By KIM ESTES, Four Points News
The Travis County Water Control & Improvement District 17 board of directors opted not to call a bond election as proposed Thursday by the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association for the purchase of 80 acres in Steiner Ranch.
WCID-17 board president, Jeff Roberts, reported directors were advised against the election by legal counsel. Also, board members were concerned about the election timeline, disagreement among residents about property use and WCID-17 liability for it.
The proposed bond, totaling $7.5 – $8 million, was for property just off RM 620 and Quinlan Park Road known as MU-14, owned by MU-14 Investments. As it is now, MU-14 is slated for construction of 150 duplexes. SRNA wants to buy the property for development corresponding to community interests, such as a park or ball fields. SRNA has been actively seeking a change in the property’s intended development for the past two and a half years.
“We were quite disappointed,” said Brian Thompto, SRNA chairman, of the WCID-17 meeting results. “One board member – David Steed – seemed supportive. Others were out-and-out against it.”
Eleven Steiner Ranch residents, including SRNA board members, attended the meeting. Four members of the 5-member WCID-17 board were present.
“The legal advice we’ve been given is we don’t believe the statutory authority exists for us to (call for a bond election). We’ve got very experienced general counsel and bond counsel that focus on that as their area of the law. They’re experts in it,” Roberts said.
Last month, Deborah Gernes, WCID-17 general manager, said District 17 had been working with SRNA on this issue for 10 months to determine both the mechanism by which this could be accomplished and the legality of creating a new defined area specifically for parkland.
“Although the District has consulted with the Attorney General’s Office, a clear answer on the legality of using the defined-area mechanism has not been received,” Gernes said. “Establishing a new defined area is a detailed, time consuming and expensive legal process which would require a general election of the entire district as well as an election within the defined area itself.”
SRNA disagrees with WCID-17’s legal counsel. At Thursday’s meeting, SRNA asked to confer with the District’s attorneys. “We asked what would it take to re-explore this with their legal team because we, at least, wanted an opportunity to engage with them. We also asked for an estimate on what the fees would be. We would entertain paying for it,” Thompto said. However, the board did not indicate an interest in SRNA’s offer.
“Assuming we got to the Attorney General’s Office and they approved going forward with a bond election, we told SRNA in April that the time to call an election in August for November was challenging,” Roberts added.
Plus, Roberts said that WCID-17 board members believe there is disagreement among residents about what MU-14 should be used for if acquired. “Some people want parks, some want libraries. Other people who showed up said they weren’t aware of (the bond proposal) and really didn’t want it,” he said.
Thompto reported that one woman spoke against it, but others spoke for it. Furthermore, in an online survey posted by SRNA, 88 percent (876 of 998) of responders said they were “very interested – I’d vote for it today” to purchase the property. Eleven percent, or 110 people, said they were interested, but needed to learn more. Only 12 people said they were “not interested”.
Finally, regarding liability, Thompto said SRNA would set up a means to cover liability insurance. “We would work with homeowners associations for maintenance and fees for the area so it would not be required from the water district,” he said.
“It didn’t seem like there was a reasonable solution that would satisfy these board members,” Thompto said after the meeting.
Due to overwhelming interest by the community, though, SRNA is not giving up on the matter. “We are looking for another way to move forward. We have other ideas. We’ll engage the HOAs and, on behalf of the community, explore other options. Certainly if anyone has any ideas, they are encourage to contact SRNA,” Thompto said.