Thursday, May 26, 2005

Update: San Antonio TPC

As we pointed out a few days ago, a Fort Worth legislator - much to the chagrin of San Antonio's state leg delegation - stepped in to hold up a bill that would create a special taxing district for Lumbermen's, the developer on the big TPC project in San Antonio.

At the time, it appeared the bill might be dead as a result. Now, it looks as though State Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio might get the proposal around Rep. Lon Burnam's objection. Wentworth has attached an amendment covering the proposed special taxing district to another, larger bill that is expected to pass.

In several days of coverage of the wrangling over this sweetheart deal for the developer, I've yet to see one simple question addressed: What effect, if any, would killing the special taxing district have on the building of a TPC Resort in San Antonio? That seems like a pretty basic question, doesn't it? Yet, as far as I can tell, nobody in the San Antonio media has asked it.

So, trying to make an educated guess, I'd say that killing that sweetheart deal would have no effect (although we can say with certainly that the developer would try to get other concessions as a result of losing this one). The TPC resort would still be built. The agreement between the city and the developer didn't promise Lumbermen's a taxing district, it simply gave the company the right to seek such a district from the Texas Legislature. Work on the project continues, with the PGA Tour having begin building at least one of the golf courses.

Although I strongly oppose the creation of a special taxing district for the benefit of the developer, and don't like massive construction projects over the Edwards Aquifer, I do support the TPC Resort project in general. Lumbermen's owned the property in question prior to San Antonio's having instituted tighter environmental requirements for building over the aquifer. They have grandfathered rights, meaning Lumbermen's can build anything it wants on the property and only have to meet the older, much more lax environmental standards.

Negotiating the non-annexation agreement with Lumbermen's not only got San Antonio a destination resort (people who travel for golf spent lots of money), but it's the leverage the city used to impose the tightest environmental controls on any such project in the state. (The city also was able to negotiate a minimum wage agreement with Marriott, which will build the resort hotel, promising all of its workers a "living wage" - which should result in many of the hotel's future employees making a couple dollars an hour more than they would have otherwise been offered.)

Meantime, there's another burr for opponents (and conflicted supporters such as myself) of the project: the San Antonio Express-News reports this morning on a possible "habitat swap" requested by Lumbermen's from federal regulators.

Lumbermen's Investment Corp. is asking federal regulators for permission to clear 846 acres of golden-cheeked warbler habitat in return for setting aside another 760 acres for the endangered bird.


If granted, the request would constitute the first legal destruction of warbler habitat in Bexar County ...

The law was crafted to permit such land swaps. Permits for "incidental take" can be granted under the Endangered Species Act when lawful development will harm an endangered species.

... the developer is required to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a habitat conservation plan to ensure harm to the species is minimized.

"In this case, they are basically giving up the lower-quality habitat and saving the higher-quality habitat," said biologist Scott Rowin of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Surprisingly, the article says that 117 such swaps have been permitted around Austin.

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