LLANO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — After nearly 40 years at a lower price, a small retirement community on Lake Buchanan is being told it must pay substantially more to maintain its contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority, or LCRA, to keep its park access to the lake.

In 1986, Buchanan Lake Village in Tow, Texas, signed a lease contract with LCRA: $100 a year for less than a quarter of an acre of lakefront land located in front of the South Street Park owned by Buchanan Lake Village, according to lease records.

map showing a strip of land near the water leased out
Map of LCRA land leased to Buchanan Lake Village (Courtesy Buchanan Lake Village Landowners Association lease agreement)

Since the initial lease in 1986, the price of the land lease has increased twice. In 2002, the price was raised to $600 per year. In 2017, the current annual fee increased to $800, according to lease records.

Now, a manager with the LCRA Real Estate Services division is telling Buchanan Lake Village the price to continue leasing the land is going to be more than $4,500, according to Theo Van Eeten, President of the Buchanan Lake Village Landowners Association.

That’s nearly a 500% increase.

KXAN reached out to the LCRA manager as well as the LCRA vice president of Real Estate Services to confirm the new lease price and asked for an explanation regarding the substantial fee increase.

In response, LCRA stated it is incorporating market rental value into its leases with property owner associations, per LCRA Board Policy established in 2018.

“We are aware that moving leases to full market rental value in a single year could create issues for leasees, particularly given the significant increases in land values in the area over the last few years. In July, LCRA put proposed modifications to lease agreements with property owners’ associations on hold as we work to address community concerns,” according to the LCRA Public Information Officer.

It’s addressing the changes as the leases come up for renewal. The board policy states, “LCRA will base all negotiations on a reasonable opinion of market value on all land right dispositions. Staff will have the discretion to either prepare an opinion based on available market data or employ an independent appraiser.”

KXAN requested the market data or records of the independent appraisal conducted to determine the new lease fee amount, per its policy. We will updated this story once a response is provided.

Van Eeten said he also asked for justification for the price increase.

According to Van Eeten, the LCRA manager told him the change was due to LCRA’s “previous mismanagement” of the property portfolio, real estate values in the area increasing and the fact that the land may be buildable.

However, Van Eeten told KXAN most of the land owned by LCRA falls below the 1,020 foot line, which designates it as an unbuildable flood hazard area. Additionally, Van Eeten stated the LCRA has not experienced an increase in property taxes on this land because it doesn’t pay property taxes.

According to LCRA’s website, it is generally exempt from paying taxes due to it being a conservation and reclamation district of the state of Texas.

KXAN reviewed Llano County Appraisal District records and confirmed that the majority of LCRA’s land falls in a flood hazard area.

According to LCRA’s rules, “No Permit to construct or operate may be obtained for an on-site sewage facility that would serve new construction located within an identified Special Flood Hazard Area, unless the
applicant can demonstrate compliance of the dwelling or structure with all applicable flood
damage prevention regulations.”

Van Eeten said the LCRA’s actions appear to be “void of any consideration for the history of this area and the concerns of the residents of Llano County.”

Buchanan Lake Village community

According to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data, Buchanan Lake Village consists of around 400 households with a population of just over 700 residents and a median household income of about $53,000.

sig saying welcome to lake buchanan
Entrance sign to Buchanan Lake Village (KXAN Photo/Dalton Huey)

The community members pay $45 per year for their Homeowner Association fee, according to Van Eeten.

“A fee of $4,545 is truly not affordable for a community like ours which consists mostly of retired and senior citizens,” Van Eeten said.

In addition to the LCRA lease payment the HOA pays every year, Van Eeten told KXAN the association pays for all maintenance and upkeep on the land.

On average, Buchanan Lake Village spends approximately $2,000 a year to maintain the land and pay for off-duty sheriff’s officers to provide security during holidays and selected weekends, according to Van Eeten.

Van Eeten said LCRA could fence off the land if the community doesn’t renew its lease agreement at the new price.

“Our community has had a long-standing relationship with LCRA but it now appears that LCRA is no longer interested in providing affordable lake access,” Van Eeten said.

According to Van Eeten, South Street Park is by far the most popular and widely used among the community. If Buchanan Lake Village is unable to maintain its lease with LCRA, it will lose the parks access to the water and two of its three boat ramps on the lake.

Other Lake Buchanan communities’ agreements with LCRA

KXAN learned Buchanan Lake Village is not the only community being told the fee to maintain its LCRA land lease is increasing.

KXAN spoke with Marci O’Brien, the Treasurer of Greenwood Acres Property Owner Association, another small Lake Buchanan community of around 100 residents who said they have had a lease with LCRA for nearly 40 years for the community’s main park and lake access.

After decades of paying $100 a year for the lease, it recently received a notification from LCRA informing it the lease fee was being increased to over $5,000, according to O’Brien. She said there wasn’t an explanation of the increase included.

O’Brien said LCRA eventually lowered the lease fee to around $3,400 but that the community still can’t afford the new price.

O’Brien said she believes other communities in the area are experiencing the same issue with their LCRA leases.

As a result, Greenwood Acres has formed a Lake Buchanan Communities Alliance in hopes of bringing the area’s property owner associations and local businesses together, according to O’Brien.