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Homeowners give Cielo Rio new life

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Joe, Heath and Barbara Shepard of Lantana Land Co. LLC propose to breathe new life into Cielo Rio subdivision.

The Medina River at Cielo Rio is no small part of the attractions of the subdivision.

When Joe and Barbara Shepard left California in 2006, they traveled across the US looking for a place to retire. After reaching the east coast and going all the way up to Maine, they decided that the Texas Hill Country was the place they wanted to be.
Consequently, they were among the first purchasers of lots in Cielo Rio Ranch subdivision on Highway 16 between Bandera and Pipe Creek.
Unfortunately, an economic crash and the sudden death of the principal developer, Don Apostolo, led to the collapse of the development.
"We agonized about this place," Joe told a group of property owners Sunday afternoon, Jan. 24, in the Mathis Ranch house that had once served as the development office. "We loved it, but the ownership was kind of in limbo."
Joe explained the financial situation to the group. "We made up a team of professionals to advise us," he said. There were several lawsuits from heirs of Apostolo and heirs in the Wally Palma family, and interests held by the San Angelo Banking Center of the First National Bank of Sonora. In addition, no property taxes had been paid on the unsold lots and Bandera County had filed a tax suit.
"We formed the Lantana Land Company LLC and purchased the note which allowed us to foreclose on the property," Joe said. "We are now the sole owner."
The Shepards and other homeowners had been doing what they could to maintain the property for some time before the ownership change over on Dec. 1, 2015. "We were paying the electric bills, trying to keep the water system working, just taking care of the general upkeep."
"We've been busy during our first eight weeks of ownership," he said. "We've been painting, repairing things, improving the water system, installing a new pump on the fountain at the entrance." Shepard informed the attentive property owners that a contract has been signed with Aquatech Drilling, a qualified state licensee, to run the water system. A worker's cabin has been removed and a greenhouse and other older outbuildings near the Mathis house will be removed soon. Landscaping will be added and the iconic stone house will probably be a rental property.
Immediate plans for the development include extending electrical service and water lines in phases.
Joined in the effort by their son, Heath Shepard, the family is eager to clean up the property and make it the successful subdivision it was originally planned to be.
Some property owners were unhappy to hear that two proposed lakes won't become a reality due to rules and regulations adopted by Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District that prohibits vanity lakes kept full by wells pumping groundwater from the aquifer.
However, both areas that had been proposed for lakes will most likely be turned into park areas for the common use of property owners. The river is also flowing and access will be improved.
The Shepards are obviously expending a lot of personal energy and finances on the project. "We're all in," said Joe. One of his friends told him, "You sure know how to mess up a good retirement."
Joe worked in commercial real estate in California, Arizona and Texas for 25 years before coming the Texas. Heath entered the Army as a combat engineer to gain skills in construction.
Cielo Rio Ranch was originally made up of four parcels purchased by Apostolo of Corsicana and other principals Mickey Sallee and Wally Palma. He conveyed the acreage to Cielo Rio Ranch by warranty deed on June 21, 2005.
The development of Phase l of the property moved quickly, but several years of a failing real estate market led Apostolo to appear before Bandera County Commissioners Court five times to request extensions on his letter of credit to finish roads and underground utilities. Sallee sold his interest in the property after the group had partially developed another property, the Hills of Bandera Ranch, with larger acreages.
Following the death of Apostolo, Palma ran the property for a couple of years, but with no sales, chose not to continue.
Both properties were set for public auction in Bandera in September of 2012, but there were no buyers. The bank opted to sue instead of foreclosing.
Property owners attending Sunday's meeting greeted the announcement of the new ownership with optimism.
"Everybody here has lost money," Joe concluded. "We hope to mitigate that."
Lantana Land Company LLC will handle sales of the remaining lots, but local real estate brokers and agents will be welcomed. Marketing is tentatively planned to begin in March.