History of LWVTX Action on Land Use

History of LWVTX Action on Land Use

1975-1984: Land Use advocacy has often focused on coastal issues. From the late 1970's to early 1980's, League members played key roles in the development of a Texas coastal zone management plan, but the plan was not approved by the governor. The League supported the national celebration of COAST WEEK during these years.

The League worked for the establishment of the Big Thicket National Preserve in 1973-74. We have continued to support legislation that would add areas of unique biological diversity and/or essential components of ecologically viable systems to the preserve. The League also played a key role in the 1984 designation of 34,000 acres of east Texas national forest land for wilderness purposes, and we cosponsored a Wilderness Pow Wow and supported beach cleanup programs during these years.

1990-1991: In 1990, the League supported the successful reauthorization of a strong federal
Coastal Zone Management Act and was represented on a Coastal Management Committee
formed to aid the General Land Office in the development of a comprehensive long-term plan for
state-owned coastal public lands in Texas. In 1991, the League opposed proposed state
legislation that would have facilitated the development of fragile and disaster-prone areas on the
Texas coast.

1995: “Takings” and other regulatory measures. Within the broad priority issue of
environmental protection, land use restrictions vs. private property rights was a major focus of
League advocacy during the legislative session. The League joined other groups in mounting
opposition to the Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act, known as the “takings bill.”
Unfortunately, anti-regulatory sentiment, apparently a nationwide trend at this time, carried the
day, and the bill was signed into law.
Key provisions of the new “takings” law include:

  • a broadened definition of “taking” of private property by government entities to include actions that reduce market value by 25% or more
  • requirement that governmental entities prepare “takings impact assessments” to determine proposed actions would constitute “takings”
  • unless specifically exempted in the law (about 20 categories of government actions are exempted), requirement that health and safety actions meet a stringent three-part test to qualify for exemption from its provisions.

On the plus side was the death of several bills opposed by the League that would have required
cost-benefit analyses of major environmental rules by state agencies.

Coastal Management: The 74th legislature passed and the governor signed a revamped state
coastal management plan. The League supported the revised plan and proposed rules drafted by
the General Land Office.

The Railroad Commission submitted numerous amendments to the proposed rules to the Coastal
Coordination Council. At a hearing on August 30, LWV-TX expressed opposition to these
amendments, noting their conflict with the Federal Coastal Zone Management Plan and the
likelihood that adoption of the amended rules would result in rejection of Texas’ coastal
management plan by the federal government and loss of state authority to regulate the coastal
area. The League also urged rejection of the objectionable amendments because they do not
reflect important land policy goals, including preservation of the physical, chemical, and
biological integrity of the ecosystem, with maximum protection of public health and the
environment. (See LWVUS position on Environmental Protection and Pollution Control).

1999: A number of land use issues were debated during the 76th Session, and two bills affecting
county land use powers were passed and signed into law. Because of substandard development
and growth concerns the first bill gives counties a little more power to regulate growth by
requiring developers to file plats when they subdivide land into parcels of ten acres or less. It
allows counties to set standards for roads and drainage. Adoption of this bill reverses a 1995
appellate court decision, the Elgin Bank Case, that required platting only if roads or parks were
being dedicated to the county for maintenance. In order for subdivisions to be approved where
the source of water is groundwater, this bill requires that a statement, certified by a registered
engineer and approved by TNRCC, must be attached stating that adequate ground water is
available to the subdivision. This requirement applies to municipal authorities and counties.
LWV-TX continues to support a comprehensive state land use policy to provide for the orderly
development of the state; growth and development of an area should be compatible with the
availability of essential natural resource in that area, and should avoid the depletion of ground

The League actively opposed a bill that would have prohibited wetlands mitigation negotiations
on proposed airport sites. The bill, which was counter to the wishes of a majority of
Houstonians, and would have threatened the Katy Prairie Westside airport tract, a waterfowl
wintering area, did not pass the Senate.

Unfortunately, another bill supported by the League that proposed an interim study of farmland
preservation was never reported out of committee. Agricultural land is threatened in Texas, the
most rapidly urbanizing state in the country.

2003: Most of the bills introduced in the 78th session followed by the League, dealt with county authority to regulate development. (This was also true of border issues.) Issues addressed in bills that did not pass included elections to require a subdivision to use a central water or waste water system and standards for (a) minimum amounts of open space or limits on the amount of impervious surfaces; (b) rights of way; (c) drainage; (d) utility connections; and (d) the location, use, and occupancy of housing. A bill prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle in or on the beds or banks of Texas rivers passed and was signed into law. This issue was examined during the 2002 interim and drew interest statewide from people on both sides of the issue.

2007: HB 12 (Hildebran) passed and became law. It appropriates $170 million more dollars to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and also transfers 18 historical sites to the Texas Historical commission. HB 3447 (Rose) failed to pass. This bill would regulate land development in a county wholly or partly located in a priority groundwater management area designated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that contains a territory from seven or more counties.

2011: Activity was concentrated primarily in making eminent domain procedures and property owners' associations fairer to property owners. In both instances, these powers are widely perceived to have been abused in the past. In the case of eminent domain, the process and method of calculating reimbursement were spelled out in more detail, and the definition of who can wield eminent domain authority was tightened. This topic was deemed an "emergency" by Governor Perry at the beginning of the 2011 session, so passage was streamlined and nearly guaranteed. Natural gas pipelines, however, were specifically omitted from this legislation.

