Scenic Hills

 

THE FIRST 10

YEARS!

1983 - 1993

 

 

 

Scenic Hills - The First 10 Years 1983 - 1993

 

An Exact Reprint of the original account,

by former resident Dick Reavis

_______________________________________

 

By Dick Reavis         

3717 Scenic Drive         

 

 

                        THE TIME WAS MID-YEAR 1983, WITH THE BOOMING 1980’S NEARING
                        THEIR PEAK AND HORIZONS GOING OUT NEW DISTANCES WHEN A HANDFUL
                        OF PEOPLE WERE MOVING INTO THE JUST-OPENED RETIREMENT COMMUNITY
                        OF SCENIC HILLS, WITH SPECIAL EXPECTATIONS AND A GOOD SHARE OF OPTIMISM.

                        EVERYTHING ABOUT THE AREA HAD THE FRESH, BRIGHT SMELL OF PAINT AND
                        NEW WOOD; AND IT ALSO HAD THE DEBRIS OF CONSTRUCTION -- SCRAP PLANKS,
                        PILES OF BUILDING SAND, BITS OF ROOFING SHINGLES, AND YARDS RANGING
                        FROM BARE DIRT TO SPARSE GRASS. A MIXED, SOMEWHAT UNTIDY VIEW TO GREET
                        VISITORS, OF WHICH THERE WERE MANY.

                        STILL, AS THAT FIRST BAND OF RESIDENTS DRIBBLED IN THAT SUMMER THERE
                        WAS AN AIR OF SHARED ADVENTURE, A SPIRIT OF INSTANT CAMARADERIE AN
                        OUTLOOK THAT THOSE ORIGINAL SETTLERS SAY REMAINS STRONG TODAY AND
                        HAS DISTINGUISHED SCENIC HILLS FROM THE START. THOSE FIRST RESIDENTS
                        REFER TO IT AS “THE SPIRIT OF SCENIC HILLS.”

                        IN THE SUMMER-WARM JULY OF 1983, THE HANDFUL OF RESIDENTS ALREADY
                        SETTLED IN PAUSED ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK TO WELCOME A NEW FAMILY …
                        INVARIABLY, A COUPLE, SENIOR AGE …. AS THEIR MOVING VAN WAS EMPTIED
                        INTO THEIR JUST FINISHED-HOME, A HOUSE VERY MUCH LIKE OTHERS IN THE
                        NEIGHBORHOOD. ONE COUPLE CAME IN THEIR OWN RENTED MOVING VAN.

                        IN A SENSE, IT WAS PIONEERING. SCENIC HILLS WAS A PROJECT OF U.S. HOMES,
                        A NATIONAL HOUSING DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, WHICH WAS MARKETING THE
                        CONCEPT OF A SPECIAL COMMUNITY OF FOLKS OF OR NEAR RETIREMENT AGE;
                        BUILT AROUND A COMMON SOCIAL CENTER, A GOLF COURSE AND OTHER
                        SHARED GOLDEN YEARS INTERESTS.

                        THE CONCEPT WAS NOT NEW; US HOMES HAD SIMILAR PROJECTS, NEAR
                        HOUSTON, AND FURTHER EAST IN FLORIDA. AND DEL WEBB’S SUN CITY NEAR
                        PHOENIX, ARIZ., HAD BEEN A MODEL FOR 25 YEARS.

                        THIS NEW ONE, SCENIC HILLS, WAS SPREAD ACROSS A FARM SIZE RANGE OF
                        CALICHE HILLS, AT THE FOOT OF WHAT TEXANS CALL THE HILL COUNTRY,
                        ALONGSIDE INTERSTATE 35 SOME 25 MILES NORTHEAST OF SAN ANTONIO.
                        IT HAD SEVERAL MILES OF PAVED AND GUTTERED STREETS UNDULATING
                        AROUND THE HALF BARE TERRAIN, A FEW BRAVELY GREEN LAWNS, AND A
                        LARGE AND IMPRESSIVE COMMUNITY LODGE THAT WAS THE CENTERPIECE
                        OF THE U.S. HOMES SALES PITCH.

                        THERE WAS A SPECIAL FILLIP TO SCENIC HILLS, BECAUSE IT WAS STILL A ROLL
                        OF THE DICE FOR THOSE FIRST BUYERS, OPTIMISTIC THAT THINGS IN THEIR
                        NEW COMMUNITY WOULD TURN OUT AS THE DEVELOPERS GLOWINGLY PROMISED.

