A land deal that could forever preserve a pristine Hill Country stream north of San Antonio moved forward with approval from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department commissioners.
Commissioners on Thursday unanimously voted in favor of a land deal involving the department, the Nature Conservancy, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation that would preserve 515 acres at the headwaters of Honey Creek. The private ranch land intended for purchase lies upstream of Guadalupe River State Park and Honey Creek State Natural Area off of State Highway 46 in Comal County.
The land is slated for a more than 1,600-home development and three schools. Ronnie and Terry Urbanczyk, owners of the property known as Honey Creek Ranch, have already secured a permit for a sewage treatment plant and a contract to supply water to the property.
But the land could end up as a park instead, if the Urbanczyks agree to sell the land to the Nature Conservancy at what Ted Hollingsworth, TPWD’s land conservation manager, described as a “bargain price.”
TPWD would then buy the land over time from the conservancy, one of the world’s largest environmental groups that specializes in preserving sensitive areas. The arrangement allows the department to acquire the property in pieces as funding becomes available. None of the parties have disclosed any financial details.
In a Thursday interview at the agency’s headquarters TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith described Honey Creek itself as “absolutely magical.”
“It’s just hard to imagine you’re in Texas when you’re down there by the creek and those spring-fed waters and the canopy of those big towering cypress,” Smith said. “It’s just primeval; it’s sacred.”
David Holmes, a friend of the Urbanczyks who has been working as a consultant on the project, said that he and Ronnie Urbanczyk are both “elated by the fact that there’s a possibility that this project could become a park.”
“That is a really fitting way to treat such an important piece of property,” Holmes said.
But one major obstacle stands in the way of the preservation proposal, Holmes said. That’s the 2018 contract to supply water to the development that Urbanczyk signed with Flagstone Water Company, affiliated with Boerne-based Texas Water Supply Co. The water company, financially backed by New York private equity firm Brightstar Capital, is selling groundwater drawn from the sensitive Trinity Aquifer below northern Bexar County.
No longer needing water for a subdivision, Urbanczyk wants be released from the contract, Holmes said.
Kevin Meier, Flagstone’s president, declined to comment Thursday on the water contract.
At their meeting Thursday, TWPD officials spoke about the opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing, nature-viewing, and other recreational opportunities that could come with a new park at Honey Creek. Buying the land would allow for access from State Highway 46 in addition to the only current entrance, located near the end of a small park road.
“Demand for our Hill Country parks is off the charts,” Smith said. “As development continues to ensue, as it most inevitably will, in Central Texas and other parts of the state, it’s of paramount importance that we continue to look for opportunities to expand our state park system, and particularly to build on state parks that we already have, where we know there’s already a demand we can meet.”
Ahead of the vote, the department received roughly 130 comments, nearly all in favor of the proposed park plan, Hollingsworth said. Seth Billingsley, conservation associate at Environment Texas, was the only person to speak during the public comment period at the meeting.
“Like most Texans, I don’t have a private ranch to visit or funds to take a weekend trip to Colorado,” Billingsley said. “Such magical opportunities are limited to public parks funded by our tax dollars and hunting permits. Not only does Honey Creek protect our wildlife, it represents the possibility for the future that Texans need if we’re going to provide that public space for our current population.”