Property owners' associations, particularly in unincorporated areas, wield great power, but regulations governing the operations of the associations have been ill-defined. In the most egregious example of an over-reaching POA, a home was foreclosed for relatively small arrears in POA dues. New regulations are intended to result in better notification procedures and more open decision-making.

NOTE: A concurrence entitled "Homeowners Association Reform" was adopted by the 2012 LWV-TX Convention. This position includes protection against unreasonable foreclosure on homesteads, and priority of payments so that assessment payments apply first to delinquent dues, and then to non-assessment items such as interest and penalties (Beginning in 2013, LWV-TX added a separate issue topic of "Homeowners Association Reform." See that Issue for subsequent legislative history.)

2017. Legislation supported by the LWVTX but did not pass.

  • Protecting water quality in the Hill Country. Using water and land use positions, the LWVTX made a major advocacy effort to end the permitting of direct discharge of wastewater over the Edwards Aquifer contributing zone, which covers most of the Hill Country region. An action paper was written, "Protect Water Quality in Edwards Aquifer," and testimony was given at hearings in the House and Senate. Despite significant support from other organizations and affected landowners arguing for land application of wastewater rather than discharge into streams, the proposed legislation died. Work will continue, perhaps during the interim, to stop contamination of surface and groundwater over the Edwards Aquifer contributing zone.
  • Protecting parks and open space. An Action Alert was issued to advocate for an increase in the proposed funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, from $230 million to $333.5 million. The funding is needed as population growth in the state has caused increased park use and greater need for maintenance and repairs. Legislation was also supported to mandate the dedication of the sporting goods sales tax to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, fixing a previous loophole. Sadly, both a budget increase and legislation for a permanent funding source failed.

Legislation successfully opposed.

  • Preserving desirable open space. A bill failed that would have removed land used as an ecological laboratory to be appraised as open space land. The LWVTX registered in opposition to this bill because the LWVTX supports preservation of desirable open space with preferential tax treatment.
  • Supporting adequate powers at the local level. The LWVTX opposed several bills introduced in the regular and special sessions to remove land use powers from local governments. Especially egregious bills introduced in the special session would have preempted cities' tree ordinances. The LWVTX testified against these bills and worked with an alliance of other groups to successfully keep the bills from getting out of committee. One bill affecting tree ordinances did pass during the special session and was signed by the governor. It requires cities to allow property owners to plant trees to offset mitigation fees for tree removal. This bill was ultimately acceptable to cities, tree advocates, and builders alike. It keeps intact cities' authority to regulate tree removal.
  • Local control of land use. The LWVTX also opposed other bills affecting local control of land use. One bill would have required cities to enforce building codes according to date of purchase of property rather than date of permit application. Another bill would have accelerated cities' permitting process. The LWVTX registered in opposition because these kinds of decisions belong to local, not state, government.

Legislation unsuccessfully opposed.

  • SB 1172 (Perry): Will prohibit local governments from regulating seed, essentially stripping city and county governments of their ability to protect their farmers and citizens from harmful agricultural practices. The LWVTX position is that these kinds of decisions belong to local, not state, government.

Legislation watched. Eminent domain and annexation issues also took center stage. In the special session legislation passed requiring cities in large counties to receive voter approval before annexing new areas.

2019. There were four major issues relating to Land Use in the 86 th Legislative Session.
EMINENT DOMAIN. Using the new LWVTX publication, Eminent Domain Issue Paper 2018, we
registered and sent testimony in support of numerous bills which were introduced to give
protections to property owners involved in eminent domain proceedings. Despite vigorous advocacy
from many groups, in the end none of the bills were successful.

FLOOD CONTROL PLANNING. An historic statewide planning and funding package for flood control was authorized by the Legislature and approved by voters through constitutional amendment in November 2019. LWVTX registered and sent testimony in support of bills that created the framework for this first state flood plan in Texas. A designated Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) will pay for planning and flood control projects. The flood control planning process will be similar to the current water planning process, with regional stakeholders, including the public, planning together. The Texas Water Development Board will administer the FIF by making loans to local governments. Projects eligible for FIF may include non-structural and nature-based solutions, like wetlands, as LWVTX and other groups advocated.

FUNDING FOR STATE PARKS. Legislators agreed to a permanent dedicated funding source for state parks and historic areas, and voters agreed through passage of a constitutional amendment in
November 2019. This amendment will close a loophole in previous legislation and will require that all
proceeds from the state sales tax on sporting goods will go to Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. and to
the Texas Historical Commission. Population increases, aging and storm-damaged park facilities,
and the need for new parks closer to urban areas all require a dedicated, predictable funding source
for long-range planning. LWVTX enthusiastically registered in support of this legislation.

REGULATORY ISSUES. LWVTX joined with other groups to stop a bill that threatened the contested
case hearing process, which is often the last line of defense for citizens to stop the Texas
Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) from issuing a permit that could harm air or water
quality. Thanks to member response to a LWVTX Action Alert, the bill died. Throughout the session,
we watched other legislation regarding regulatory changes and supported protection of
environmental regulations.