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

June 4th, 2009
Proposed development regs irk residents

Grant Jackson of Naismith Engineering speaks to the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

Residents concerned about dry wells and lower property values crowded the Hays County Commissioners Court Tuesday to discuss proposed changes to the county’s development regulations and critique the revision process.

Residents were especially concerned about a proposed minimum lot size of 6.5 acres for developments served by individual, private wells. The proposed lot size requirement would apply to wells located in the Priority Groundwater Management Area in the western part of the county and to wells created after the effective date of the new rules, which is likely to occur some time in the fall. The current regulations specify minimum lot sizes of two acres for advanced waste water systems and three acres for conventional systems.

“I bought a 136-acre piece 14 years ago, and it’s part of my retirement (and) death benefits for my wife, should anything happen to me, (so) that she would be able to subdivide that land,” said Jimmy Skipton of Henly, one of 16 people who testified during the public comment period. “I bought that land, and bought other land contiguous to it, (which) gave me road frontage on four sides, just for the reason we could divide it. At the six and a half, it would definitely take money from me and my family, there’s not doubt whatsoever.”

Skipton said the county failed to make information about the proposed lot size change available to the public.

Eleven people who spoke during the public comment period were opposed to the proposed development regulation changes. Two residents said their wells had dried up as a result of overproduction in western Hays County.

Commissioners took no action on the proposed changes to the development regulations. Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) said a public meeting in the western part of the county is likely in a month. Six to eight weeks later, the commissioners court may take action on the issue, Ford said.

Dripping Springs Area Chamber of Commerce (DSACC) Chairperson Charlene Farmer and DSACC Executive Director Kim Johnson urged commissioners to postpone their decision pending more public input and an economic impact assessment. Johnson said such an assessment would examine the proposed regulations’ affect on current and future businesses, the county’s property tax base and the Dripping Springs Independent School District (DSISD).

Johnson said DSISD is making plans based on growth projections that might become irrelevant under the proposed regulations. Farmer brought forth a petition she said had been signed by 80 people opposed to the new development regulations. Farmer and Johnson said their organization was not contacted by the court concerning the proposed changes to the minimum lot size requirement.

“I did speak to the chamber back in March-April, and I’m sure that I mentioned our new subdivision rules, and we didn’t have anybody knocking on our door about them after that,” Ford said. “So what kind of started the flurry of interest there was that (Hays County Subdivision Coordinator) Clint (Garza) and I made a presentation and spoke to the real estate community two weeks ago, (when) we spoke about our subdivision rules and the 6.5 acre minimum lot size on groundwater. And that caused some concern.”

Ford said the county would probably not conduct an economic impact assessment.

“I don’t think there’s a requirement for that,” Ford said. “It’s so based on your assumptions, and we could call up any different set of assumptions. It’s just not something that’s viable for us right now.”

Said Dripping Springs resident Melanie Cambron, “I think that … wanting to … stall for an economic impact study (is) like burying your head in the sand as more time passes, more people move here, more water is consumed, (and) the aquifer gets lower. And, if you’d like to bury your head in the sand, you’re welcome to come to our house and stick it down the well, because that’s all that’s down there.”

The county hired Naismith Engineering to help revise the development regulations in 2006. Since then, Naismith Engineering has received about 16 payments for the work totaling $173,416.54. The county since 2006 has sponsored about 23 public meetings at which county staff and a representative from Naismith were in attendance.

Naismith Engineering consultant Grant Jackson said his company has always listed documents pertaining to the county’s development regulations revisions process. Ford said the county would not have been “remiss” in making the latest proposals easily accessible if a communications plan had been in place earlier. The county hired a communications director, Laureen Chernow, in February.

There is now a link on the homepage of the Hays County website to the March 20 version of the proposed development regulations. Naismith Engineering’s website includes the April 1 version. Ford said a current version, including errors pointed out by Jackson at the Tuesday meeting, should be available online by the end of the week.

Jackson said residents discussed revising the development regulations at two county-sponsored public meetings in July 2008. The 6.5 acre minimum lot size was included in the March 20 version of the proposed revised regulations. Between July 2008 and May 2009, there was one public hearing on the matter, held during the March 24 commissioners court meeting, at which Skipton and Mark Key spoke. Key, an Austin resident, also aired his views at the Tuesday meeting.

“If people use all of the recharge on all of their property, nothing else is left in the groundwater budget, and the water levels will continue to decline,” said Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) board member David Baker.

