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Variance bid forces Hays Commissioners to make tough choice

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

Hays County Commissioners were forced to make a tough decision Tuesday between upholding proper procedures and denying a family the use of its home. Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe cast the deciding vote in forbidding Florinda Martinez’s family to install septic tanks, preventing them from occupying the home they built in what is technically an illegal suburb.


Ingalsbe said she was concerned about the possibility of other variance requests which could inundate the court should the Martinez family gain an exception. “I struggled today,” she told In Fact Daily, of her decision. “I have a very similar situation with a person calling me almost weekly,”


Ingalsbe said her constituent also wanted to avoid platting and build an additional home in the unofficial subdivision on his land. Ingalsbe says that this person is aware that they need to be platted before building the additional home, but she did not want to have to explain why another family would be granted a variance. Ingalsbe said there could me more than 100 Hays County families in a similar situation.


The issue was brought to the commissioners’ attention by Hays CAN President Charles O’Dell, who read a two-and-one-half page statement questioning Martinez’s marital status, asserting “past malfeasance by Hays County Environmental Health Department personnel,” and accusing Commissioner Precinct 2 Jeff Barton of “deliberately attempting to mislead this court.” The tirade raised Barton’s ire, who interrupted O’Dell, saying, “To accuse people who are not here of felonious action, with unsubstantiated evidence, is out of order.”


Commissioners learned that three structures – two houses and a mobile home – are now on 1.3 acres at 2001 Goforth Road, east of I-35. Martinez bought the property from Mario Torres, though the timing of the purchase and the home’s construction was unclear. Barton sought a variance to allow the family to put in a septic system up to the county code.


County Judge Liz Sumter worried about encouraging a “pattern of behavior,” while wanting more information about any existing septic systems and the status of the homes on the property. Barton said, “sometimes people find themselves in very difficult circumstances, often contrary to our rules. I don’t think it’s easy or simple but I have been convinced in this case that we can try to do the right thing.”


Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley agreed. “I think using rules and regulations and not being able to apply them to real world situations is dangerous. That’s why we have variances. It’s obvious these people don’t have the money to go through the process.” He ended saying the agenda item was not about “any fat cat type deal in Precinct 2.”


Commissioners rejected the motion to grant the variance, with Ingalsbe joining Ford and Sumter in voting no.

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