Developing the Hill Country

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

What would be Comal County's first Water Control and Improvement District is being planned for a new subdivision near Bulverde.

David Hill, a Lufkin developer, plans to provide water, wastewater and drainage infrastructure for his Johnson Ranch Development which features 1,025 lots on 449 acres, with 250 acres of easements, rights of way and open space and another 61 acres of mixed-use development.

Hill's water districts are modeled after Municipal Utility Districts which allow the developer to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance drainage, water distribution, wastewater collection and treatment systems then taxing property owners to pay back the costs.

Comal County Engineer Tom Hornseth said that at least two other developers have discussed forming districts as part of their plans for large subdivisions in the county.

"It's a whole new way to develop the Hill Country," he told the San Antonio Express News last week.

As real estate values rise in the rural areas of the region, water districts such as this may become more popular among developers who can put more homes on each acre.

Typically only one home per one to five acres is allowed under standard development rules because county regulations require home lots of five acres or more if the homes rely on wells and septic tanks, and one acre or more is they have public water and use septic tanks.

These regulations were instituted to ensure water quality and availability to new subdivisions, but they also limit the density of new development. Subdivisions with public water and sewer systems have no minimum lot size requirements.

Many county officials and citizens, from Kendall to Comal, seem concerned about this new type of development in the Hill Country.

Smaller lot sizes in subdivisions with water districts would mean that developers could pack six or more homes on one acre of land, perhaps overwhelming county services and infrastructure.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Jay Millikin said that if these special districts take hold in the county, the Hill Country will look quite different in the future.

Developers who want to utilize these special water districts in their new subdivisions must get approval from the County Commissioners Court, but if the county does not grant their approval, the developer can go to a district court or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to get approval.

The commission usually grants approval to utility districts if all their guidelines are met and the developer can justify the need.

According to Hill, the district financing for water and sewer keeps subdivision lot prices lower, home prices remain reasonable ad the subdivision fills more rapidly, thus providing the county with more ad valorem taxes sooner.

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