By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association Chairman Brian Thompto is urging the Steiner Ranch community to make its voice heard regarding the future of an 84-acre property known as MU-14 that Thompto describes as the “front door” of Steiner Ranch.
An online survey has been launched at http://steinerranchna.org/mu14/ to get community feedback about this land.
Currently, the tract located off of RM 620 and Quinlan Park Road is privately owned by a number of landowners. Taylor Morrison was one of the owners but recently sold its share to the other owners, Thompto said. Under the current plan, Taylor Morrison would still be contracted to build 150 two- to three-bedroom duplexes on the tract. Thompto said many Steiner Ranch residents oppose that plan.
“Our neighborhood association for the last two and a half years has been actively encouraging (Taylor Morrison) that we think this is a very bad fit for this property due to traffic flow,” Thompto told Four Points News last year. “We are not the only ones. Everyone who sees this says this does not make any sense. This is not a good fit for that property.”
He said the board of SRNA had come to a tentative agreement with Taylor Morrison to have the Steiner Ranch community purchase the land through a bond. The land could then be used as a community park. He estimates the cost would be about $125 to $150/year for the average homeowner.
“We have nowhere left to develop for any future needs,” Thompto said. “So if we wanted to add a library, a new park or any kind of expanded community center, we don’t have any capacity or land for that. This property would be great for any number of potential future uses for the community.”
Landowners open to selling property to SRNA
Though representatives with Taylor Morrison had initially said they did not want to sell the tract to SRNA, they had a change of heart in late 2014.
“Finally, in November or December, out of the blue really, Taylor Morrison calls Brian (Thompto) and said, ‘We want to move forward with selling the property to you guys,’” said William Farrell, SRNA board member. “What changed their minds, we don’t know.”
Thompto said while he doesn’t want to speculate as to their reasoning, Taylor Morrison received a lot of feedback from Steiner Ranch residents after a September 2014 article in FPN about their plan to build the duplexes. The SRNA board also sent Taylor Morrison a letter outlining its opposition to the duplex project.
Taylor Morrison did end up selling its portion of the land to the other landowners in January, Thompto said. While the remaining partners are still willing to sell the land, they could still move forward with the duplex project if the deal falls through, Farrell said.
“I believe they have all their ducks in a row with the city and county,” Farrell said. “They can break ground whenever they want if they choose to go forward with that.”
WCID-17 board concerned over bond election
Because the land is valued anywhere from $6-$8 million, Thompto created a proposal to purchase it through a defined-area bond from WCID-17. This would require the water district to create a new defined area and hold the bond election. Thompto made a formal presentation to the WCID-17 board in June 2014 and said the board members initially seemed very open to the idea.
After researching the issue and seeking guidance from the Texas Office of the Attorney General, however, the WCID-17 bond counsel still had questions over the legality of a water district holding a defined-area bond election for a neighborhood association park.
“District 17 has been working with the SRNA on this issue for the last 10 months or so, and consulting with both our general counsel and bond attorneys to determine both the mechanism by which this could be accomplished and the legality of creating a new defined area specifically for park land,” said Deborah Gernes, general manager for WCID-17.
Gernes said the district board members have several concerns and came to the conclusion not to continue with the project.
“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. It is doubtful that the process could be completed in time to call the election in August (for a November election). All of the current voted Steiner bonds have now been issued, and creating a new defined area would increase the tax rate and extend the time that residents would have to pay that tax.”
Farrell said the Texas Legislature passed a law in 2009 that allows water districts to issue bonds for parks. He said he’s spoken to several bond attorneys who said it can legally be done.
“The whole idea of selling bonds for recreational facilities is fairly new,” said Farrell, who is also an attorney and former real estate developer.
Farrell said that the SRNA even offered to cover the cost of holding the bond election, within reason; however, the WCID board has not given him an estimate of what it would cost. He said WCID board members brought up a variety of concerns at the April 16 board meeting.
“We kind of got stonewalled,” Farrell said. “They came up with every kind of excuse they could think of. The legality of it was never really even discussed. Now you’re telling me that you’re too busy, or you’re not sure there’s enough support in Steiner. I’m just hearing all these different excuses instead of how can we help when we’re trying to come up with a plan so that WCID doesn’t have anything at risk.”
Public support to buy MU-14?
He said one of the board members questioned whether there is enough support for the bond within the Steiner Ranch community.
“One of the board members said, ‘If you can show us there’s enough support in Steiner and you can come up with the money to cover it, maybe we can reconsider it but for now, we’re dead,’” Farrell said.
He said for now, the SRNA board is focusing on working with Taylor Morrison to gauge the company’s interest in waiting until a May 2016 bond election and also getting the word out to the community about the efforts they’ve taken. He believes there is strong support for the project.
“We’re just trying to get the word out and start rallying the neighborhood to get behind it,” he said.
Thompto said community members need to make their voices heard.
“The water district doesn’t have confidence that the public wants to do (the bond election),” Thompto said. “If you want a different outcome from your elected officials, you need to step up and say you want this. These are elected officials, they’re supposed to represent the area. We need the people to get behind it and decide if they want it.”
Even if the water district ends up not having the bond election, Thompto said he believes the community has other options to purchase the land.
“If the community wants it bad enough and is willing to pay for it, we can probably find a way to do it,” he said.
Thompto said he urges Steiner Ranch residents to go to www.steinerranchna.org/mu14 to voice their support or opposition regarding the purchase of the land.