State legislators have a new special interest group knocking on their doors, a coalition of 15 Hill Country counties that wants bills passed to boost their authority over development.
The Hill Country Coalition of Counties members share concerns about the detrimental effects of rapid growth on water availability, traffic, drainage, the environment and budgets.
They hope that presenting a united front for their more than 524,000 combined residents will erode the Legislature's resistance to expanding the statutory authority of counties.
“If we can speak with one voice, that's a positive,” Kerr County Commissioner Jonathan Letz said. “It gives the counties more clout.”
He raised the coalition's concerns last week in a meeting with Janice McCoy, chief of staff to Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.
“We're going to be looking at their issues next session to see what we can or cannot do,” McCoy said Friday.
The group also plans to host legislators June 27 in San Marcos to spell out its proposals.
“We all have the same problems, and each county needs the ability to solve them in the best way for their county,” Hays County Judge Liz Sumter said.
Their top concern is getting authority to set density limits on new growth, which would help control aquifer usage, traffic, drainage and flooding.
“Counties need the authority to control density because of groundwater scarcity,” Sumter said. “We don't want to have well after well after well. Wells close together drain the aquifer more quickly.”
The group also wants authority to assess impact fees on builders of new subdivisions to help fund the cost of infrastructure upgrades needed to serve the new residents.
Reviving a proposal that was shot down in the last session of the Legislature, it also wants the power to require buffer areas between existing neighborhoods and incompatible commercial uses proposed nearby.
Comal County Commissioner Jay Millikin said new rock quarries there highlight the need for a buffer zone bill.
“We're being inundated with rock quarries, and I don't have any way to protect people who live in an established subdivision from a rock quarry moving in right next door,” he said.
The platform is also drawn from a bill sought by Kendall County two years ago that would let counties dictate the number of housing units per acre, set requirements for centralized water and sewer systems, dictate open space set-asides by developers and more.
“We've been lacking in authority, and handicapped by that lack for so long, maybe this is the way to do it,” Kendall County Commissioner Gene Miertschin said. “Instead of just one county going up there and pounding on the legislators' desks, if 15 counties go up there, maybe they'll get the message that there's really some need.”
That approach has worked for 25 counties in the Abilene area that aligned in 1994 as the Texas Midwest Community Network, said Nicki Harle, the group's director.
“I think they listen and hear more of us by us talking together,” she said of legislators.
The new coalition members range in population from Edwards County, with about 2,000 residents, to Hays County, with more than 141,000.
Its other Hill Country members, and their 2007 populations, are Bandera (20,197), Comal (105,187) Kendall (31,342), Mason (3,890), Kimble (4,461), Llano (18,394), Blanco (9,067), Uvalde (26,581), Medina (43,826), Gillespie (23,507), Burnet (43,689), Kerr (47,860) and Real (2,965).Online at: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA060808.METRO.EN.3898a64.html
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