San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Metro and State News Page 01B
Report from 1995 told what city must do to protect Camp Bullis
Publication Date : June 23, 2007
City officials have known for more than a decade that something needed to be done.
And Thursday, council members got the sobering reminder that their predecessors -- and city staff -- have done nothing substantive to keep Fort Sam Houston open and functional.

On the agenda was a zoning case. But council members faced -- and ultimately, postponed a vote on -- a far more fundamental question: whether to allow dense development on more Edwards Aquifer recharge land near Fort Sam's Camp Bullis.

Speaking for the commander, Fort Sam Houston spokesman Phillip Reidinger firmly asked that plans for dense development around Fort Sam's critical training facility be rejected or Fort Sam's future will be imperiled.

"Fort Sam Houston -- I am not kidding -- cannot exist without Camp Bullis; it is a dead horse," he said later.

The first of Reidinger's eight objections was that ambient lighting would negatively affect nighttime training. But he also emphasized that preserving the camp's sylvan character is critical to its training because it provides a real-world practicum.

"Our use of the environment is what makes us environmentalists," he said later. "We must have a natural environment to do the training we do; we need trees, high grass, shrubs, and we need it kept undisturbed."

And this isn't the first time Reidinger has asked City Hall to protect Fort Sam's needs.

"When we started seeing increased development around (Loop) 1604 (in the early 1990s), we asked the Defense Department to partner with the Alamo Area Council of Governments to do an Incompatible Land Use Zone Study," he recalled. "We checked things like noise patterns, but we also checked all those thing associated with military operations."

The report issued in 1995 detailed Bullis' special needs.

"But all that study did was to validate the requirements to protect the areas around the military base from development," Reidinger said. "It still takes the political will of the community to say, 'In order to protect the military operations in our community, we have to design a military zone around (Camp Bullis) to protect it from development."'

Because that didn't happen -- even after all AACOG jurisdictions approved the report -- "all we use it for is as a reference; that's all we can do with it."

And because nothing was done, Reidinger has had to appear before various boards and commissions to plead the Army's need to keep development around Camp Bullis consistent with Fort Sam's training needs.

Sometimes that isn't easy, he says, because the Army isn't even informed about development plans more than 200 feet from Army property lines.

And Thursday, Reidinger used his council appearance to address a more fundamental need.

"I asked the mayor and council to use this zoning case as a platform to revisit development in the (Edwards Aquifer) recharge area, and around Camp Bullis," he said on the phone.

"What we're concerned about is the cumulative impact of this development," he explained. "There is going to be much more development in the area and this is going to happen again and again and again until (local governments) say, 'Stop, there is another consideration that has to be considered,"'

Reidinger makes a lot of sense. As a community, we must decide whether City Hall wants to please out-of-town developers or keep the city's oldest military base -- and all its jobs -- from going elsewhere. It's that simple.

"It will take the political will of the community to say, 'In order to protect the military operations in our community, we have to design a military zone around the installation from development,"' Reidinger says.

But two other questions remain unanswered: The first is why nothing has been done to keep Fort Sam's primary mission healthy after learning -- in 1995 -- that special action was required? The second is: Why does it take the world's most powerful army to knock some sense into city government?

To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail His column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.