City Council unanimously approved three measures on Thursday that allows the City to purchase 165.3 acres, reserves the right to purchase 38.7 more, and expands nearby Hardy Oak Boulevard and Huebner Road as part of a more than $10 million package deal with the Classen-Steubing family, which owns the former ranch land. The acreage will become a massive park in the heart of Stone Oak over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and the property owners retain the right to residential development in its remaining acreage surrounding the preserve and planned sports fields.

Several neighbors from the Stone Oak neighborhood showed up to support the deal and Council members praised the efforts of the City’s Conservation Advisory Board (CAB), Councilman Joe Krier (D9) and the property owners for securing one of the last and largest undeveloped tracts of land in the Northside.

“If they wanted to, they could be chainsawing live oaks today,” Krier said of the property owner’s rights to develop the land, which is only partially restricted by a flooding easement. Instead, they turned down an opportunity to sell the land to a developer and accept a “historic” offer at a appraised value likely below the true market rate in the rapidly-developing Northside.

The City will use $5.3 million in Edwards Aquifer Protection Program funds to purchase 160 acres located in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone near the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Loop 1604. Another $1 million from District 9’s Hardy Oak Extension will be used to acquire 5.3 acres slated for park development. The remaining acreage and $3.8 million payment is contingent on the inclusion and passage of the City’s coming municipal bond that will go before voters in May 2017.

The City also entered into a “developer participation agreement” for the design and construction of extensions of Huebner Road and Hardy Oak Boulevard in which it will pay just less than half, $6,248,000, of the total project cost of $12,583,000. The roads are expected to alleviate traffic in the area and serve new housing projects.

Edwards Aquifer Program boundaries.
The blue space indicates acreage that will be preserved, green represents the future sports fields. The black line outlines the Classen-Steubing’s property.

This particular tract of land has an especially high value to the water quality and quantity in the Edwards Aquifer, said CAB Chair Francine Romero, associate dean at University of Texas at San Antonio’s school of public policy. CAB is a city-appointed board that reviews Proposition 1 allocations.

Noticeably absent from Council chambers on Thursday was any representation of Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA). Annalisa Peace, GEAA executive director, raised concerns about the land deal last week when she accused the City of subsidizing suburban development with aquifer protection funds. She also charged that the City could have gotten a better price.

For the most part City Council members saw these concerns as unfounded, but appreciated the seriousness of ensuring that Proposition 1 funds are used for the sole purpose of protecting the Edwards Aquifer.

CAB was careful to do the exact opposite of what Peace implied, Romero told City Council. And to make sure the easements stayed intact, “it was very important to the CAB” that Edwards Aquifer Authority be given control of the easement in case future City Councils are tempted by high-dollar/high-density offers for the land in the future.

With or without the conversation easement, said Assistant City Manager Xavier Urrutia, the Classen-Steubing family “has the ability and the right as private property owners to fully develop its parcels … this way at least the City can manage development by acquiring a piece of it.”

Peace did not return a request for comment by deadline.

“We still have quite a bit of planning to do ahead of us,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said, referring to the ongoing annexation discussions. “This project is a bright spot.”

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Top image: Councilman Joe Krier (D9) walks along a trail in the new 204-acre park in District 9 that leads to an overlook of the city.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org