Environmentalists Shoulder Much of Blame for PGA Village Debacle

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

SAN ANTONIO, TX - Embarrassing. Disgusting. Sad. Those are just a few of the words you hear from San Antonio area golfers when you ask them about the proposed PGA Village and the PGA of America's recent decision to pull out from the project.

I have to agree - with both the golfers and the PGA's decision. At issue is one single piece of land. The 2,855-acre proposed development is located north of San Antonio off Highway 281 and would have included up to three golf courses, a 35-acre teaching center, a 500-room Marriott hotel, homes, apartments, condos and possibly a Ritz-Carlton hotel. On the surface it sounds like a good business decision for a city already known for its family entertainment value including attractions such as Sea World, Six Flags-Fiesta Texas, the Riverwalk and the most historic place in Texas, the Alamo. The new golf village would have only added to the plethora of choices and drawn in a new demographic - golfers.

However, it's below the surface that has drawn the ire of the project's opponents.

Environmentalists are concerned that the location of the new resort and the environmental effects such a large project would have on the sensitive recharge zone. The recharge zone is a strip of land located in North Bexar County and adjacent counties that supplies groundwater to the Edwards aquifer, which provides most of the drinking water for San Antonio.

To address those particular concerns, the developer, Lumbermen's Investment Corporation, committed early on in the process that they would carefully monitor and control the water quality in the resort. Proponents have said throughout the protracted discussions, if given the opportunity, Lumbermen's could establish a model for responsible development over the aquifer. They also point out that the city could impose stricter development restrictions and environmental controls on the golf resort than it could if the land was used for a residential subdivision.

It should have stopped there; Lumbermen's and the golfing community satisfied that the golf village project would occur, and environmentalists and San Antonio residents satisfied that a large portion of land directly over their water supply would be more than adequately monitored and not affected by the development.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. The environmentalists weren't satisfied. Instead, they took a "my way or the highway" approach. Following the approval of the initial development plan by the San Antonio City Council in April, and despite reassurances from Lumbermen's, several environmental groups started a petition drive.

For three months the environmentalists pounded the pavement.

The drive concluded this summer with a record-breaking 77,000-plus signatures, or enough that would have forced the city council to rescind its support for the deal or put the matter to a public vote.

While the large number of signatures is impressive, it does raise questions about the type of tactics used by petitioners. Do you think all those who signed the petition were given the full scope of what the developer proposed as far as the state-of-the-art technology to be used in order to safeguard their drinking water? Or, were they informed about the type of minimal environmental restrictions imposed on the land if the PGA Village was not built and a residential subdivision was built instead?

We'll never know the answers to those questions.

We'll also never know what would have happened if the golf resort had gone to a public vote. The divisiveness over the issue and controversy surrounding it was more than the PGA wanted to be involved with and pulled out of the project altogether in early August.

I don't blame them. Especially when there are half-dozen or more cities that will welcome the PGA Village with open arms, and without the worry of activists.

Now, the mayor of San Antonio and other political and business figures are trying to woo the PGA with another plan that is more desirable to all parties.

If the PGA of America knows what's good for it, which I believe it does, they will politely decline San Antonio's second offer and move on to a more accommodating city without all the controversy.

In the end I won't like that decision because I won't be able to make a short trip down IH-35 to a world-class resort, but ultimately that's what is best for the golfing community and the PGA. I'm sure one very vocal group of environmentalists will also be quite pleased when, and if that finally occurs.

Sorry, San Antonio. You should be embarrassed, disgusted and sad. You had your chance.

Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Since graduating from the University of Texas in 1992 with a degree in journalism, Kyle Dalton has been a writer and editor for a variety of national publications in various fields.

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