                        TEN YEARS LATER THOSE 1983 PURCHASERS, MOST OF THEM STILL IN RESIDENCE,
                        CAN SAY THAT MORE THINGS WORKED OUT AS PROMISED THAN DIDN’T. NOT A BAD
                        RECORD, REALLY, FOR A REAL ESTATE PROMOTION OF THE BOOMING,
                        LET-THE-GOOD-TIMES ROLL 1980’S.

                        A ST. PAUL, MINN., COUPLE, VANCE AND FRANCES OPSAHL, ACTUALLY INAUGURATED
                        SCENIC HILLS, ON APRIL 29, A GOOD TWO MONTHS AHEAD OF ANYONE ELSE.
                        AT THE START OF THE 1980’S VANCE WAS LOOKING TO RETIREMENT FROM A
                        REGIONAL SALES JOB WITH BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD AND THE GOLFING
                        COUPLE WANTED A RETIREMENT HOME IN THE SUN BELT WHERE THEY COULD BE
                        ON THE COURSE YEAR ROUND.

                        THEY WERE, ACTUALLY, “WINTER TEXANS” STARTING ABOUT 1980, JOINING A
                        GROUP FROM THEIR COUNTRY CLUB IN A ST. PAUL SUBURB ON WINTER STAYS
                        IN A SAN ANTONIO MOTEL, AND GOLFING AROUND THE CITY.

                        THE OPSAHLS STARTED LOOKING AROUND IN COMMUNITIES NEAR SAN ANTONIO,
                        AND ONE DAY HAPPENED INTO THE NEW BRAUNFELS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.
                        “THE FELLOW THERE KNEW VERY LITTLE ABOUT GOLF, BUT HE TOLD THAT A
                        COURSE HAD BEEN BUILT DOWN I-35, AND HOMES WERE BEING SOLD THERE,”
                        VANCE RECALLS.

                        U.S. HOMES HAD OPENED THE NORTHCLIFFE COUNTRY CLUB AND GOLF COURSE
                        IN 1978 AND MARKETING, THE ESTATES AND NORTHCLIFFE, BOTH NEAR THE
                        GOLF COURSE AND BOTH OPEN TO RESIDENTS OF ALL AGES. BY 1980 THE
                        COMPANY HAD PLANS FOR A THIRD SECTION, SCENIC HILLS, TO BE PURELY
                        A RETIREMENT AREA, WITH SECURITY, YARD CARE AND OTHER AMENITIES
                        FOR SENIOR CITIZENS.

                        VANCE AND FRANCES TALKED TO U.S. HOMES REPRESENTATIVES AS EARLY
                        AS 1981, LOOKED AT THE PROPOSED AREA, AND RECEIVED PROMICES THAT
                        THEY WOULD BE KEPT INFORMED ON WHEN SCENIC HILLS WOULD BE STARTED
                        THERE FOLLOWED A YEAR OR SO, WHEN THE COUPLE EXPERIENCED THE RANDOM
                        MANAGEMENT OF U.S. HOMES, A MANNER THAT WAS TO BECOME A LEGEND IN
                        SCENIC HILLS, AND THAT UNDOUBTEDLY CONTRIBUTED TO SERIOUS PROBLEMS
                        FOR THE COMPANY A FEW YEARS DOWN THE ROAD.

                        WITH VANCE’S RETIREMENT THE COUPLE WAS FREE TO VISIT SAN ANTONIO
                        FREQUENTLY, AND TELEPHONE BETWEEN VISITS, TO ARRANGE FOR A HOME
                        IN THE NEW SENIOR CITIZENS AREA. FINALLY, IN DECEMBER 1982, THE OPSAHLS
                        PICKED OUT A SITE, ON A HIGH POINT OF OVERLOOK DRIVE, AND CHOSE A STYLE
                        FROM SEVERAL MODEL HOMES JUST COMPLETED IN SCENIC HILLS.

                        WORK WAS STARTED WITH THE PROMISE OF AN EARLY COMPLETION. THAT WINTER,
                        VANCE AND FRANCES HAD TAKEN AN APARTMENT IN SAN ANTONIO WITH THE IDEA
                        OF EXPEDITING THEIR HOUSE CONSTRUCTION. “ONCE WHEN WE WERE BY, WITH
                        WORK GOING, WE GOT AN ESTIMATE OF FOUR WEEKS TO FINISH,” VANCE SAYS.
                        WHEN THEY WERE OUT AGAIN, IN ABOUT THREE WEEKS, “IT DIDN’T LOOK AS IF THE
                        JOB HAD BEEN TOUCHED.”

