A view from Headwaters at the Comal, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021 in New Braunfels. Headwaters at the Comal is a conservation project by New Braunfels Utilities’ with goals of environmental projection, engaging visitors in natural areas and preserving the Comal Springs Ecosystem. Alma E. Hernandez / Herald-Zeitung
September 1, 2021
By Will Wright
By Will Wright
By Lisa Dreher
July 16, 2021
July 16, 2021
People are flocking to the Texas Hill Country for its lush and rolling hills, so some in Comal and Hays counties are working together to preserve it.
The Comal County Conservation Alliance recently held a virtual meeting with Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Lon Shell.
Shell talked about Hays County’s Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee, which supported a bond to preserve land from excessive development.
Both counties’ conservation efforts for the past several years have included 2,382 acres of land called El Rancho Cima, a former Boy Scouts camp.
Shell said preserving El Rancho Cima was one of several projects where the community can see its benefits — especially when developers are taking larger bites of San Marcos and greater Central Texas.
“You need to have something that, I think, shows that larger scale and I think we had three really good [projects] at that level which drew that interest and we made diversity in those projects geographically,” Shell said. “Projects like that appeal to broad groups of the community on that bond.”
Hays County is planning on completing the purchase of 530 acres of the land along the Blanco River.
In an agreement with the county, nonprofit Nature Conservancy in Texas will keep a conservation easement on the land, preventing future subdivision and development.
Hays County is also considering negotiating an easement with a private landowner covering another 500 acres. A developer bought and divided it up into seven parcels, with four properties purchased by landowning families who have put conservation easements on those tracts to preserve them in perpetuity.
CCCA started the grant application with Texas Parks and Wildlife to acquire two of those parcels that are located in Comal County.
The alliance wanted to make the parcels into an endangered species habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
The parcels were purchased by a neighboring private landowner.
CCCA conservation consultant Helen Ballew said the landowners are environmentally conscious and protecting them.
“Two parcels are still on the market and are almost entirely in Hays County, we’re still working to find either conservation buyers or some other way to protect those remaining parcels,” Ballew said in an interview with the Herald-Zeitung.
FOLLOWING THEIR STEPS
Hays County successfully passed its 2020 Parks and Open Spaces $75 million bond with 70 percent approval. It includes potential money for land acquisition to mitigate and prevent pollution, while keeping them as low-impact recreational parks or open spaces.
Comal County Conservation Alliance is considering pushing for a
“With the amount of subdivisions and quarries and strip centers and basically land conversion — wildlife is kind of shrinking,” Ballew said.
During the meeting, Comal County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jen Crownover said she thinks a similar bond would pass in Comal County.
“Comal County is very late to the party,” Crownover said. “I think if we were to do a straw poll at the moment, we would probably pass something by 70 percent or even 80 percent based on our neighbors’ results on an actual election. And I would certainly love to put that before the people and
She said it may be difficult passing a bond proposal due to statutory constraints on budget increases, since more than half of the county budget consists of unfunded mandates passed by the state government.
“There are limits on how you can increase your tax rate and there’s definitely a balance there,” Crownover said.
In Hays County, the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee made up of private citizens went out to the community to explain how taxes would fund preserving the land.
The debt rate (a portion of the total tax rate), has been maintained at or around the same amount, 12.46 cents. It will service the Parks and Open Space Bond without an increase to the tax rate, Shell said.
“Most people look at their county tax and go ‘Huh, I didn’t realize the county tax wasn’t as much as I thought,” Shell said.
Shell mentioned how Hays County is considering proposed incentives for preservation, but those will likely be discussed months from now.
One incentive considered would have developers conserving 50% of developable land in return for building in more densely built areas, resulting in less infrastructure costs.
Crownover said she is energetic about finding ways to preserve land, whether that be incentives for developers or proposing a bond.
“I would really like to see that, because if there’s something that we can do based on statute in Comal County I would love to make that happen,” Crowover said.
On October 30, 2019, the New Braunfels Parks Department recognized CCCA for its contribution to conservation with the Theodore Roosevelt award. Elizabeth Bowerman, CCCA President, first row middle, received the award on behalf of CCCA volunteers.
One of President Theodore Roosevelt's most lasting contributions to the world was the permanent preservation of the some of the most unique natural resources in the United States. During a convention address in 1907, the President noted "... The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others." Named in recognition of our 26th President, this award recognizes a citizen or group who advocates for studying, teaching, documenting and preserving the natural resources in New Braunfels.
What an honor to be recognized for CCCA's commitment to conservation.
By Keri Heath
Along with more houses and commercial development, the growth in New Braunfels has given rise to some new groups hoping to ensure the natural setting of Comal County is preserved.
