resources in an organized and lawfully regulated manner.”
One elected official who opposes the MUD stated in a letter to Sen. Campbell and me that, “there are broad powers of eminent domain currently in the legislation.” I later learned that this letter was distributed far and wide throughout Hays County as an attempt to get people to contact Senator Campbell and me to stop our legislation.
It’s true that most MUDs have eminent domain authority. However, on the last page of the proposed legislation it clearly states: “The district may not exercise the power of eminent domain.”
Some emails I have received question how I could support a MUD for a landowner when I wouldn’t support a Municipal Management District for Wimberley. In the case of the management district, one part of the affected residents wanted the right to tax all of the residents, whether they agreed to the tax or not. In the case of the MUD, there are no taxes to be imposed on current residents, and any future residents (if the property is developed) would be aware of any taxes or fees before choosing to move to the district.
I believe that people have a right to manage their own property within the limits of the law. The public, through the government, owns about 30 percent of the land in this country. I’ll quote Reagan again, “If more is needed, we should do collectively exactly what we do individually. Go buy it! What we must not do is give to ourselves collectively, in the name of government, rights we don’t possess as individuals. We can have all of the open space and recreational land we need. We don’t have the right to tell someone who owns a beach lot that he can’t build on it because we like the view as we drive by on the highway. If the view is that important to us, we should buy it.”
We are all concerned about the preservation of our natural resources, and I believe the language of this bill allows for thoughtful management of this land in the future. However, I will not waver when it comes to one of our most basic rights as Americans.
UPDATED 10:03 a.m. APRIL 23: Isaac sent this clarification to the portion of his commentary on the Needmore Ranch Municipal Utility District in which he criticized opponents of the project for arguing that the MUD would have “broad powers of eminent domain” despite a clause in his bill that excludes the MUD from exercising condemnation:
“The draft of the language of the bill I was working from was not publicly available and therefore no one would have known that eminent domain powers had been removed. I apologize for any misunderstanding that this caused. The major concerns regarding this legislation involve water conservation for the Wimberley valley, and I am continuing to work to preserve our natural resources while protecting private property rights.”
State Rep. JASON ISAAC, a Dripping Springs Republican who represents Hays and Blanco counties, sits on the House’s Environmental Regulations and Economic & Small Business Development committees. This commentary was written April 23 as a letter distributed to constituents. Isaac can be reached by email here.
Proposed legislation that would create a municipal utility district on the more than 5,000-acres former Fulton Ranch has a considerable number of Wimberley Valley residents up in arms.
Known variously as the McCoy or the O’Quinn ranch — the name has changed over the decades along with the owners — the legendary spread was bought in 2011 by McAllen beer distributorship owner Greg Lamantia after Houston superlawyer John O’Quinn’s died in a car wreck in 2009. The ranch is located between San Marcos and Wimberley on a particularly scenic stretch of the Blanco River, known historically as Little Arkansas.
Municipal utility districts are typically vehicles created by state legislators at developers’ behest to fund costly construction of water, wastewater and other infrastructure in areas out of reach of existing municipal or rural utility services. LaMantia, however, has reportedly said he intends to sell off development rights to the property in the form of a conservation easement; positioning the land for theoretical development would increase the value of those development rights.
A group of Wimberley and Woodcreek residents organized as Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development is trying to marshal public opposition to scuttle the Needmore Ranch MUD, which would require a two-thirds vote of both the Texas House and Senate. They have found allies in Hays County County Judge Bert Cobb and Commissioner Will Conley, whose precinct includes the ranch.
State Rep. Jason Isaac, who represents Hays and Blanco counties, is doubling down on his sponsorship of the district, casting the issue as a bellwether decision for private property rights. In addition, if the land is developed, Isaac says, it would be done more responsibly with a water and wastewater system rather than personal wells and septic tanks on each lot.
Isaac’s HB 3918 is scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday, April 23 in the House’s Special Purpose Districts committee. On the other side of the capitol, State Sen. Donna Campbell’s SB 1868 has been recommended favorably by the Intergovernmental Relations committee and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
COVER PHOTO by CHRIS VREELAND. SAN MARCOS MERCURY GRAPHIC by BRAD ROLLINS.