The Fight for Comal County
“We’re literally loving the Hill Country to death.”
These words of warning did not fall on deaf ears at a packed public forum, “Local Control Options for Hill Country Counties,” on June 5 at GVTC Auditorium.
Attendees learned the only real chance they have of gaining local control over infrastructure projects that encourage growth is to bug their legislators to change Texas law so that it gives counties more zoning authority over development.
Who Regulates Land Use?
For them, there’s more at stake than watching scenic Hill Country vistas being erased by new construction.
Home values are at risk because Comal County commissioners have little say over commercial development projects that greatly diminish quality of life for the thousands who flock to the area — for quality of life.
“Over and over, counties have no power to prohibit incompatible land use,” said Annalisa Peace, executive director of Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, one of the forum’s sponsors. “You have industrial facilities next to neighborhoods. It’s heartbreaking.”
Added Jensie Madden with League of Women Voters-Comal Area: “People are seeing what we were only predicting a decade ago.”
She and Peace said saving Comal and surrounding counties means getting resolutions passed by commissioners’ courts throughout the Hill Country, commitments from local legislators to sponsor legislation, a bill drafted by Texas senators and representatives to be filed in January 2019 — and plenty of citizen action.
Getting the Message Out
After the meeting, Peace said thinks Comal County residents heard this message.
“I was very pleased with the turnout last night and the participation from the audience,” she said. “It looks like those in attendance are ready for the state legislature to get to work on legislation that will protect the individual property rights, health and safety of those who live in unincorporated areas of this fast-growing region.”
A number of elected officials and representatives were there to hear the message as well.
In attendance were Comal County commissioners Donna Eccleston, Pct. 1 and Scott Haag, Pct. 2; Kendall County Commissioner Richard Elkins; Kerr County Commissioner Tom Moser; District 9 Edwards Aquifer Association Representative Ron Walton; Curt Campbell, vice president of Westward Development (which writes all of Vulcan’s permits) and member of board of directors for Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District; Bulverde City Councilwoman Yvonne Chapman, Precinct 102 Election Judge Kaci Sisk; Bryan Benway, representing Texas State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Dist. 73; Kelly Follis, representing Sen. Donna Campbell, 25th district member of the Texas senate; Stephanie Phillips, Democrat opponent to Rep. Biedermann; Dorothy Carroll, Democratic opponent to Comal County Commissioner, Pct. 4 Jen Crownover; and Gloria Meehan, running as a Democrat for Comal County clerk.
Call to Action
Sabrina Houser Amaya, with Stop3009VulcanQuarry.com, emailed attendees the next day to remind them that political action involves “consistent and persistent contact with your elected officials.”
- Contact commissioners courts throughout the Hill Country and ask them to develop “local control options” resolutions to protect unincorporated areas of the county.
- Help get these resolutions to submitted to state representatives and senators so they can draft bills.
- Contact state representatives and senators and ask them to commit to sponsor local control/option resolutions from their counties. “Be explicit as to why this is important to you as a constituent,” she said.
Why can’t Comal County commissioners do more to regulate growth?
Under current Texas law
- Counties lack the authority to manage stormwater and control flooding at the local level;
- Without any mechanism to require that new developments pay for themselves, all citizens pay for new infrastructure to accommodate growth;
- Counties cannot preserve the health, safety and quality of life for their citizens by prohibiting incompatible land uses;
- Counties are not given the tools to protect critical watersheds that replenish local kast aquifers like Edwards Aquifer, which is exceptionally vulnerable to pollution;
- and counties are not given adequate tools to sest minimum standards for water and wastewater infrastructure and emergency services.
Between 2005 and 2009, four bills granting counties limited legislative authority for zoning failed.
Madden and Peace said the Texas legislature, which reconvenes next year, should grant county commissioners
- Ability to set standards for water or wastewater systems;
- Ability to require minimum fire suppression systems;
- Ability to require improvements to streets and roads;
- Ability to require a minimum amount of open space or imposing a limit on the amount of impervious cover for aquifer recharge and stormwater management;
- Ability to require vegetative buffers or adopt other measures to minimize conflict between incompatible land uses;
- and the ability to assess impact fees that can pay for new infrastructure required to serve new developments.
Legislation also should require that commissioners courts place any proposed new powers on a ballot for county residents to decide. No new powers would accrue to a county without citizen approval.
“We believe that government at the county level is the most-effective and most-accessible means or providing protection to rural areas and our natural resources,” Peace said.
Please don’t forget Outdoor Lighting. Any expanded county authority should include the ability to regulate outdoor lighting in order to control the light pollution that is steadily diminishing the quality of the Hill County’s nighttime skies.