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2007-01-25

Sparks fly at city council meeting

By David Arny

Amid accusations that some elected officials were being unresponsive to citizens’ concerns, emotions occasionally ran high at the January18 Bandera City Council meeting as the issue of water took center stage once again. Individuals representing Smithers Merchant Builders LP, the company proposing a 125-bed skilled nursing care facility on SH 173 just south of Bandera, were present to discuss a wide range of details of the planned project, but citizens in attendance at the meeting were focused on the topic of where and how the facility would obtain the water needed for its operation.

Even before Jeff Smithers, Chief Executive Officer of Smithers Merchant Builders LP, began his presentation, several audience members expressed their displeasure at what they perceived to be the mayor’s attempt to obtain approval from the Texas Department of Transportation ( TxDOT ) for a 12-inch water line to provide city water to the site without prior approval by the city council, as specifically required by city ordinance ( Sec. 11.01.e ).

Mayor Griffin replied that the Notice of Proposed Installation which she filed with TxDOT was simply a request for the state agency to determine if work on the the project would be able to go forward once the council gave its consent. Some members of the audience remained skeptical, however, noting that the specific wording contained in a copy of the undated document could be interpreted as being a formal request for a go-ahead on the plan.

Among other concerns stated by city residents present was whether or not, should a municipal water line be extended outside the city limits to supply the planned center in the so-called Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (E.T.J.) area, it would be possible to curtail further commercial development from occurring in the vicinity, thus depleting city water supplies even further.

Bandera Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jim Hannah said: “This is not a little water and sewer arrangement for one nursing home. It’s a major trunk line that will quickly spawn real estate speculation and political pressures for more and more water throughout the area, further down SH 173 south and out the Dixie Dude Road.”

Hannah believes that with the completion of hydrological studies, already begun by the engineering firm LBG-Guyton Associates, and the city’s mandated master plan for future growth, in addition to increased water storage capability and sensible water conservation policies, it will be feasible to extend municipal water supply lines at some future time. The biggest problem he sees in maintaining reliable water supplies for the city is the close proximity of wells currently in operation. He advocates a de-centralized array of water wells for the city in order for them not to “pump against one another,,”thereby drawing the aquifer down below its natural level.

Another citizen in attendance pointed out that during summer drought conditions, she is prohibited from any watering of her modest lawn and wondered how much water the nursing center would need to maintain landscaping on its four-acre property.

Smithers replied that Paramount Inc., the operators of the proposed facility, would require very little water for its landscaping due to extensive use of xeroscaping (landscaping with plant species which require minimal amounts of irrigation ).”We might have a small flower bed next to the entrance, but that’s about it,” he said.

At one point during the meeting, council members reviewed several of the positive aspects of constructing the skilled nursing center, including the creation of approximately 100 new jobs, increased property tax revenue for the county-nearly $100,000 per year, according to Smithers’ estimate and reliance on local businesses such as pharmacies and building maintenance contractors for a large part of the center’s operational needs.

When an audience member stated that the jobs would be mostly of the minimum wage variety, Mike Martel, president of Paramount Inc. countered that many positions would not be low-paying jobs but rather openings for nurses, pharmacists, administrators and other professionals.