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San Antonio Express-News Day 3
Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Part 3 Special Series
When S.A. said, 'Stop,' Austin said, 'Go ahead'

When San Antonio's top developers threw a fundraiser last year for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, architect Steve Heflin assured colleagues the poolside gala would pay off... "All of you who participated and contributed — Gov. Perry thanks you for it," Heflin wrote. "Next year when we are campaigning for vested rights legislation, we know we have a friend at our state capitol." Heflin later insisted campaign cash didn't buy the governor's support for an obscure "vested rights" statute that offers developers a way to sidestep modern city land-use ordinances, saving the industry an untold fortune.
See 2nd article - 
Avoiding rules they wrote 
In 1994, engineer Gene Dawson Jr. served as the articulate chairman of a committee that wrote new rules intended to protect the Edwards Aquifer...Since then, Dawson's engineering firm has been prolific in helping developers avoid the very ordinance he authored...Pape-Dawson Engineers Inc. has sought exemptions from the water quality rules for clients 477 times — a third of all cases and more than any other firm.
Graphic: A look at builders and development interests that gave money to state lawmakers between 2000 and 2004

When S.A. said, 'Stop,' Austin said, 'Go ahead'
10/18/2005
John Tedesco
Express-News Staff Writer

When San Antonio's top developers threw a fundraiser last year for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, architect Steve Heflin assured colleagues the poolside gala would pay off.

"What an outstanding turnout for the Gov. Perry Campaign!" Heflin, then president of the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, wrote in a June 2004 newsletter.

"All of you who participated and contributed — Gov. Perry thanks you for it," Heflin wrote. "Next year when we are campaigning for vested rights legislation, we know we have a friend at our state capitol."

Heflin later insisted campaign cash didn't buy the governor's support for an obscure "vested rights" statute that offers developers a way to sidestep modern city land-use ordinances, saving the industry an untold fortune.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor simply believes in property rights and supported legislation this year that won bipartisan support.

But the industry's access to Perry and key lawmakers follows a long tradition that critics say impairs the ability of cities to manage explosive growth.

The Texas law was written in 1987, when lobbyists for Austin developers garnered the support of then-House Speaker Gib Lewis.

In recent years, as cities passed stronger land-use ordinances, lawmakers repeatedly tinkered with the statute to make it easier for developers to avoid those rules.

"It's never been amended to the detriment of the development community," said San Antonio lobbyist Ken Brown, who represents local real estate interests.

Under the law, projects can be grandfathered from new city codes if property owners have applied for a plat, master plan or other type of permit. At that point, they are considered "vested."

The real estate industry says the law saves developers time and money, and stops cities from unfairly altering a project that's already under way.

But in the name of vested rights, thousands of acres of land in San Antonio are frozen in an era of lax oversight that fails to preserve trees and fully protect the Edwards Aquifer, the main drinking supply for more than a million people.

In the past five years, members of the Texas real estate industry who publicly supported the statute have contributed more than $4.3 million to Perry and key Texas lawmakers, according to a review of campaign finance records maintained by the Texas Ethics Commission.

During that same period, the industry paid at least $11.7 million for more than 80 lobbyists, records show. Not every lobbyist dealt with vested rights, but those who lobbied for favorable changes in the law include former state lawmakers.

Perry, who received nearly $400,000 in the past five years from the industry, has signed three vested rights bills.

The legislation broadened the type of permits that trigger exemptions and whittled down the authority of cities to impose development controls.

The Texas Association of Realtors gave the most money to Perry and lawmakers, with contributions totaling $2.5 million. The group considers the law important but didn't aggressively lobby for favorable amendments this year, said Mark Lehman, the association's director of government affairs.

"There's been occasions where cities have really manipulated the process against property owners," Lehman said.

The Texas Association of Builders, which contributed $126,000, spearheaded lobbying efforts this year.

See Express-New for full article -
When S.A. said, 'Stop,' Austin said, 'Go ahead'
Graphic: A look at builders and development interests that gave money to state lawmakers between 2000 and 2004 


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