"Despite the overwhelming opposition, the (Planning & Zoning) Commission approved the variance. One of the commissioners went so far as to berate the citizens in attendance who had taken time out of their evening to voice their opposition to a project that will greatly alter the community in which they live."
Note: This guest editorial from State Rep. Jason Isaac might also be titled "Welcome to the world your Legislature has Wrought." Isaac is correct in pointing out that thousands of people live in a kind of "no man's land" inside Dripping Springs' ETJ (unincorporated area), forced to live by development decisions made by a small cadre of city officials without the right to vote in city elections, without the opportunity to replace city officials whose decisions they disagree with. What Mr. Isaac fails to mention is that the Texas Legislature has designed a system under the Local Government Code tilted to favor developers, whilst leaving many citizens and their right to have a say twisting in the wind. Isaac's public opposition to the Cypress Creek at Ledge Stone apartment project is a safe bet. By doing so, he stands to gain a lot of support for his own re-election campaign, although it may not stop the development from going forward. Dripping Springs' Planning & Zoning Commission members recently approved Developer Stuart Shaw's final plans for the Ledgestone apartment complex, which gives the city council the green light to approve it tonight. The typical explanation is that the developer has met all the criteria in the law, "There's nothing we can do to stop it." Should the council approve it, the project's next and final move is to the desk of County Judge Bert Cobb, who, we predict, will give the project his blessing and repeat the explanation of the city council. As for Isaac, if he is as frustrated with the system as he claims, he should be advocating long lasting changes in the law to give ETJ residents all across Hays County and Texas more say in development decisions in their neighborhoods.
Send your comments and questions to Mr. Isaac at firstname.lastname@example.org, to Ms. Scott at email@example.com, to the city of Dripping Springs at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the post
Taxation Without Representation
By State Rep. Jason Isaac
As the Dripping Springs area continues to grow, a troubling trend is emerging. While only 1,500 people live inside the city limits, the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) is home to more than 20,000 residents. With thousands of single-family homes, many children in public schools, and a lot of money spent in local businesses, the population in the ETJ makes up almost the city’s entire tax base.
Yet, because these citizens do not live within the city limits, they are unable to vote in the city elections that have a huge impact on the future of their community. In fact, less than seven percent of the area’s population is eligible to vote. This means that our City Council members, and the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission (whom the City Council appoints), are only held accountable to this small group of citizens.
This discrepancy has never been more apparent than it was in the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting held on July 24th. The Commission considered granting a variance for a large, low-income apartment complex proposed for the Dripping Springs ETJ. This development is heavily opposed by those who will be most affected by it, the residents of Ledge Stone, Heritage Oaks, Highpointe, and Belterra.
By my estimation, there were about 300 people who signed up or spoke in opposition of the complex, and petitions with thousands of signatures were also presented. The Commission sat through hours of testimony from residents with valid concerns about the strain that this complex could place on our schools and county services.
Despite the overwhelming opposition, the Commission approved the variance. One of the commissioners went so far as to berate the citizens in attendance who had taken time out of their evening to voice their opposition to a project that will greatly alter the community in which they live. I can’t help but wonder whether or not this approval would have been granted if the many residents who are seriously concerned about this issue were able to vote in city elections.
Public input is an integral part of our democratic republic. One of the greatest things about our country is our ability to make our voices heard, whether it’s through testimony at a public hearing or by exercising our right to vote for the elected officials who best represent our beliefs. In the case of Dripping Springs, I worry that the ability of the minority to control the majority translates into taxation without representation.
The decision has now been passed on to the City Council, who will meet on August 14th at 7:00 PM to consider the matter. Regardless of your stance on this issue, I encourage you to attend this meeting and contribute to the discussion.
Jason A. Isaac
State Representative, House District 45
** Letter from Teresa Scott, grassroots organizer opposing the Ledgestone Apartment project:
From: Teresa Scott
Sent: Sunday, August 5, 2012 12:51 PM
Subject: No to the Ledgestone apartment complex
Dear Mayor and City Council Members of Dripping Springs,
I have been following the progress of Stuart Shaw's development since early February this year. I have met numerous times with Mr. Shaw and have had multiple conversations via phone or email as well.
I am not opposed to development in the Dripping Springs area. As you can see by my signature block, I depend on progress to feed my family. However, I am opposed to development that is harmful to a community.
