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Hays Commissioners reluctantly approve plat for development

Wednesday, January 14, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Hays County Commissioners voted for a preliminary plat for the controversial Ridge at Wimberley Springs development Tuesday, despite concerns they each had for the affect the subdivision would have on regional water quality and quantity. The courthouse was packed with residents, most from Wimberley, fourteen of whom spoke in opposition to the development. The hearing brought into stark relief the limited authority of the county government, an issue championed by the Hays Commissioners.


The Ridge at Wimberley Springs is located on the north side of FM 2325 west of Wimberley by a new elementary school under construction. It is outside the ETJ of Wimberley and Woodcreek.


The commissioners were asked to vote on two issues. The first was to cancel 69 of the 266 residential lots in Section 25. These lots would revert back to 19.1 unplatted acres. The lots would then be re-platted as 30 larger lots and included in the proposed Ridge at Wimberley Springs. The new development would consist of 146 lots on 93 acres, with an average lot size of .63 acres. One ten-acre lot would fit the school and there would be nine additional public lots ranging from one to two acres.


Residents nearby the Ridge at Wimberley Springs claimed that increased traffic and continued drawdown of the drought-depleted and overused Trinity Aquifer were insurmountable problems to the development.  Because there is not any municipal water supplier in the area, or any surface water piped out to Woodcreek, all the water is pumped from either individual wells or from AquaTexas, a private corporation.


AquaTexas operates under a groundwater usage permit from the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. They also have a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) from the State of Texas, which allows them to provide utility services in the Wimberley Area. Among the materials developer Wimberley Springs Partners made public was a letter from the water provider stating they had enough leftover water in their permit to supply the development.


David Glenn, an active member in Wimberley Valley planning circles, was the first citizen to speak. He told the court that AquaTexas’ Woodcreek Phase 2, which will serve the proposed subdivision, had annual water system losses of 48 percent in 2006, 52 percent in 2007 and 52 percent through the first nine months of 2008. “This is unconscionable,” he said.


Commissioner Will Conley told the court that, “We have fought continuously with the legislature to give us more authority along environmental lines.” Conley’s Precinct 3 contains the proposed development. He pointed out that the county does not regulate AquaTexas and voiced intense displeasure with the company. He said, “They have not been a good partner in our region and our area.” He cited “many issues in the past” with AquaTexas and is hoping that a regional water and wastewater plan, combined with revised subdivision rules would allow the county to take on the corporation.


He said, “We have the ability to form our own district in Wimberley Valley and ultimately own that system.” He told the court Rep. Patrick Rose and the Woodcreek City Council had been working with the county after growing frustrated with AquaTexas over a number of issues. “The playing field for the average Joe needs to be leveled when it comes to private utilities because we have seen example after example in Wimberley Valley dealing with AquaTexas where it’s just not working.”


Jack Hollon, a board member for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and board member of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association also spoke in opposition. He read the Commissioners a letter from HTGCD President Andrew Backus opposed to the development and said the AquaTexas was “right up against” the permitted limit.


Hollon cited a recent study by Sarah Davidson using water chemistry from dozens and dozens of wells which showed one of the paths of recharge for the Trinity was right in the development. Stressing that the GCD was “focused on science and understanding a complex groundwater system,” he informed the court that the flow from Jacob’s well oscillates very close to zero. He cautioned that the court should not base its decision on “the assumption that there is more water. The fact that (Aqua Texas) have a CCN does not demand that the GCD permit anything they ask for.”


Winton Porterfield, VP of Wimberley Springs made the case that Woodcreek had already switched its golf course to 70 percent reused water, and insisted that the revised platting was less dense than the prior incarnation drawn up decades ago.


Many who spoke urged Commissioners to take on these challenges immediately rather than wait for the final platting. Jim McMeans, representing Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development took issue with the density of development. He claimed the average lot size is actually .37 acres, saying the balance of the lots is really open space or the school size. He said 70 percent of the lots are between one-quarter and one-third acre


Steve Thurber, Place 4 City Council member for Wimberley, told the Commissioners he emphasized with their plight, he also noted he was speaking against the subdivision. “It is known to degrade natural resources, probably degrade the quality of life, and probably degrade the property values,” he said in such a position, he would vote against the project to avoid violating his oath to “protect and preserve the health and welfare of our citizens.”


Commissioner Karen Ford lamented the fact that she and the other commissioners were essentially legally obligated to vote for the preliminary platting because the developer had followed all the necessary steps, despite citizen concern. She and Judge Liz Sumter warned that they expected to see some drastic changes and accommodations to the subdivision before they would allow final platting.

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