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Hays Commissioners face continuing conundrum of illegal subdivisions

Friday, October 24, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

A divided Hays County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve a variance for 10.66 acres near Dripping Springs, allowing what was essentially an illegal subdivision to become normalized and re-opening a contentious debate about the court’s power of intervention.


Hurlbut Ranch West Tract 23 is located at 680 Lukas Trail in Precinct 4. The owner, Col. Jeffery Haynes, is currently stationed in Afghanistan and his family resides in Okinawa. In requesting relief from re-platting and allowing his septic tank permit, Haynes was asking for the court to recognize his good faith purchase of the land in 2005, which he did not know lacked formal platting.


The court’s variance would also save Haynes the hassle of having to coordinate the platting effort from Asia. The agenda item brought back discussions of Florinda Martinez’s similar request this past January. The Precinct 1 resident had owned a home on a lot that was illegally subdivided with two others on a 1.3-acre lot. Hays County Commissioners voted to reject her request by a 3-2 vote.


Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe had cast the deciding vote in the Martinez case, and along with Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, who had championed the Martinez case, immediately called attention to the parallels in the Hurlburt Ranch variance.


Originally, the ranch was part of a 74-acre Hurlburt Ranch west tract, but at some point before 1983, this was further subdivided. In 1983, county rules were enacted requiring re-platting of subdivisions. This was never done, and when  Haynes bought the property and went about getting a septic permit, it was discovered that the property was illegally subdivided.


If the Haynes family were to go back and subdivide their lot properly that would involve all of the other lots around them. Ford told Court, “I’d like to allow for this variance but we also know there may be others behind it so I’m not quite sure if we want to allow this, so they can get their septic system done in advance of building on the lot.”


Ingalsbe, as she did in January, brought up the fact that her office also deals with a lot of these types of cases, and referenced the Martinez situation saying, “I don’t know if I can support this at this time.” Her office has been trying to guide constituents through the red tape required for legal platting. She said she believes that all citizens should be held to an equal standard.


For her part, Judge Sumter agreed with Ingalsbe, saying, “I think it’s important that we at least try and make the attempt with the owners to at least try and clean up the subdivision so that as that subdivision moves forward and as they go to sell their property everything is legal when it goes. And I think that’s important and we’ve got to pick a starting point.”


Under state law, if all the lots in a subdivision are larger than 10 acres and no public improvements are made, then the requirement to file a subdivision plat is waived. Originally, the ranch had been platted into 32 lots and then those lots were sold off. Those 32 lots were then further subdivided into 74 lots that are not legal because state law does not allow for subdividing land already subdivided once before without going through the proper legal channels.

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