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Burnet County hires outside council for subdivision battle

Blacksmith Ranch resident Linda Nash and Burnet County Commissioner Joe Don Dockery

Blacksmith Ranch resident Linda Nash makes a presentation to the Burnet County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Feb. 22, as Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery looks on. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

The Burnet County Commissioners Court voted to hire the law firm of Allison, Bass & Magee LLP to represent it if necessary in a district court case between Blacksmith Ranch residents and Cross Timbers Ranch, an encroaching subdivision with smaller lots. The disputed area, 107 undeveloped acres, is in both subdivisions in Burnet County. Allison, Bass & Magee specializes in representing local governments. 

A lawsuit, James Allen vs. Recreational Sales and Richard G. Grandy, was filled Jan. 25 by Blacksmith Ranch property owner James Allen in the 33rd District Court in Burnet County. Jan. 25 was also the first day residents of that subdivision appealed to commissioners to deny permits to anyone wanting to build on the property in question.

Residents of Blacksmith Ranch again filled the pews of the second-floor county courthouse during the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22, this time bringing a presentation that laid out in detail how they say Residential Land Sales LLP and Grandy have misled both the county development department and the people buying lots in the disputed area. 

In making her presentation, Blacksmith Ranch resident Linda Nash accused RLS of using generic, ambiguous language to conceal the fact that deed restrictions on the property prohibit lots from being any smaller than about 30 acres each. The land is being sold in 5-acre lots, she said, and neither the county development department or the buyers were told about the deed restrictions. 

“I call that blindsiding,” Nash said. “Especially if you have knowledge and you don’t convey it to people.” 

Cross Timbers Ranch currently has 270 lots on land adjacent to Blacksmith Ranch. It purchased an additional 107 acres in the Blacksmith Ranch subdivision that is the equivalent of two lots, according to Blacksmith deed restrictions. That acreage was broken up into 5-acre lots, most of which are already sold. Several of those new owners also attended the meeting. 

“I bought land and now it has this cloud over it,” said Dennis Mosier of New Braunfels. “It was a dream my wife and I had of sitting on the back porch staring at the stars. Now, that dream is dead. There are 14 more people just like me and two more people buying land right now. They are closing right this minute.” 

County Attorney Eddie Arredondo made his own presentation to commissioners at the meeting. In advising the Commissioners Court to hire outside counsel, he explained why the county’s hands are tied when it comes to regulating deed restrictions. He agreed that RSL did not provide Burnet County with a complete list of deed restrictions. 

“The question is, has RLS violated a Burnet County subdivision rule?” Arrendondo asked. 

He then read from Texas Local Government Chapter 232 on how subdivisions are governed. The passage states that any restrictions or covenants “should” be attached to plat filings with the county. The county has to cite the specifics from Chapter 232 when it turns down a plat. The reasons for rejecting a plat, according to 232, can include widths of streets, specs for construction of the roads, and specs for drainage and water. The county can also require lots and blocks be surveyed by professionals.

“You can’t arbitrarily say no to a plat,” Arredondo told commissioners. 

It is the word “should” that causes the problem, he continued.

“None of these provisions say Burnet County ‘must’ receive deed restrictions,” he said. “The rules don’t say ‘must.’ The rules say ‘should.’”

Counties with populations over 200,000 have more regulatory authority, but Burnet County’s population hovers at about 50,000 as of the 2020 census.

“It is clear the county does not have the authority to take any other action,” Arredondo said. “It is considered a private matter, and there is a lawsuit pending at this time. I am interested to see what the court decides.” 

He noted that, in the lawsuit, the parties involved can request temporary orders from the judge to halt sales or the issuing of permits, but the county cannot. 

“The parties have to go to the court and let the court decide,” he said, adding that this was not just his interpretation of the law. 

“I went to outside counsel to confirm this,” he said. “In the event Burnet County is drawn into the lawsuit, I recommend you go ahead and have this company hired in case we need them.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to hire Allison, Bass & Magee LLP, a company that has worked for the county on other matters.