Baker, also Executive Director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, said a Texas Water Development Board report published in 1992 indicates only ten percent of recharge water should be used for human consumption.

Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said he would probably not support anything higher than a 6.5 acre minimum lot size requirement.

“Whether (it will be) four or five or six (acres) is still fluid,” Barton said. “6.5, to me, is a cap to start at.”

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter said she would support setting the minimum lot size anywhere from 5.61 to 6.5 acres.

After more than an hour of discussion on the matter, Ford said the court had “put to bed” the idea that HTGCD had more than an advisory role in setting the proposed minimum lot size requirement. HTGCD recently pushed unsuccessfully for state legislation to increase its funding and regulatory authority over wells in its jurisdiction.

“My prediction is that the HTGCD is going to ask us for funding again this year,” Barton said towards the end of the discussion.

The commissioners court in each of its last two budget cycles allocated $75,000 to HTGCD. Barton said the HTGCD should have accepted legislation it refused on April 23 that would have supplied the district with over $100,000 a year for two years.

Baker responded that the method of funding proposed by the legislation was unfair because only half the people drawing water from the aquifer would have been charged the $2.00 per month fee. Baker said residents in HTGCD’s jurisdiction should have been given the authority to vote for an ad valorem tax to fund the district. Legislation drafted by HTGCD and turned down by State Senator Jeff Wentworth and State Representative Patrick Rose would have allowed such an election while providing the district with more regulatory authority.

“There is a price to pay for drawing lines in the sand sometimes,” Barton said.

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0 thoughts on “Proposed development regs irk residents

  1. For those who subdivide and have surface water, this will NOT affect them.
    For those who want to use ground water, if they make the lots so small that too many “straws” are in the ground, when no one has ground water, all those property values are going to drop like a rock.
    Water is the “new oil” folks, wars will likely be fought over it more and more in the future.
    I applaud the Commissioners for working to protect those of us living here AND those who want to subdivide in the future by making sure that there IS enough water for us all.
    I believe there are also variances available if you put in rainwater (as rainwater users tend to be more conservative with their usage than ground or surface water users.)
    In short, we’ve got a set amount of water that isn’t being renewed fast enough to accept more and more wells with absolutely no controls on the number of wells going in. Those who already live here and depend on their wells should be supporting this bill, and those who want to subdivide in the future need to realize that if they don’t have access to surface water, then they better hope SOMEONE has done something to be sure there is enough groundwater, or their land will be pretty worthless, and setting minimum lot sizes can help that. It will improve your value rather than devalue your land.
    By the way, Kendall and Comal counties (both VERY Republican led counties, I will add) already have such development rules, so this isn’t exactly a new idea. It is simply a sound fiscal policy.

  2. I think the main issue here is affected people not being made aware of the proposed lot requirements and economic concerns, not a “water water everywhere so let’s all drill a well” mentality. The 6.5 acre figure is probobly going to drop in the next few weeks but I think most people realize that there probobly need to be some restrictions.

  3. Reminds me of the plot summary for “The Big Country”. This would make for an interesting William Wyler or John Ford American Western film. Is there a writer in the house??

  4. When someone has a well drilled in Hays county there is no guarantee that they will get a certain quantity of water of acceptable quality. There never has been that assurance in the past, why do some people seem to think the county can enforce a certain lot size and it will somehow happen in the future. Drilling a well is like shooting dice. You do not know what you will get till the bit hits the rock. Plenty of sweet water at 240′ or 2 gallons per minute of sulfur water at 780′. You can ask the neighbors or your well man what the other wells in the local area produce and get some sort of idea. but you will also hear lots of stories about how wells very close to each other are totally different. It is a highly variable system. There are parts which can recharge very rapidly when it rains enough to run the little creeks. Other parts have very old and somewhat “stagnant” waters. Highly variable. The groundwater model a lot of this discussion revolves around has a grid cell size of 1 kilometer squares. All the groundwater in that sq Km is assigned an average value. A 5 acre lot is about 2% of the area of the grid cell. Anyone who says the model is good enough to base land use decisions having major economic impacts either does not understand the underlying math and assumptions or is just lying.

    I find it interesting that the board of the HTGCD says that the way the proposed legislation would have provided funding was unfair to some folks. I think that if they come to the County commissioners court to ask for money that residents of the Edwards zone and the east part of the county where there are no aquifers make sure this request is refused.

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