Making Democracy Work

Land Use

Updates by Jensie Madden (Comal) Land Use Issue Chair

Call to Action!


Coalitions and Resources

  • Texas Commission on Environmental Quality The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality strives to protect our state's public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Our goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste.

  • The Hill Country Alliance is a passionate community caring for the unique features, spring-fed streams, heritage ranch lands, spectacular beauty and culture of the Texas Hill Country for the benefit of future generations.

  • Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance promotes effective broad-based advocacy for protection and preservation of the Edwards Aquifer, its springs, watersheds, and the Texas Hill Country that sustains it. The Edwards Aquifer is the source of the largest springs in Texas and the sole source of drinking water for more than 1.5 million Central Texas residents

  • Twelve steps Houston can take to address our flooding problem - Houston Chronicle

Position LWV-TX

Land Use

The League of Women Voters of Texas supports a comprehensive state land use policy to provide for the orderly development of the state, including:

  • land being used according to its carrying capacity based on a thorough inventory of our land and natural resources

  • growth and development of an area being compatible with the degree of availability of essential natural resources in that area

  • protection of the traditional rights of ownership of property, but in conflicts between private interest and public welfare, precedence should be given to the public interest

  • preservation of agricultural lands and desirable open space with preferential tax treatment for each

  • preferential tax treatment for maintenance of the desirable existing buildings and infrastructure

  • a coordinated system of land use management in Texas including the establishment of a state land use management agency

  • identification and protection of areas of particular significance (historical, archaeological, aesthetic, recreational) and rare or fragile ecosystems)

  • planning being carried out at the local level should be the main thrust of land use

  • equitable enforcement of land use regulations and a method for appeal and arbitration when conflicting needs exist.

Issue Studies and Explanation

After two years of study, League members in 1974 asserted that public interests should take precedence over private rights when there are conflicts over traditional rights of property ownership. Support for preferential tax treatment to preserve agricultural lands and open space and maintain the built environment allows consideration of many innovative tax reform ideas, though care must be taken to examine this aspect of the Land Use position in conjunction with other positions, especially Financing State Government and LWVUS' Urban Policy. While the League's desire for a state land use management agency has not been realized, changes in agencies such as the General Land Office have accomplished some of our goals.

History of LWV-TX Action

1975-1984: Land Use advocacy has often focused on coastal issues. From the late 1970's to early 1980's, League members played key roles in the development of a Texas coastal zone management plan, but the plan was not approved by the governor. The League supported the national celebration of COAST WEEK during these years.

The League worked for the establishment of the Big Thicket National Preserve in 1973-74. We have continued to support legislation that would add areas of unique biological diversity and/or essential components of ecologically viable systems to the preserve. The League also played a key role in the 1984 designation of 34,000 acres of east Texas national forest land for wilderness purposes, and we cosponsored a Wilderness Pow Wow and supported beach cleanup programs during these years.

2003: Most of the bills introduced in the 78th session followed by the League, dealt with county authority to regulate development. (This was also true of border issues.) Issues addressed in bills that did not pass included elections to require a subdivision to use a central water or waste water system and standards for (a) minimum amounts of open space or limits on the amount of impervious surfaces; (b) rights of way; (c) drainage; (d) utility connections; and (d) the location, use, and occupancy of housing. A bill prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle in or on the beds or banks of Texas rivers passed and was signed into law. This issue was examined during the 2002 interim and drew interest statewide from people on both sides of the issue.

2007: HB 12 (Hildebran) passed and became law. It appropriates $170 million more dollars to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and also transfers 18 historical sites to the Texas Historical commission. HB 3447 (Rose) failed to pass. This bill would regulate land development in a county wholly or partly located in a priority groundwater management area designated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that contains a territory from seven or more counties.

2011: Activity was concentrated primarily in making eminent domain procedures and property owners' associations fairer to property owners. In both instances, these powers are widely perceived to have been abused in the past. In the case of eminent domain, the process and method of calculating reimbursement were spelled out in more detail, and the definition of who can wield eminent domain authority was tightened. This topic was deemed an "emergency" by Governor Perry at the beginning of the 2011 session, so passage was streamlined and nearly guaranteed. Natural gas pipelines, however, were specifically omitted from this legislation.

Property owners' associations, particularly in unincorporated areas, wield great power, but regulations governing the operations of the associations have been ill-defined. In the most egregious example of an over-reaching POA, a home was foreclosed for relatively small arrears in POA dues. New regulations are intended to result in better notification procedures and more open decision-making.

NOTE: A concurrence entitled "Homeowners Association Reform" was adopted by the 2012 LWV-TX Convention. This position includes protection against unreasonable foreclosure on homesteads, and priority of payments so that assessment payments apply first to delinquent dues, and then to non-assessment items such as interest and penalties (Beginning in 2013, LWV-TX added a separate issue topic of "Homeowners Association Reform." See that Issue for subsequent legislative history.)