We need smart growth

Op-Ed by Ron Walton
Printed in the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung

I am writing as a private citizen as I do a monthly solicited letter to editor as a public official as the Comal/Guadalupe County elected volunteer for the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) board of Directors, District 9, having served since election in 2010 and re-election in 2014, to serve through 2018.

It continues to be a privilege to serve you and to be a licensed real estate broker with my own independent brokerage, Walton’s Bethel, Inc. I am passionate about people having the opportunity to “live the good life” and most all of us do who live here.

I am not against growth but know the importance of being able to provide the infrastructure to support it. Unfortunately, I see a growing tendency however for growth in the area at all cost which, especially in the Hill Country (my specialty as a Hydro-geologist with background in water wells, septics, and geomorphology) I think does a disservice to all current residents like myself who came here recently.

We moved here from Evergreen, Colorado in the mountains west of Denver in 2008 where I had a 35 year career in water issues, the last 15 years with the US Geological Survey and was also a real estate broker and served in reviewing water issues there as a volunteer after retirement.

We built our own “Texas dream 1 level Ranch” on over an acre of land and purchased another 1 acre lot just to protect our beautiful panoramic view of the Hill Country.

We love living here, but now we are threatened with not only two proposed waste water treatment plants on each side of us, but high density homes which are going to be proposed and constructed on small parcels of land if re-platting is approved.

Also, along with the sewage plants, which are required when one does not have 1 acre of land sufficient for aerobic septic systems, will come effluent discharged into our local streams.

In my opinion, to allow these plants to be built and re-plat the land to allow homes to be built which lower the value of surrounding homes is not smart growth.

The current Johnson ranch, also in Comal County, is a similar high density development with its required waste water treatment plant now with low-priced homes being occupied as they are being sold.

All at the potential cost — your house is only worth as much as one nearby — of current residents who were promised by the developers that all the land around them would remain at least 1 acre parcels.

We were told no waste water treatment plants would be allowed in our area to discharge treated effluent into our local streams. This not only pollutes our streams but produces odors that are not desirable. Now we are faced with proposals submitted by our developers to build the two plants on each side (Crane Mill Rd to West and Vintage Oaks at The Vineyard to East) of us and sub-divide the remaining land into 1/4 acre or less parcels for low-cost housing.

I am also passionate about providing low cost housing. I have earned a certificate from the Texas Association of Realtors (TAR) as an Texas Affordable Housing Specialist (TAHS) and I am on the Texas Association of Realtors Public Policy Land Use Committee which provides SmartGrowth training which I have also earned.

The growth and provision of affordable housing at all cost is not smart when the growth could be done in better locations in better ways — not small parcels of land and not in scenic Hill Country next to our streams.

Let’s encourage and support growth but do it in a smart way in locations that do not adversely affect current residents or our environment.

In my opinion, there is plenty of land available for this type of growth in Comal County without putting these plants and low-cost homes next to these areas and Dry Comal Creek which would lead to discharging effluent into one of our valuable intermittent streams.

Now one can say “Well Ron just doesn’t want it around him” and that’s true for very good reason — you don’t have to allow growth here in high-end custom home areas of the Hill Country at expense of all residents who built and moved here with promise that this would not happen and at expense of environment and beauty of the area.

I urge the county Commissioners to consider the serious damage that re-platting of this land into 1/4 acre lots will do to our high-paying tax payers and adversely affect the beauty of Hill Country if and when these plants are approved.

They must be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) but the factors I am concerned about do not affect their approval.

Nor do transportation issues which is another important factor to consider.

Trucks carrying treated effluent is hazardous to our transportation on local county and state maintained roads. As headlines said recently “It Stinks” in my opinion both figuratively and factually.