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Hays inching toward larger lot sizes over Trinity

Thursday, February 19, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Hays County Commissioners on Tuesday spent four hours hearing testimony from a range of regional water experts on how the new subdivision rules could impact water quality and quantity.


The commissioners joked about their diminished mental capacity after so many hours of testimony, but the new water regulations do seem to be finally taking shape. Winton Porterfield, a Hays County developer who has often appeared before the court, told In Fact Daily he believes the commissioners seem to have “the political will” to enforce much more stringent standards for subdivisions over the Trinity Aquifer.


The issue of minimum lot sizes dominated the discussion. Lot size restrictions can substantially affect water quality, and are one of the county’s strongest tools for shaping development. A larger minimum lot size creates less dense development, which means less runoff. Currently, lot size minimums are affected by three factors: location in relation to the Edwards Aquifer, type of wastewater system, and water source. The largest lots are in the Edwards Recharge Zone, the next largest in the Edwards Contributing Zone. The rest of the county allows the smallest lot size. If the lot uses a centralized wastewater system, it can be smaller than one that uses a septic tank. Finally, there are two different lot sizes depending on whether groundwater is used or another source such as surface water or rainwater.


The current draft of rules envisions a similar system for land on the Trinity Aquifer in Western Hays County. While the Edwards Aquifer is more susceptible to pollution and water quality issues, the Trinity is facing a water quantity problem. So commissioners contemplated regulating the Trinity lots by their water source. Judge Liz Sumter asked how the rules would deal with water use that was conjunctive, or from multiple sources. Staff told commissioners that “in practice” any amount of surface water in a conjunctive source would trigger the county to declare the entire water flow as surface water.


Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley insisted that the minimum lot sizes were important for more than just environmental concerns, while Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford floated the idea of a public meeting if lot size minimums were only upheld in the western portion of the county. On March 10, commissioners will have the last workshop covering theses topics.

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