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Heep Ranch heir declares

Friday, September 22, 2000 by

Landowner Hatsy Heep Shaffer is accusing developer Gary Bradley and a water supply company of misrepresenting themselves and trying to take her water to help further their goals for large-scale development in southern Travis County. The Heep Ranch straddles the Travis-Hays County line near I-35.

Shaffer said Thursday that Bradley has lied to several different parties by indicating he was her business partner. The parties include the Herman F. Heep and Minnie Heep Foundation at Texas A&M, the Texas Turnpike Authority, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BS/EACD) and others, she said. The parties approached by Bradley represent major pieces of the puzzle for the developer, who is trying to create yet another major residential and commercial development along the corridor south of Austin. (See In Fact Daily, August 16, 2000)

“He had represented to the chair of the A&M foundation that he had my power of attorney, and that he was my business partner…He's lying,” Shaffer said. The foundation owns a 3,600-acre piece of land east of I-35 that Bradley is trying to purchase. Bradley's written application to the Texas Turnpike Authority to build the proposed SH 45 toll road from FM 1626 to U.S. 183 also mentions a partnership with Shaffer. And Shaffer said that Bradley has talked with the BS/EACD and the Creedmore-Maha Water Supply Corp. about having permission to use the Heep ranch's water to supply his developments.

Shaffer was frank in saying that she had declared war on Bradley. Several people familiar with Shaffer and those facing her allegations said her accusations were outlandish. But her comments do outline the nitty gritty of several key issues surrounding the development of a large area of northern Hays and Southern Travis counties. Additionally, Shaffer said she has an agreement with her sisters to donate right-of-way for the SH 45 extension. Bradley has wrongly interpreted the agreement, Shaffer said, to mean that he gets the right-of-way free for his toll road and has included this idea in his proposal to the Texas Turnpike Authority.

Bradley could not be reached for comment on Shaffer's allegations, although he told the Hays County Free Press last week that he had a confidential letter of intent to develop the Heep Ranch and could not talk about the details. His comments came in response to a story quoting Shaffer as saying she would never do business with Bradley. Shaffer said Thursday that the letter was not binding in any way and that she has continually rebuffed Bradley's efforts to buy her land and will continue to do so.

Stovy Bowlin, BS/EACD general manager, said Bradley never told the district–either formally or informally–that he had authority to use the Heep Ranch water. Charles Law, president of Creedmore-Maha Water Supply Corp., also said neither he nor Bradley has indicated that they have authority over the water.

Shaffer and half-sisters Betsy Urban and Kathleen Henderson Adkins are the three granddaughter heirs of the Herman F. Heep Estate. Heep, the late wildcatter whose oil fortune helped him expand the family ranch and operate a large cattle operation, also donated large sums of money and land to Texas A&M and the foundation that bears his name. When he died, a long legal battle erupted between Heep's second wife, Minnie Bell Heep, and the three granddaughters. Shaffer, her sisters, and their children also battled each other from time to time in a flurry of lawsuits. The estate disputes were finally settled this year, and the three half-sisters drew envelopes out of a hat to see who would get which tracts of the near 5,000-acre estate.

Shaffer ended up with land mostly west of I-35 that included the home where she spent much of her youth. Despite any past differences, Shaffer now says she and her sisters are united in their efforts to keep Bradley off their land and away from their water.

Shaffer also contends that Laws and the Creedmore-Maha Water Supply Corporation–which supplies much of the Buda area, Creedmore and Mustang Ridge–have been tapping into her water. On Wednesday, she discovered that a 12-inch water main owned by Creedmore-Maha ran inside her property line and included a connection to her own water line. Dennis Dorsett, a private driller who maintains and repairs the Creedmore-Maha system and also installed many of the water lines on the Heep Ranch, confirmed the connection.

Dorsett said Thursday that indeed there is a Creedmore-Maha line on the Heep Ranch and even a connection between the two lines that has been there about a decade. He said he doesn't know who, if anyone, had the authority to put the Creedmore-Maha line on the Heep property. But he stated, "To the best of my knowledge, Creedmore has never taken a drop of water from the Heep wells." Dorsett added that the Water Supply Corporation's water had to be treated and chlorinated, so it would never use untreated Heep well water.

