Saturday, April 30, 2005

Going Too Far

Texas golf enthusiasts might recall (those in San Antonio definitely will) the rancor over the original PGA Village proposal for San Antonio about 4-5 years ago. The project was to be built over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and the original plan involved the creation of a special taxing district. The developer, Lumbermen's Investman Corp., would have been able to assess and collect taxes after a special bill was pushed through the Texas Senate by San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth.

The city's environmental and labor interests led an opposition effort that raised 70,000 signatures in opposition to the deal, forcing a referendum on the deal (the project almost surely would have been defeated at the ballot box had the city not rescinded that original deal).

Instead, the San Antonio City Council put together a non-annexation agreement with the developer; the city agreed not to annex the property for 15 years, saving the developers mucho dinero.

I didn't like the original deal - the one that called for a special taxing district - but strongly supported the second. I consider myself a dedicated environmentalist, but the issue for me was pretty simple: the developer held grandfathered rights to the property and could do pretty much whatever it wanted with the land. Negotiating a non-annexation agreement, while a huge tax giveaway, is what gave the city the leverage to get stringent environmental controls built into the deal. Controls that would not, otherwise, have been there. The deal was very satisfying to me, given that I am both an environmentalist and a golfer.

Well, the PGA Village project wound up dying anyway. But the PGA Tour came along and resurrected the deal, agreeing with Lumbermen's to build a TPC resort on the same property. This time, the San Antonio City Council agreed to a 29-year non-annexation deal. Still, the environmental controls negotiated are thought to be the most stringent ever included in such a development deal in the U.S.

So while I would generally oppose major development over sensitive environmental areas, the TPC deal I supported because the city, through its non-annexation deal, guaranteed far better environmental controls than would otherwise have been possible to get.

The huge giveaway to developers seemed justified in order to secure the environmental regulation.

What is this leading up to? Well, San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth - the guy who tried to give the developer taxing powers in the original PGA Village deal - has now come up with a bill that would give the developer taxing powers for its TPC project.

In other words, the developer gets a non-annexation agreement and a special taxing district. This is too much. Here's how the San Antonio Express-News' political reporter described it:

To recap, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, passed a bill through committee this week to allow the developer of the PGA Tour's planned golf resort over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone to seek a special taxing district through the county.

The district essentially would allow the developer, Lumbermen's Investment Corp., to assess and collect taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements that it would normally have to pay on its own.

The move comes four years after Wentworth passed a similar piece of legislation, which at one point he admitted he didn't even read, granting the same taxing power to Lumbermen's in what was then the PGA Village project.

The major problem was that it was done out of the public eye and the resulting backlash helped fuel serious questions about the project.

Under the revised PGA Tour deal, the special taxing district with the city went away in exchange for stricter environmental controls and a 29-year non-annexation agreement. But now we come to find out that the city's deal gives Lumbermen's the opportunity to have the non-annexation deal and a special taxing district from the county.

What an amazing sweetheart deal, thanks to Sen. Wentworth. But that's no surprise - Wentworth feeds at the trough of developers, then excretes whatever bills they want (he's even supported and sponsored bills that would weaken what already-weak regulations San Antonio and the Edwards Aquifer Authority have on the books relating to the aquifer). Wentworth is bought and paid for. It's time for San Antonians to tell him enough is enough - Lumbermen's got plenty out of its negotiated deal with the City of San Antonio. They don't need more.

Whatever happened to the idea of developers actually earning their profits? It seems quaint - no, naive - these days, but maybe the developer should actually develop something and profit (or lose money) based on the quality of the job they do.


  1. Anonymous9:37 AM

    It's not just Wentworth. It's Nelson Wolff and Ed Garza and the city council that removed the provision prohibiting a special taxing district. I say boot all those bums out of office!

  2. I'm running against Jeff Wentworth for the State Senate. My website is
    I certainly hope that you'll vote for me and let all your like-minded friends know about me.
    Kathi Thomas


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