When Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners gave their approval to turn a ranch upstream of Honey Creek into a public park rather than a controversial subdivision, opponents of the development rejoiced.

But this week, many were learning more about a looming issue that could kill the park proposal in its early stages. David Holmes, a representative of landowners Ronnie and Terry Urbanczyk, met with neighbors and local officials Monday to detail how an existing contract to supply water for the proposed development threatens to derail the deal.

Whether the land becomes a park or a neighborhood, Holmes said, will likely be decided in the next two to three weeks.

The Urbanczyks, owners of the 560-acre property known as Honey Creek Ranch, had originally planned a more than 1,600-home subdivision for the property where they’ve lived since the 1990s. Their land lies upstream of Honey Creek Cave, a 20-mile cavern considered the longest known cave in Texas. At its mouth, the cave empties a stream of crystal-clear water into Honey Creek, considered one of the few remaining pristine streams of the Texas Hill Country.

The development proposal led to a three-year outcry from neighbors, environmentalists, cavers, and local officials. Eventually, Urbanczyk proved open to a proposal to sell the land to The Nature Conservancy, which would then sell it in pieces over time to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

But the water supply contract with Flagstone Water Company poses a significant obstacle. The company is affiliated with Boerne-based Texas Water Supply Company, which sells groundwater pumped from the sensitive Trinity Aquifer below northern Bexar County.

The contract requires Urbanczyk to buy 50 acre-feet of water per year, ramping up to 1,000 acre-feet per year over 20 years, Holmes said. One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, and residents of an average Texas single-family home consume roughly a quarter of an acre-foot per year.

Holmes declined to share a copy of the contract or the price of the water with the San Antonio Report, saying he doesn’t know if he’s legally obligated to keep them confidential.

Locking down the water supply for the subdivision was a key early milestone in Urbanczyk’s efforts to develop his land. But even if Urbanczyk sells his land, the contract still obligates the buyer to accept the water or pay the seller the full amount. If the land becomes a park, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials won’t need that much water and aren’t interested in paying for it, Holmes said.

“What [TPWD] will not do is they will not take on the full encumbrance of that water contract,” Holmes told people attending Monday’s meeting. “At the same time, what they do say is, ‘We need some water.’ So let’s come together and break bread and see if we can work something out.”

The agency could use a smaller volume of water for restrooms, showers, and drinking water at the park. Urbanczyk also plans to develop roughly 40 acres of commercial businesses along State Highway 46, Holmes said, which could benefit from a scaled-back water contract.

“We’re not asking that the agreement be torn in half and that everybody walk away,” Holmes said. “What we are asking for these terms to be significantly modified.”

Davids Holmes, a representative of the Urbanczyk hosts a meeting with Honey Creek Ranch neighbors, business owners, and officials regarding the potential housing development or possible parkland of the Comal County Ranch on Monday, August 30, 2021.
David Holmes, a representative of the Urbanczyk family, hosts a meeting with Honey Creek Ranch neighbors, business owners, and officials regarding the potential housing development and parkland on the property. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Report emailed Holmes’ remarks to Texas Parks and Wildlife’s press officials Tuesday afternoon and didn’t receive a response as of Tuesday evening.

Kevin Meier, president of Flagstone and Texas Water Supply, declined to comment on the water contract.

Aside from its issue with Urbanczyk, Texas Water Supply has also found itself at odds with the City of Bulverde over its pipeline construction.

One of the corporate entities affiliated with Texas Water Supply is South Comal Water Supply Corp., a nonprofit set up to actually build the pipeline. Private-sector water suppliers use this nonprofit structure in part because it grants them the power of eminent domain to acquire properties along pipeline routes.

Earlier this year, South Comal applied for a variance to Bulverde’s tree ordinance. Under the ordinance, construction crews must obtain a permit before removing any tree within Bulverde city limits or the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

City of Bulverde staff denied the variance request. Susana Ramos, the city’s planning director, wrote in a June 3 memo that the city does “not have any information to ascertain that South Comal Water Supply Corp. is an authorized public utility provider for this service area.”

On Aug. 10, South Comal representatives brought the request to Bulverde City Council, which also denied the request.

But even after the denial, South Comal started clearing trees anyway, Bulverde Mayor Bill Krawietz said. The city then sued South Comal on Aug. 23 in state district court in Comal County in an effort to block construction. A hearing on the dispute is scheduled for Thursday.

Meier, the Texas Water Supply official, also declined to comment on the conflict with the City of Bulverde.

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Brendan Gibbons

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