2009: The primary focus of the 81st session related to County Authority, often referred to as Ordinance Authority or Land-Use Management. The League of Women Voters concurred with county officials and with many property owners that common-sense regulation is overdue. Because Texas counties have no authority to manage growth and development in unincorporated areas, scarce water supplies are endangered and homeowners sometimes discover that a rock crushing plant is planned just over the property line. The League supported bills which called for one or more of the following: buffer zones between designated areas for residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural use; density limits which take into account the available natural resources and local infrastructure; and impact fees to be paid by developers to offset the increased cost of building additional infrastructure and providing services. At the beginning of the session, LWV published an advocacy paper setting forth and explaining its support for these measures.
In the Hill Country, officials of fifteen county governments (Bandera, Blanco, Burnett, Comal, Edwards, Gillespie, Hays, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Llano, Mason, Medina, Real, and Uvalde) began working with other interested local groups (including the League of Women Voters) and Representative Patrick Rose far in advance of the session to gain consensus regarding the need for more authority in these fast-growing, but ecologically fragile areas. HB 3265 provided for a local option vote before authorizing county authority regulations, including setting density limits, establishing set-back lines, and assessing impact fees. A large contingent of county officials from many of these counties came to the Capitol to sign in and/or testify when the bill was presented to the County Affairs committee, as did the League of Women Voters and other interested groups and individuals. Rep. Rose's bill was approved by the committee, other Hill Country legislators signed on, and it was sent to Calendars, where it died.
The Land and Resource Management Committee heard Representative Valinda Bolton's bill, HB 4175, which would have allowed counties with population between 800,000 and 1.3 million to adopt comprehensive land development plans including buffer zones. The bill had broad support from Travis County officials, LWV, and even the local builders association. Because it would apply to unincorporated areas of the most populous counties, it also had the support of several other legislators representing those areas. After stalling for some time in committee, it was sent to Calendars, where it died.
In the Senate, Senator Jeff Wentworth submitted several bills, but didn't present them to committee. Although most activity on this issue addressed regulating growth in the Hill Country and Travis County, some legislation included other areas and issues as well. The only bill which was passed and signed this session was HB 2275 (Raymond) which tweaked the existing regulations in the international border areas.
A bill to regulate billboards along SH 71 by Rep. Bolton made it to the Governor's desk, but was vetoed there. Several other bills by other legislators which would have expanded county government authority, especially in Central Texas, died in committee. Bills which would have regulated noise in unincorporated county areas, bills relating to county authority in specific geographic areas, and bills which related to county authority near military facilities all died in committee.
The ingrained attitude in Texas toward property rights continues to be defined by developers. The realities of water shortages, a county's need to plan for growth, and the rights of the individual homeowner to be protected from incompatible developments continue to be subordinate to business interests and growth. It is difficult to see that changing in the near future.
2011: County land use authority saw no bills voted out of committee. After last session, when a bill made it to the Calendars Committee, the two representatives who most actively supported giving counties the right to regulate growth in unincorporated areas were defeated. Also failing to garner support were bills regulating new signs and noise in unincorporated areas.
(See Also Land Use)