                        EARLY IN 1983 BEGAN THEY WENT HOME, PACKED, AND A MOVER LEFT WITH THEIR
                        HOUSEHOLD FURNISHINGS EARLY IN MARCH. THE OPSAHLS CAME ALONG ALSO,
                        TO DISCOVER ON ARRIVAL THAT THE HOUSE WOULD NOT BE READY FOR MORE WEEKS.

                        U.S. HOMES PICKED UP THE TAB FOR FURNITURE STORAGE AND OTHER COSTS, AND
                        VANCE AND FRAN WAITED IN A SAN ANTONIO APARTMENT FOR MOVING DAY,
                        THAT CAME ON APRIL 29.

                        THE OPSAHL’S EXPERIENCE WAS TO BECOME TYPICAL. MANY EARLY RESIDENT SHARE
                        RECOLLECTIONS REPLETE WITH MISCUE BY U.S. HOMES, CONTRACTED SPECIFICATIONS
                        FOR ADD-ONS THAT DID NOT GET RELAYED FROM THE SALES OFFICE TO THE BUILDERS,
                        WITH RESULTING COSTLY MAKE-OVERS AND DELAYS. THERE WAS A LOT OF
                        PERSEVERANCE ON THE PART OF THOSE 1983 BUYERS, WHO COULD NOT HAVE BEEN
                        SURPRISED WHEN A NATIONAL BUSINESS LIST IN THE LATE 1980s SHOWED US HOMES
                        AMONG THE TEN WORST MANAGED COMPANIES ON THE NEW YORK STCK EXCHANGE.

                        THE MUD HOUSES, STILL ON SCENIC DRIVE, WERE SIMPLER IN APPEARANCE THAN THE
                        REGULAR HOMES AND WERE FIRST OCCUPIED TEMPORARILY IN 1981 BY EMPLOYEES
                        OF U.S. HOMES FOR THE PURPOSE OF VOTING IN A NEW MUNICIPAL UTILITY DISTRICT,
                        AN ENTITY STILL NEW TO TEXAS … AND APPROVING SEVERAL MILLION DOLLARS IN
                        BONDS FOR THE DISTRICT TO BUILD WATER / SEWER LINES IN MOST OF SCENIC HILLS.
                        THE NEW ENTITY BECAME GUADCO MUD #2.

                        THE MUD HOUSES, WHICH HAD SERVED THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH THEY WERE
                        CONSTRUCTED, WERE UNOCCUPIED IN 1983; THEY LATER WERE SOLD, AT AUCTION,
                        AND TODAY ARE OCCUPIED BY OWNERS AND ARE AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE COMMUNITY.

                        HOWEVER, THE EARLY SECTION, WHERE THE OPSAHLS LIVE, WAS, AND IS, IN THE
                        EARLIER GUADCO MUD N0. 1, ESTABLISHED IN 1976 TO FINANCE WATER / SEWER
                        ACCESS IN TWO U.S. HOMES HOUSING AREAS BEING ESTABLISHED AROUND THE
                        COMPANY’S NEW GOLFING LAYOUT, NORTHCLIFFE COUNTRY CLUB. LOCATED BESIDE
                        INTERSTATE 35, 23 MILES NORTHEAST OF SAN ANTONIO.

                        MUD #1 SERVED TWO INITIAL U.S. HOMES HOUSING AREAS: THE ESTATES, NEAR
                        THE DEVELOPMENT’S ENTRY GATE ON I-35, AND NORTHCLIFFE, AN AREA LARGELY
                        OF SMALLER HOMES LOCATED SOUTH AND WEST OF THE GOLF COURSE AND STILL
                        THE LARGEST OF THE THREE AREAS, THAT WERE SOON TO INCLUDE SCENIC HILLS,

                        THE BOUNDARIES OF MUD #1, HOWEVER, TOOK IN A CHUNK OF NEW SCENIC HILLS,
                        IN THE WEST / SOUTHWEST SECTION NEAR THE SECURITY GATE AT THE
                        COMMUNITY’S WEST SIDE,. OF THE 174 HOMES IN SCENIC HILLS TODAY, 123 ARE
                        IN MUD #2, 51 IN MUD #1.