Over the past 5-6 months I have researched other communities that Mr. Shaw has developed. I have spoken with residents of his complexes, neighbors to his complexes, schools that are fed by his complexes, and governing entities with jurisdiction where his complexes reside. I wanted to know and learn about what might be coming into my area. I have yet to find and speak with someone that will give a thumbs up to his projects who has nothing financially to gain from the project. The general consensus has been, "sorry to hear they are moving into your area," "good luck with that," "I hope you can stop it." These comments give me a lot to be concerned about.
In no particular order, the reasons for these comments have been the following:
1. Lack of tax dollars
2. Drop in school performance
3. Calls to police
4. Disruption to neighboring homes from apartment residents
5. Drop in home values (one home appraised $40k less - the appraiser told the home owner this was largely due to the complex)
I spend a lot of my days with potential home buyers. I know what scares them away from an area. One big draw back is the tax rates which vary greatly from one neighborhood to the next.
I have more clients shy away from the Belterra, Highpointe, Ledgestone areas because of the ridiculously high tax rate. This tax rate is among some of the highest in all of our MLS area. Hays County is one of the most in debt counties in all of Texas. In talking with Williamson and Harris County tax offices where Stuart has other complexes, they have either received NOTHING or very little from his PILOT program. Harris County was shocked that he was tax exempt, they have other low income complexes that pay a reduced amount and the gentleman I spoke with doesn't understand how Stuart got in tax free. I can tell you first hand that taxes have a big impact on an area's home market. Other areas of Austin are thriving and are moving into a sellers market. The neighborhoods mentioned above are moving in that direction, but much slower than, for instance, Circle C Ranch that is only an 8 minute drive north-east.
There is not a lot of factual information on whether an apartment complex will increase or decrease home values. However, when I have a buyer in the car they will be very particular about what is around the homes they are interested in. They don't want to back power lines, gas lines, stores, warehouses, and especially not apartment complexes. If they can find an equally good property away from these and other "perceived" negatives, they will most always go away from the perceived negatives whether it truly is a negative or not.
I know there is a place for a complex this size and this restricted. Does it make sense at Ledgestone...no. We don't have the public transportation, the day cares, the jobs within walking distance or on a bus route, or the shopping close by. I also work with and have worked with section 8 clients and low income clients and they have all had the same needs as mentioned above.
I have researched our school situation in DSISD and worry that a complex of this size, tax free or tax reduced, will have serious negative impact. DSISD is the crown jewel of Dripping Springs and is quite frankly the reason most of my clients move into the area. If we are not careful on decisions that dramatically affect DSISD, we could damage that vital entity that drives a lot of our housing market.
I have called and spoken with offices of Lake Travis ISD and Eanes ISD to inquire about their financials since they are similar to DSISD and they are exemplary districts. Those districts also get many buyers moving into their areas primarily due to the great schools. While they are pinched because of Chapter 42, (Robin Hood), they have no tax exempt or tax reduced complexes in their districts that they were aware of. In fact, they are surrounded by growth and business that contributes to their tax base. These areas are much better equipped to have and support affordable housing and the residents who live there. While they also lack some public transportation, in contrast to Dripping, they have grown enough to financially support a reduced tax complex.
Right now we need growth that will add to our tax base, not take away. The housing market is bouncing back and there is plenty of room for growth in our DSISD boundaries. With the house tops come the business', so let's work on keeping our area attractive to home buyers by working at lowering the tax burden in the ETJ areas. The neighborhoods located in the ETJ provide a substantial amount of tax revenue and sales tax to Hays County, DSISD and the City of Dripping Springs. If the desirability of these neighborhoods drop, so will the growth and the tax dollars coming in.
Lake Travis wasn't always a booming area. In a few short years they have become one of the fastest growing areas in Austin. If we are needing and looking for growth, I'd like to see us follow in their path, great schools, great neighborhoods, ample business, and low tax rates.
There may be a time when Dripping Springs and Hays county are in a stronger financial situation where we can financially and economically support and welcome an income reduced complex the size of the proposed Cypress Creek at Ledge Stone project. It is clear from the information that has been gathered over the past 5-6 month, now is NOT the time.
I urge you to make the right choice and deny this complex at this time.