Water forms a pool with lily pads behind at natural dam at Honey Creek State Natural Area in Comal County. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

A developer planning a subdivision upstream of an ecologically sensitive Hill Country creek has changed his plans to avoid filling the creek with treated wastewater.

The controversial proposed wastewater treatment plant north of San Antonio is tied to a 2,347-unit subdivision planned for what is now Honey Creek Ranch off State Highway 46 in Comal County. Ronald and Terry Urbanczyk, who also run Urban Concrete Contractors in San Antonio, own the property. The Urbanczyks also control Silesia Properties, the company that applied for the wastewater permit.

Brian McGovern, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), said Silesia withdrew its 2018 application to discharge an average of 500,000 gallons per day of treated wastewater from the subdivision into Honey Creek. 

Instead, Silesia on Nov. 8 applied for a Texas land application permit (TLAP), McGovern said in an email Wednesday. The new permit would allow the discharge of an average of 365,000 gallons per day via an underground drip system on 84 acres of common landscape area in the proposed housing development. The wastewater won’t be allowed to flow into Honey Creek.

The earlier proposal, one of several for controversial sewage plants planned near sensitive Hill Country waterways, drew organized opposition from several grassroots groups, including the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and Bulverde Neighborhoods for Clean Water. The groups had urged the applicants to change their permit to a TLAP and avoid discharging into Honey Creek. 

Kelly Leach, a consultant working for the Urbanczyks who has handled wastewater permits on multiple developments in the fast-growing Bulverde area, told the Rivard Report the choice to switch to a TLAP came down to “a business decision.” 

“We just took a different approach,” Leach said. 

Ronald Urbanczyck did not return a phone message Thursday seeking comment. 

The Urbanczyks’ development is going in upstream of Honey Creek State Natural Area, a 2,293-acre property surrounding Honey Creek, a “unique, pristine water body with exceptional aquatic life use,” according to a September 2018 letter by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials to the TCEQ.

The letter warned of the algae growth that could choke the creek because of the additional nitrogen and phosphorus in the treated wastewater.  Though it didn’t refer to them by name, the letter urged the Urbanczyks to make the switch to a TLAP.

“We see this as a very positive development and are very grateful for the landowner taking into consideration our concerns about Honey Creek and the state natural area,” TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith said in a prepared statement. 

Flowing out of Honey Creek Cave, the longest known cave in Texas at more than 20 miles, the creek is home to rare species, such as the Cascade Caverns salamander, Eurycea latitans, which the federal government is reviewing for endangered species protections.

Bulverde Mayor Bill Krawietz called the shift to a TLAP a “move in the right direction” but said the Honey Creek Ranch development’s water demand and potential use of fertilizers and other lawn chemicals likely will take a toll on the environment.

A high-level plan shows the proposed Honey Creek Ranch development with more than 2,300 homes.

“The density’s way, way too dense for this area and over a sensitive ecosystem,” Krawietz said. 

McGovern said the TCEQ is currently giving the TLAP application a technical review, after which the agency will issue a draft permit. That will kick off a 30-day public comment period. The permit application is available to view and copy at Mammen Family Public Library, located at 131 Bulverde Crossing in Bulverde.

Aside from the sewage issue, the development does not yet have the paperwork filed with the City of Bulverde to begin construction, Krawietz said.

Comal County 207th District Court Judge Jack Robison on Dec. 9 issued a temporary restraining order against Ronald Urbanczyk and companies tied to him in a lawsuit brought by the City of Bulverde, according to court records. 

Krawietz said Urbanczyk had started to clear land on Honey Creek Ranch for the development before submitting a complete master development plan to the City.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.

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