                        THE RECORD OF THE MUDs, WHICH BRINGS A PAINFUL REMINDER AT TAX TIMES
                        TODAY, IS A STORY OF IT’S OWN, HOWEVER, ONE THAT IS AN INEVITABLE PART OF
                        THIS ACCOUNT. THE FIRST SET OF MODEL HOMES, IN PASSING, WERE ON CHESTNUT
                        COURT, IN THE WEST-CENTRAL PART OF SCENIC HILLS AS IT EXISTS TODAY.

                        DAILY, THAT FIRST SUMMER, SALESMEN FOR U.S. HOMES SHOWED PROSPECTIVE
                        BUYERS AROUND, AND MANY OF THESE FOUND OPPORTUNITY TO VISIT WITH THE
                        NEW RESIDENTS AT 3816 OVERLOOK, WHO KEPT A SORT OF A RUNNING OPEN HOUSE.

                        CREWS POUNDED EARLY AND LATE IN THE SUMMER SUN ON MORE HOUSES, ALL
                        BUILT TO ONE OF THE FOUR OR FIVE STANDARD FLOOR PLANS SHOWN IN THE MODEL
                        HOMES, BUT VARYING INGENIOUSLY IN OURSIDE ARCHITECTURE. BUYERS COULD
                        ADD OPTIONAL FEATURES, AS A STONE FIREPLACE INSTEAD OF BRICK, OR A
                        BATH / SHOWER INSTEAD OF A TUB, BUT U.S. HOMES ALLOWED NO LEEWAY IN THE
                        BASIC PLANS. IF THE PLAN CALLED FOR A SINGLE-CAR GARAGE, OR A SINGLE BATH.
                        THE BUYERS GOT JUST THAT.

                        AMONG THE OPSAHL’S EARLY VISITORS WERE GEORGE AND BETSY GRIFFITHS, WHOSE
                        HOME WAS GOING UP AT 3913 PECAN COURT. THE GRIFFITHS MOVED IN ON JULY 7,
                        DOWN THE SLOPE AND ABOUT A BLOCK NORTH OF THE LODGE, WHICH WAS CLEARLY
                        VISIBLE PAST THE EMPTY SPACE THAT WAS SHORTLY TO BECOME CEDAR COURT.

                        WHAT WE COULD SEE WERE EMPTY STREETS, SOMETIMES MUDDY (FROM HOUSE
                        CONSTRUCTION ON THE STREET), AND THE LODGE, BETSY RECALLS, AND NOT MUCH ELSE.

                        THE CARPET OF ST. AUGUSTINE GRASS THAT TODAY BLANKETS THE COMMON GROUNDS
                        AROUND THE LODGE, WAS SPARSE AND A GOOD COUPLE YEARS FROM MATURING AS IT
                        IS TODAY; AND THAT BLANKETS ALL OF THE COMMUNITY, HOME YARDS AND ALL. MOWED
                        REGULARLY, YEAR-ROUND, IT IS ONE OF THE MORE POSITIVE FEATURES OF THE DEVELOPMENT.

                        GEORGE, RETIRED FROM A U.S. ARMY CAREER, WAS THE FIRST OF THE MILITARY RETIREES
                        WHO TODAY MAKE UP ABOUT A THIRD OF THE SCENIC HILLS HOUSEHOLDS.
                        UNDERSTANDABLY, MOST ARE AIR FORCE, GIVEN THE PROXIMITY OF RANDOLPH
                        AIR FORCE BASE, NINE MILES AWAY, AND OTHERS AROUND SAN ANTONIO, BUT THE ARMY,
                        NAVY AND MARINES HAVE THEIR CONTINGENTS.

                        BY THE END OF 1983, 26 COUPLES WERE IN THEIR HOMES, AND OF THESE, 15, OR
                        SURVIVORS IN A COUPLE, WERE STILL IN RESIDENCE IN JUNE, 1993, ALTHOUGH
                        H.A.P. AND BUNNY LEININGER, WHO MOVED IN JULY 23, 1983, WILL MOVE TO
                        SAN ANTONIO ON JULY 1.

