A “hole” in the middle of Wimberley was created March 21 when city leaders approved the de-annexation of Sabino Ranch, leaving local residents to question the action.
To some, the de-annexation of the ranch has dire implications for the city’s regulatory authority on the property, alongside accusations of a political favor.
Owned by Scott Johnson and his family, the nearly 100-acre ranch, located in the center of Wimberley, was de-annexed by a 3-2 vote. Council members Allison Davis and Craig Fore cast the dissenting votes, while council member Erik Wollom abstained from voting.
The property is adjacent to the proposed boring under Cypress Creek, which will transport raw sewage to Aqua Texas for the city’s wastewater services, pending approval from the Texas Water Development Board.
“This is not about private property rights; it’s about a very obvious attempt to pull off a quid pro quo as part of the Aqua Texas boondoggle he (Scott Johnson) helped orchestrate,” Wimberley resident Michael Bachers said. “And it should raise red flags for every citizen of the Wimberley Valley.”
Johnson said he would appreciate the de-annexation of the property, but did not discuss why he made the proposal. Johnson attempted to deannex his property in 2011, but it was denied by Wimberley city leaders at that time.
Council member Allison Davis warned the council that the de-annexation could set a “dangerous” precedent for other property owners looking to break away from the city.
Properties in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) are not subject to the same development and regulatory standards as those located in the city limits.
“We can’t allow construction close to Blue Hole and it could be if we disannex,” Davis said. “The purpose of the city is to manage development and growth for the environment and community … this doesn’t seem to fit.”
Bachers also vocalized his concern about the legitimacy of the de-annexation, citing close ties between the Johnson family and some city council members.
In August 2018, Johnson, a donor to Mayor Susan Jaggers’ campaign, emailed current and soon-to-be city leaders the day after the May 5, 2017 election, according to documents obtained by the News-Dispatch. Johnson demanded city leaders stop the “sewer project immediately,” and amend the collection system to connect to Aqua Texas, a third-party wastewater treatment firm.
His email to the current council and mayor requested that the city compare costs between an Aqua Texas-run plant and a city-run plant, including debt-payback. Johnson said when the city is “sued, that will be the delay, not the actions you are taking to get our village back on appropriate financial footing.”
“Isn’t this the same person who instructed the newly-elected council to kill the city-owned plan and proceed with a contract with Aqua Texas the day after the election,” Bachers said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gary Barchfeld said Bachers comments were “derogatory” and accusatory in nature. Davis argued they were based on fact.
Council memeber Craig Fore originally tried to recuse himself from the vote, citing he is “pretty close friends” with the Johnsons. Fore, who ultimately participated, voted against the de-annexation, adding that it was a “difficult” decision for him to make.
Fore said Wimberley’s city attorney notified them the de-annexation would not set a precedent as the city looks at de-annexation cases individually.
Wollum abstained from the vote, citing he had represented Johnsons in a former lawsuit against the city. However, Wollum said the State Bar of Texas informed him he was clear to make a vote if he so chose to.
Jaggers voted in support of the de-annexation to break a 2-2 tie.
“You should not be kept a prisoner in a city you don’t want to be part of,” Jaggers said. “So I’m going to vote to allow the disannexation of Sabino Ranch.”