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READING BETWEEN THE LINES

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The Pollyanna promises of open space, millions of dollars in economic development, additional roads, and environmental safeguards were not enough to persuade citizens to take the side of PGA Village developers as they unveiled their scaled-back draft proposal March 14.

Read between the lines, and this proposal is rife with loosey-goosey language and questionable guarantees. The proposal also has mysteriously been cut back from three golf courses to two, and from two hotels to just one.

Still, the behmoth proposal doesn't address the core issues: The City is allowing a private corporation to raise taxes for profit; the economic boon applies only to the wealthy; and the region's drinking water supply is at risk.

First, while Lumbermen's and Pape-Dawson deny that the proposed golf mecca is a city dressed in a taxing district's clothing, it has many of the characteristics of a municipality. If it looks like a city, acts like a city, it's probably a city.

The developers extolled their $10.5 million investment in new infrastructure, another $6 million in drainage improvements, which don't have to be completed until as late 2016 — 10 years after the $100 million hotel is finished. But as altruistic as these investments might sound, remember that Lumbermen's is not doling out this dough from their deep pockets, but collecting taxes and issuing bonds — rights usually reserved for governments — to pay for the improvements — benefits that the PGA too will reap.

Yet to ensure that it can cover its debts, Lumbermen's wants the City to wait an extra five years to annex the property, thus extending the corporate welfare program to 20 years. Then the City gets to assume the responsibilities or environmental damages the proposal might have wrought.

"This a tremendous precedent to build a little city," commented former City Councilwoman Maria Berriozábal in her criticism of the plan.

The PGA kingdom would not be held to the Unified Development Code; the project would be subject to the tree preservation ordinance, but since it would be grandfathered, developers would have to abide by only the current castrated version — not a slightly stricter one that has been proposed, but postponed — again.

Lumbermen's has also extended its generosity by leasing a little more than two acres of land to the City "for a nominal fee" for a new fire station. The reason the area might need a new firehouse is because of the inevitable sprawl that will result from the development.

As for protecting the Edwards Aquifer, SAWS' Scott Halty boasted that the plan would "ensure non-degradation of the aquifer" and contains the strongest environmental requirements — including water monitoring and pesticide controls — in the state and "probably the nation."

Halty didn't back up his assertion that the PGA Village would lead the United States in environmental protection, but consider the foxes who are guarding the henhouse: SAWS, which has consistently sold City water users up the river — most recently with the ill-fated Lower Colorado River Authority project `see "SAWS' raw deal", Current, February 21-27` — and the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, long considered to be a friend of corporations, not citizens.

If the developers violate the environmental regulations — Lumbermen's is already balking at the annual $300,000 monitoring fees and negotiating for a sweeter deal — it could pay a puny administrative penalty of $10,000 or a whopping $1 million if the aquifer becomes contaminated.

To use a SAWS-like hyperbole, $1 million will clean up about an eyedropper's worth of water. As hydrologist George Rice pointed out, the Air Force will need to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to remove contamination from Kelly (including pesticide residue that leached from storage tanks into the groundwater, shallow aquifer, and surrounding neighborhood).

Jerry Morrissey of the Sierra Club told City Council that the public has not been consulted on a project that "could use a million gallons of water a day, accelerate urban sprawl, and violates the master plan."

The City's Master Plan discourages use of tax incentives for developments over the recharge zone.

Morrissey added that giving away $80 million in tax revenue does not put the public good over private property.

The excuse that 80 percent of the recharge zone is already developed doesn't hold — that includes only the portion inside Bexar County. As Berriozábal emphasized, no one knows the cumulative damage that has already occurred over the recharge zone. "All the zoning changes over the last 20 years, and now you're using them as an excuse to build some more."

Until the draft was released, the public had been left out of any formal discussions about the project, save for citizens' three minutes tacked as an afterthought during City Council meetings. That secrecy is likely to continue, as the draft also states that "the City's consultant or legal counsel can review all development agreements with the hotel or PGA in confidentiality."

A public hearing about the project has been set for March 21 at 6pm at City Council Chambers; a City Council vote is scheduled for March 28. PGA opponents are already planning for a referendum, to let San Antonio citizens — not corporate wheeler-dealers — decide the issue.

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