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Burnet County subdivision brings real estate battle to Commissioners Court

Burnet County Commissioners Court on Jan. 25, 2022

Looking over a map of property in and around the Blacksmith Ranch subdivision in northern Burnet County on Jan. 25 were County Judge James Oakley (left), Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall, county Development Department Director Herb Darling, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo was tasked by the Commissioners Court to explore what degree of authority the county has in a subdivision dispute between Blacksmith Ranch residents and Recreational Land Sales LLC. 

About 20 residents filled one side of the Burnet County Courtroom in Burnet during the Commissioners Court’s regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 25. A representative of the real estate company, which is selling lots in an adjacent subdivision called Cross Timber Ranch, sat in the back across the divide. 

The two groups are separated by more than a span between pews. One resident testified that she felt the company had tried to bribe and then threaten her. Others told commissioners that deed restrictions were not followed and the company ignored a cease-and-desist order from an attorney representing one of the residents. 

Blacksmith Ranch is located off of County Road 106 on the Lampasas-Burnet County line, a border becoming plagued by development disputes as Austin’s growth moves west. The lots are about 32 acres each, which is written into the deed restrictions. 

Recreational Land Sales has been selling 5-acre lots in a 100-acre section of land that is part of Blacksmith Ranch but is being subdivided by Cross Timber Ranch. So far, around 13 of the 20 lots have been sold. Cross Timber Ranch has entrances on CR 104 and FM 1478. 

Residents pleaded with the Commissioners Court to suspend the permitting process on that section of land until the issue could be settled, either through negotiations or in a court of law. Blacksmith Ranch residents filed a lawsuit against the real estate company Jan. 24, the day before the meeting. 

“I’m asking for your help,” resident Linda Nash said. “They swooped in and did not get permission. Now, we have to pay because we did everything right. That doesn’t make sense. To let someone out of the blue come into our county and do this to us is not right.”

County Judge James Oakley asked county Development Department Director Herb Darling if the deed restrictions requiring that lots be about 32 acres were on record and if the real estate company presented deed restrictions when it filed plats for the 100 acres. 

“The code requires they be provided if they exist,” Darling said.  “We don’t have to go looking for them. The restrictions existed, but they were not presented to me (by the real estate company).” 

Oakley called the county’s position precarious. 

“We cannot enforce deed restrictions as a county,” he said. “This is a civil issue. I’m concerned about our authority based on the information we have. But, you remember the old adage about pulling the wool? Well, the wool got pulled a little bit on this.” 

Attorney Joanne Hatton, who represents the real estate company, told the Commissioners Court the deed restrictions did not prohibit subdividing the 100 acres in question. 

“(The deed restrictions) contemplate subdivision with approval of an ACC (Architectural Control Committee), which did not exist at the time,” she said. “It’s our opinion those deed restrictions were not applicable.” 

The company wants to work with the landowners to come to an amiable solution, she continued.

“We can’t unsell the property,” she said, contending that to deny permits to future homes would mean permits would have to be denied to the already existing homes in Blacksmith Ranch. “The people in Blacksmith Ranch can’t take down their houses and fences. My client and I understand the position they are in. They have thoughts that things would go a certain way. Under the law, these restrictions are very much not enforceable.” 

She also warned that to deny permits would set a precedent “that all other development in the area would not be permitted.” 

County Attorney Arredondo recommended “putting on the brakes.” 

“I don’t think we ought to be allowing permits for 9-1-1 addresses and building permits unless it comes through the court,” he said. “Let the parties go to court and figure out what the court has to say. This is not for Burnet County to decide. This is for a court to decide.” 

He advocated putting a pause on permits because “if homes start getting built on that property, it will compound the issue.” 

Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery made a motion authorizing the county attorney to investigate the county’s legal role in the issue. Arredondo suggested the county might eventually want to join in the lawsuit. 

Precinct 1 Commissioner Jim Luther seconded the motion. He also made a motion to stop the permit process. No one seconded that motion. 

“The reason I did not second (Luther’s) motion is because I want the county attorney to first decide whether we have the authority to withhold permits,” Dockery said. 

Dockery’s motion for the county attorney to make that determination passed unanimously.