LIBERTY HILL, Texas (KXAN) - An activity taking place in a Williamson County community is pitting neighbors against neighbors, and some say it is threatening lives.
Several residents said the Liberty Hill Sundance Ranch Property Owners Association is violating its own rules by allowing bow hunting of deer. Now, one homeowner has filed a lawsuit.
In most respects, Liberty Hill Sundance Ranch is picture-perfect, quiet, countryside living where 277 homes sit on lots ranging from 2.5 to 10 acres.
"It's a wonderful community," said homeowner Neina Moore.
Moore brought her family to the community because it seemed safe and secure.
"I moved out here so my boys could play in the yard," said Moore.
But two years ago, she found an arrow just 10 feet away from her children's playscape. Since then other neighbors have found arrows, too.
"It was right over there on my property next to my garage, where my son plays basketball," said homeowner Todd Stephens.
Stephens moved to Liberty Hill Sundance Ranch so his daughter could have horses. After an arrow landed on his property this past November, he rarely puts their horses in the front pasture anymore.
"If an arrow can travel that distance from our street all the way down here then I'm not so sure my daughter on her horses are going to be safe," said Stephens.
Last November, the association's board of directors took a survey of residents and decided to allow bow hunting to control the deer population. The board's deer committee received 60 Managed Land Deer Permits from Texas Parks & Wildlife which give landowners the state's most flexible seasons and bag limits.
Some neighbors against the bow hunting argue the deer committee is made up of mostly hunters, an actual vote was never taken on bow hunting, a professional deer count was never done, and rules for the wildlife management plan are not being followed.
"It seems to have divided quite a few. I know friends that used to be friends aren't friends," said Stephens.
Opponents say the board's decision was not about controlling deer, but rather giving hunters the right to do what they want on their own property.
"It seems like there is a group of individuals that just want to hunt that's the perception, I don't know if that's reality," said Stephens.
"I'm worried that the hunting activity will increase to the point where we have an accident cause the acreages are too small," said Moore.
Bow hunting opponents also say the property owners' association's insurance carrier cancelled the policy when it learned bow hunting was taking place.
"It's an action that's big enough to cause them not to want to have to spend money if an accident occured and to me, that says it's dangerous," said Stephens.
A homeowner has filed suit saying the board's decision violates the community's own Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions, which states, "No activities shall be conducted on the Property and no improvements shall be constructed or allowed to remain on the Property which are or might be unsafe or haszardous to any person or any property."
A judge will determine whether bowhunting violates the community's rules--meanwhile the neighbors hope their peaceful way of country living will return.
"I think the people that hunt are for the most part good people, but accidents happen and it can kill somebody," said Stephens.
KXAN tried to speak on-camera with the board president and an attorney representing the board in the suit, but due to scheduling conflicts we received an emailed statement. Frank Davis, an Austin-based attorney for the board wrote:
This lawsuit is about telling property owners what they can and can't do on their own land. There is no specific restriction that prohibits use of bows and arrows in Sundance Ranch. It is a matter of interpretation.
Instead of asking for a vote of owners to amend and clarify the restrictions, the objectors filed a lawsuit to have a Judge make that decision.
The situation with bow hunting is no different now than it has been since the beginning of Sundance Ranch. For the most part, any hunting that occurred was either on the hunter's own property or another's property with permission.
In the last half of 2010, there was a short-term harvest of excess deer, conducted under State and local guidelines. Again, the hunting was on private property—not land owned by the Association.
An opponent of the deer harvest wrote a one-sided letter to the Association's insurance company. The insurer canceled the policy. The association obtained replacement coverage, but at a higher rate.
The rate increase is due to the history of policy cancellation -- not because of bow hunting -- and the board's decision to increase coverage due to the increase in the size of the Ranch.
The ongoing personal attacks on the Board of Directors and deer harvest committee have been disappointing. They are not based in fact, and seem to reflect the trend we've seen in politics of demonizing an opponent by any means possible.
We recognize that there is a legitimate
disagreement over interpretation of the restriction. We will make our case to the Judge---although we think the better course would be to ask Sundance Ranch residents whether they want to prohibit bow hunting. To date, the plaintiff in the lawsuit has elected not to seek an owner vote.
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