FM 967 housing cause for water quality concern

Despite developers’ attempts to ease worries, neighbors believe a proposed subdivision in Dripping Springs’ extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) could worsen flooding in the area and contaminate and possibly damage the Edwards Aquifer.

The 782-acre property, located on FM 967 just outside of Buda, has been in owner Mike Rutherford Jr.’s family for generations, but could be the future site of a master-planned residential community of nearly 1,200 homes, if approved.

On April 24, the team behind the proposed development gave a presentation to the Dripping Springs Planning and Zoning Commission.

Andy Barrett, the attorney representing the project, named Bob Wunch as the developer who submitted the proposal. He said Wunch is responsible for developing Reunion Ranch in Austin. The development proposed for the Rutherford tract will be similar to Reunion Ranch, Barrett said.

Project representatives said that the design takes into account the natural characteristics and drainage ways of the land, and will strive to preserve trees and other features.

There are plans to offer a community farm as an amenity, Barrett said, as well as to have a rainwater collection system for every home. The project pitched public park dedication, a 200-foot buffer of natural vegetation on the perimeter of the property and volunteered to meet additional Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) standards for stormwater drainage.

However, that was not enough of a concession for the more than 15 who neighbors who spoke out and said the steps taken by the developers to preserve the adjacent properties was not enough.

The land is within the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, which means any development must meet a higher standard of regulation to protect the surrounding environment. However, the initial development agreement proposal released to the public shows that the developer has requested variances for 31 existing city ordinances.

A particular point of contention is a request for a variance that would allow the developer increase the impervious cover of the development from the usual 10 percent permissible for areas within the recharge zone to 25 percent. The tract is located on top of a hill, and rain runoff falls down the hill and often floods neighbors.

“We think any increase is only going to make the flooding worse. It is only barely manageable now,” said Don Inbody, who lives just north of the Rutherford land.

Matt Cutler, who also lives on property near the proposed subdivision, says it only takes between three and five inches of water to flood his land. That also sends water into the nearby Dahlstrom Cave, which is connected to the aquifer. Cutler expressed concern that more homes would contaminate the drinking water of the whole neighborhood, which uses wells.

“For their profit, we’re going to suffer,” Cutler said. “We’re going to get flooded out. Our water’s going to get contaminated. And there’s no provision.”

Area resident Mark Strauss began a petition in protest of the development less than two weeks before the April 24 meeting. His goal was to collect 50 signatures, but as of Tuesday evening, he had received 280.

“Why do we even have zoning laws and protected zones like the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone if we’re just going to let people come in and develop the property anyway,” Strauss said.

Commissioner Mim James made it clear to residents that this meeting was only the beginning of a long process.

“We have not agreed to any (variances) at this stage of the game, whether it be impervious cover or plot sizes,” James said. “That’s got to be sorted out with the county and city.”

The city and developer are not in agreement about impervious cover, he told the neighbors, and that it was clear the area already had a flooding problem.

James assured them that they would work to not allow any development that would further exacerbate the stormwater runoff.

“I can’t promise you we’re going to see eye-to-eye at the end of the day,” Mims said. “This is a very complex and challenging development proposal that we’re dealing with here. We’re going to strive to do the best we possibly can.”

CORRECTION: In an earlier version and in our print edition, we incorrectly referenced Mark Rutherford, Jr. as the owner of the Rutherford Ranch property. Mike Rutherford, Jr. is the owner of Rutherford Ranch. An update has also been made to reflect the correct spelling of Bob Wunch, who is the developer. We apologize for the errors. 

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