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Boerne Lake's Health At The Center Of A Fight Over New Home Development

Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Boerne Lake

A big home development on Boerne Lake faced opposition from concerned residents who live around the lake, a key source of water for the city.

The shores of the lake saw little development since the 1970's, when a dam was built on Cibolo Creek to spare the town of Boerne from flooding.

The only real development has been the Lake Country subdivision. The existing homes are sparse, spread out and large. Ranchland and a county park take up the rest of the shoreline of the small rustic lake.

Mike Malley owns a home in the area. He leads the Boerne Sustainable Development Coalition, which opposes the new development project.

The coalition, together with the Save Boerne Lake movement, opposes plans by KB Home to build 361 homes on 70 acres. Critics said it would produce a lot of polluted runoff.

“Our engineers feel it still very irresponsible and will not work to protect the lake,” Malley said. “That’s our only concern -- protecting Boerne Lake for the citizens of Boerne.”

Malley said the land underneath the home sites is rocky, so any runoff would head directly to the lake.

Fertilizers, pesticides and street residue from motor vehicles are common runoff pollutants from subdivisions, the group said.

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
A neighborhood near Boerne Lake. KB Home said it did not plan to reduce the number of homes in its new development but it promised to create a greenbelt between the new and older homes.

Another area resident, who asked not to be fully named, said the Hill Country often sees heavy rainfall, leading to what locals call gully washers.

“This area is known as Flash Flood Alley, and it is because all of our hills drain into valleys where our water sources are,” she explained.

She said residents in the area would love to see the property become something else. However, she added, if development must come, KB Home should rethink its plans.

“There are some people who want the whole thing to be parkland, which would be great too, but in lieu of that, no more than estate lots because that’s what’s here already established. Large lots with single family homes,” she said.

Malley and his friend Mike Bowie offered to take Texas Public Radio on a tour of the lake. The trip first required a ride down a very steep hill in a very small utility vehicle.

The boat used an electric engine to protect the lake from pollution.

Some waders toured the park. A kayaker paddled nearby. One man splashed on a long-distance solo swim. Some lake residents said bald eagles and Golden-cheeked warblers lived near the water.

Malley said the government regulations on the lake puzzled him.

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Mike Bowie

He says the city allows electric motors only on the lake to reduce pollution, and yet the city, county and state do nothing to limit housing density in Boerne’s extraterritorial jursidictions, or ETJs, even on watersheds like the lake that are afforded other protections.

Malley took his concerns to local and county government and then the Texas attorney general’s office.

“We can’t drive or operate a gas powered boat on this lake," he said. "KB Homes wants to come in and put 361 homes on essentially what is about 70 acres, heavily-sloped acres, that’s gonna drain right into Boerne Lake.”

Malley said lawmakers should not leave developers in charge of protecting water resources. He said they need to act to close the loophole that allowed KB to do what it plans to do at Boerne Lake.

He said other watersheds in rural areas could see the same happen to them if the Texas Legislature did not act.

Deputy Boerne City Manager Jeff Thompson confirmed the city cannot control housing density in its ETJ, but they can enforce city regulations on open space, drainage and impervious cover.

He said those regulations are sufficient to protect the water quality in the lake, and the city will continue to closely monitor conditions.

Credit Courtesy photo
A bald eagle at Boerne Lake

Boerne can also rely both on a series of city wells and Cibolo Creek for water.

KB Home was expected to brief city staffers in mid-May on the status of the development project. There was no hard timeline for construction.

The company said its project named Shoreline Park would be responsibly planned and eco-friendly.

There were no plans to reduce the number of homes, the company said, but it promised to create a 150- to 400-foot greenbelt between the development and existing homes and larger lots along the shoreline.

The homebuilder said only half of the development would drain into the lake, and there will be open spaces to protect the tree canopy.

KB Home reported a study by biologists did not record any sightings of bald eagles or Golden-cheeked warblers.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the bald eagle was endangered. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of endangered species on Aug. 9, 2007.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.