State of Texas sues, saying new Burnet County city is invalid

Hill Country

Burnet County, Texas (KXAN) — A city that was voted into existence in December 2018 is now being sued by the Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The lawsuit, filed in Burnet County, claims that the city of Double Horn is invalid and that all of the current city leaders need to be removed from office. 

Of the 181 eligible voters in the area, 140 of them voted in a referendum election on December 6, with 53.75 percent of voters (75 voters) voting in favor of creating the city. The subdivision began looking to incorporate after Spicewood Crushed Stone, LLC submitted an application to put a rock crushing plant at 5550 East State Highway 71 in Spicewood. 

The plant is already coming in, separated from the Double Horn subdivision by only a barbed wire fence. Signs at the quarry entrance instruct workers not to drive their trucks into the subdivision. 

Previously, residents in Double Horn Creek told KXAN that they wanted to incorporate because they watched as other communities tried in vain to stop quarries from coming into their area. Residents cited health concerns of having the quarry nearby. 

The stone crushing plant has already had their application approved by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but some residents hope having a city will allow them to keep the plant in check and develop local ordinances accordingly. 

The petition from the State of Texas says the city is invalid because it fails to comply with the state laws of incorporation. It notes that for a city to be incorporated, the community intending to incorporate must be an unincorporated town or village prior to incorporation and the proposed boundaries should include only the territory to be used strictly for municipal purposes. The Office of the Attorney General says Double Horn didn’t meet either of these requirements. 

Matthew McCabe, President of the neighboring Spicewood Community Alliance, explained that Double Horn residents are confused by this lawsuit, they thought they did all the things the state and the county required of them to become a city. 

McCabe spoke with KXAN on their behalf, explaining that many Double Horn leaders and residents fear the potential impacts of this lawsuit.

“There’s a lot of concern about is the state of Texas going to try and bankrupt the city? Is it gonna try and bankrupt the individual homeowners?” he said. 

McCabe explained the Double Horn residents’ fears are compounded by the newness of their city, it means they don’t have the resources set up yet to deal with a lawsuit. 

“I regret that I’m here today fighting the state of Texas when it seems like Texas should not be fighting Texans,” McCabe said. 

His neighborhood alliance banded together with the Double Horn neighbors because they wanted to trade advice on dealing with the influx of quarries and tar pits flocking to the long stretch of unincorporated Burnet County they live in. Many quarries already line that area of Highway 71.

McCabe believes these companies are moving in because of the lack of local ordinances to regulate them. 

“Some of them don’t care about whether they’re polluting the neighborhood or whether they’re young out impacting the ground or the environment,” he said. 

McCabe explained that decades ago his neighborhood was unsuccessful in stopping a new tar pit from coming in. He explained this forced his neighbors to start asking themselves, “how do we protect the residents of Spicewood all the big heavy industry coming in and moving up right up against subdivisions versus taking over all the areas that are all along Highway 71 that are not so congested up against subdivisions?”

In the last few decades, the Spicewood Community has made alliances with some other quarries, working with them to cut down on light pollution and improve the safety of trucks driving on the road. Like the Double Horn residents, the Spicewood residents want to make sure someone is looking out for their health when it comes to the dust from all the quarries. 

“To make sure that there is some kind of guideline or requirement that’s fulfilled to make sure they are not just pulling out onto the highway with trucks covered with dust, that there are turn lanes being established for them and that the 2 to 5-micron dust particles that not only get into your lungs but also get into your blood system are being properly monitored so that people don’t have to worry that just by driving down the highway that we’re going to start getting sick,” McCabe said. 

McCabe has tried to support his Double Horn neighbors as they worked to do the same and become a city. 

“We felt, if we could get their voice out there and make the rest of Texas aware of what the state of Texas is trying to do here,” McCabe explained. “We got very concerned that it appears that the Attorney General may be overstepping his bounds in an overreach of power and that they’re attacking 200 people that are simply trying to self govern.”

Burnet County Judge James Oakley said that he only learned of the lawsuit on Monday. 

“My understanding was that we did everything [the state] asked of us,” Oakley said. “Whatever beef they have on there is not with Burnet County.” Oakley noted that Burnet County is not being sued in this lawsuit. 

He added that a hearing for this suit will happen at the Burnet County Courthouse on April 3 at 1:30 p.m.

“Our office doesn’t object to a town or village wanting to become a city, but it must be done according to Texas law,” said Marc Rylander, Director of Communications in the officer of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “And in this case, the small homeowners association that voted to declare itself the city of Double Horn did so unlawfully by failing to comply with the statutory requirements for incorporation as a city. This is simply about defending the rule of law and preventing the abuse of power by a neighborhood.” 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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