The Comal County Conservation Alliance formed toward the end of March with the goal of preserving the natural Hill County environment and keeping green spaces available to the public.
“It’s just something that Comal County really needs,” Laura Sivy-De la Cruz, president of CCCA, said. “We need to protect areas that are vital to our Hill Country. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
The group hopes to tackle a number of issues including night pollution, bird and fowl habitat preservation and maintaining pervious covers for runoff water.
“We find it to be very important to keep areas where they are able to continue with their filtration process,” Sivy-De la Cruz said.
Sivy-De la Cruz said she realized the Comal County area is changing, but that she wants to make sure future generations can enjoy the area’s natural setting.
“Growth is good but we definitely want to set aside areas,” Sivy-De la Cruz said.
The CCCA’s next steps come at a Thursday night meeting on June 14, where the group hopes to establish more of their goals, brainstorm events and activities and form committees.
The CCCA also plans to partner with various other groups in the area.
“I have all the confidence that we will be extremely successful,” Sivy-De la Cruz said. “It will be a definite win-win for everybody. We’re here to help other like minded organizations.”
Sivy-De la Cruz also said the group hopes to be a part of the conversation as development continues in Comal County.
“Developers will come in and they are not setting aside green spaces in their development process,” Sivy-De la Cruz said. “If they are setting aside green spaces, it’s at a less desirable place.”
The planning meeting is tonight at 6 p.m. at the McKenna Center.
By Rachel Nelson
June 15, 2018
June 15, 2018
Late last year, a group of concerned citizens began a conversation about land conservation in Comal County. As a result, a domestic nonprofit has been formed centered around conserving open spaces and other natural resources in the nation’s second-fastest growing county.
On May 8, The Comal County Conservation Alliance received its official domestic nonprofit certification from the Secretary of State.
Consistent participation from 30-35 landowners in the county helped move efforts along to forming the nonprofit group, said Katherine Romans, executive director of the Hill Country Alliance—another nonprofit dedicated to raising public awareness and community support around the need to preserve natural resources in Central Texas.
The HCA, League of Women Voters of the Comal Area and the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance have also been active participants in the discussion.
“We’ve had consistent interest since we started meeting on a regular basis back in December,” Romans said.
“Our mission statement says it all,” CCCA President Laura Sivy told the Comal County Commissioners Court at its May 10 regular meeting. "We’re advocating for land, water and wildlife conservation in Comal County.”
Sivy is member of the Comal Master Gardeners and has been a resident of New Braunfels since 1998.
“I feel in the group we are all just doing what we feel comes natural because we’re a collaborative on how to basically keep our environment green,” Sivy said. “Hopefully we’re going to keep our environment and green spaces in Comal County because we’re truly growing a lot.”
The CCCA has been taking steps to further its mission for long-term sustainability. One of the ways members said they plan to carry out this vision is by advocating for higher impact fees on new development and limiting the amount of impervious cover. Officials said they also plan to write letters to state representatives urging them to introduce and pass legislation in 2019 that would give Hill Country counties more land-use control.
Jensie Madden, chair of the land-use committee for LWV, also discussed working with Comal County commissioners on the possibility of forming a task force centered around conservation efforts. She said commissioners could choose the people they want to be a part of the task force, which could conduct research on what it takes to get conservation grants or to get a bond issue passed.
At the CCCA’s monthly meeting Thursday night, four committees were formed that will focus on outreach, government affairs, communication and resource development. Attendees collaborated in break-out groups to discuss further ideas on how each committee will operate.
In addition, Daniel Oppenheimer, landowner outreach and development manager with the HCA, said the organization is working with The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University to map the Comal River basin.
“They’ve worked in other river basins already, working with other stakeholders just like us to develop mapping resources you can take to your [local governments] and say, ‘these are priority conservation areas,’” he said.
Oppenheimer said the map would be a visually compelling way to make a case for conservation based on resource, size, endangered habitat and other factors.
“It’s an informational resource that is perhaps more striking than if we had a 20-page document,” Oppenheimer said.
Beginning in July, the CCCA will hold general meetings on the second Tuesday of each month from 6-8 p.m. at the GVTC Auditorium, located at 36101 FM 3159, New Braunfels.
“We’ve been working to get this group formed for two or three years now, so we are very happy to finally see it come together,” said Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.
Those who would like to get involved can like the group’s Facebook page and sign up for notices of CCCA activities by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There is a lot of excitement and energy around it,” Romans said. “We just keep seeing reminders of how important this conversation is as this county continues to top the charts as far as the rate at which it’s growing.”
Rachel Nelson is editor of the New Braunfels edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covers local business, new development, city and county government, health care, education and transportation. Rachel relocated to Central Texas from Amarillo in 2009 and is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.