Laws said Thursday that he hasn't taken any Heep water and doesn't need it. In addition to six wells drawing from the Edwards Aquifer, he is pursuing a contract with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority for surface water supply. He also said he has never indicated to anyone that the Heep water could be used for development, and he noted that Shaffer was prone to changing her stories. "She'll say one thing in the morning and another thing at night," Laws said.

Still, Shaffer maintains that the Heep well produces so much high-quality water that it's a natural target for developers like Bradley who need it for development. The A&M foundation tract sought by Bradley, for instance, is essentially "dust" with no available surface or ground water for drinking, she said. Others confirmed that the site has no water supply.

Shaffer said Bradley intends to try to locate a major employer, such as a computer chip manufacturer, on the site and noted that representatives from Intel had scouted out the area and visited her ranch. Chip manufacturers require large supplies of water for production. Bradley told the foundation director that Heep water would supply the development, she said. A contract with the A&M foundation does stipulate that the Heep ranch must supply the tract with water, but only for agricultural uses. Shaffer said it amounted to filling five troughs with water for cows. Foundation representatives could not be reached for comment.

Heep also mentioned several interesting tidbits that offer a glimpse of what could happen to her land. She currently is renovating the Heep Ranch's main house and other buildings and is offering the location as a site for weddings and parties. Shaffer and her husband, David Shaffer, will probably develop the land at some point with a large-lot subdivision, she added.

She said she couldn't speak for her sisters' ultimate intentions for their properties, but she noted that one is considering starting a bird sanctuary, while the other wants to make her property a working ranch.

Planning Commissioners were agreeable about initiating a zoning change on a small piece of CarrAmerica’s downtown office building site at 300 W. 6th Street. But they still wanted to know why the city had verified the property’s zoning as CBD (central business district), when, in fact, a part of it was CS-1 for commercial services with liquor sales.

Greg Guernsey, principal planner in the Development Review and Inspection Department, explained that when CarrAmerica first requested a zoning verification letter in 1999, the department believed the site was all CBD. It should be CBD, he said, under the current zoning ordinance. All the surrounding property is CBD or CBD-H (historic). However, when the property was zoned, the city was in the process of changing from one zoning code to another. During that time, a building permit could be issued under either code, but the portion where the new CarrAmerica parking garage sits is actually zoned for liquor sales instead.

On Oct. 14, 1999, the city issued a letter which stated the whole property was zoned CBD, with no height limitation. Construction was well underway by Aug. 31, 2000, when a second letter went out to CarrAmerica with the distressing news that a portion of the property could only be 60 feet tall because of the liquor sales zoning. Jeff Pace, who is managing director of CarrAmerica, said that the majority of the building will be 23 stories, but the parking garage is only slated to be 8 stories—well above 60 feet.

Attorney Jay Hailey of Locke Liddell & Sapp wrote to inquire how quickly the city could fix the problem, since his clients were posed to close on a construction loan on Sept. 7. Guernsey told the Planning Commission about the error and the group initiated the rezoning Tuesday. If Guernsey can bring the case back to the Planning Commission next week, the City Council could act on it at the next Council meeting, Sept. 28.

Pace was low-key when he talked to In Fact Daily. He said, “Everyone agreed it was a mistake and there’s no problem at all. Even the construction lender is comfortable we’re going to get this corrected.”

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Downtown LULU…The Austin Neighborhoods Council has approved a resolution calling on the City Council to reject the proposed interlocal agreement with Travis County that would move the city jail's booking desk into an area that includes a school and residences. Part of the resolution addresses neighborhood fears about the detainees themselves. Downtown residents’ other major complaint involves scarce parking. The Council is scheduled to consider the move to the Criminal Justice Center next Thursday… Air cargo record… Austin-Bergstrom International Airport continues to set records for passenger traffic, with total travelers expected to exceed 7 million by the end of the year. Air cargo records are even more impressive. So far this year, air cargo is up more than 27 percent. For the month of August, the increase was nearly 62 percent above August 1999… Light rail foes pile on… Former Mayor Lee Cooke and Steve Bayer, former Capital Metro board chairman, have formed an organization called High Performance Transit that will campaign against the light rail plan on the November ballot.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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