                        THE OTHERS STILL HERE, AND THE MONTHS IN 1983 THEY ARRIVED, INCLUDE: JULY:
                        DEE AND FRIEDA DE HOOP, 3812 OVERLOOK; CY AND PANSY HEINRICH, 4004 CYPRESS;
                        DICK AND KILJA STACEY, 3917 PECAN COURT; GEORGE AND MARIAN WESTON,
                        3904 PECAN COURT; AUGUST: HERB AND ROSELLEN CHILES, 3921 PECAN COURT -
                        SEPTEMBER: BOB AND JEAN TENNANT, 4001 OAK COURT - OCTOBER: RUSS AND
                        JEAN HAINLINE, 4025 CYPRESS COURT; GRACE SENIA, 4016 OAK COURT - NOVEMBER:
                        BOB AND FAY CREECH, 3800 PECAN COURT; JIM AND LOIS KNIGHT, 3925 PECAN COURT,
                        WINN AND MARJORIE YOUNGBLOOD, 3848 GREENRIDGE; - DECEMBER: HARVEY AND
                        MARY LATSON, 3912 CEDAR COURT. THE LAST TWO COUPLES WERE ALSO MILITARY:
                        HARVEY LATSON AND WIN YOUNGBLOOD WERE CAREER AIR FORCE PILOTS AND
                        VETERANS OF WORLD WAR II, AS ARE MOST OF THE MILITARY RESIDENTS, ALTHOUGH
                        THE PRESENT MINIMUM AGE OF 55 LEAVES ROOM FOR KOREAN WAR / VETERANS.
                        HARVEY LATSON DIED IN 1985, WINN YOUNGBLOOD IN 1992; BOTH THEIR WIDOWS,
                        MARY AND MARJORIE, RESPECTIVELY, STILL LIVE IN THE HOMES THEY OCCUPIED IN 1983.

                        MRS. GRACE SENIA WAS THE FIRST SINGLE RESIDENT IN SCENIC HILLS, AND ON
                        OCTOBER 1st MOVED INTO THE HOME SHE AND HER HUSBAND, ROSARIO, CHOSE
                        FROM PLANS ON A VISIT BACK IN MARCH.

                        THE SENIAS, WHO HAVE A SON IN SAN ANTONIO RETURNED TO THEIR NEW JERSEY
                        HOME, SOLD THEIR HOUSE THERE, AND PACKED TO MOVE; THEN ROSARIO BECAME
                        ILL ON THE DAY THEY WERE TO LEAVE FOR TEXAS..

                        ROSARIO DIED ON AUGUST 26TH AND FIVE WEEKS LATER GRACE MOVED TO THE
                        NOW-COMPLETED HOUSE THEY HAD CHOSEN FROM THE MODEL HOMES. “OUR
                        FURNISHINGS WERE HERE, AND OUR SON, SO I CAME AHEAD,” SHE SAYS TODAY.
                        AND, SHE ADDS, “IT WAS THE THING TO DO.”

                        BOTH SINGLE MEN AND WOMEN HAVE MOVED IN SINCE, ATTRACTED BY THE COMMUNITY
                        AMENITIES AND SECURITY…

                        BUILDING WENT ON AT AN ACCELERATED PACE THROUGH 1986, WHEN IT SLOWED
                        PERCEPTIBLY … IN LINE WITH A NATIONAL CRUNCH IN THE HOME MARKET. FEWER
                        THAN A DOZEN HOMES, PROBABLY, WERE BUILT FROM 1987 THROUGH 1992. TODAY,
                        THERE ARE TWO NEW HOUSES ALMOST COMPLETED, WITH SEVERAL OTHERS OF
                        THE FEW STILL-AVAILABLE LOTS SOLD FOR NEAR-FUTURE OCCUPATION.

                        U.S. HOMES, WHICH HAD MORE-OR-LESS GUIDED SCENIC HILLS FUNCTIONS SINCE
                        THE BEGINNING, PULLED OUT OF PARTICIPATION AT THE START OF 1990; THIS LED
                        TO MANY CHANGES … AND NO LITTLE TREPIDATION AMONG THE RESIDENTS.

                        THIS PULLOUT HAD PERHAPS BEEN SIGNALED SOME TIME BEFORE: INITIALLY,
                        U.S. HOMES HAD PLANS FOR 1,200 HOMES IN SCENIC HILLS - A NUMBER THAT
                        SURELY WOULD HAVE SPREAD COSTS OF SUCH ITEMS AS SECURITY AND YARD CARE
                        OVER A WIDER BASE. ABOUT 1987 THE COMPANY RAN A POLL OF RESIDENTS, ASKING
                        WHAT COMMUNITY SIZE THEY PREFERRED: A REDUCTION TO 600 HOMES, OR, PERHAPS,
                        AS FEW AS 300. THE ORIGINAL 1,200 PROJECTION HAD BY THEN ABANDONED;
                        THE POLL SHOWED A PREFERENCE FOR 300.

                        BUT BY 1987 EVEN 300 HOMES WAS NOT A LIKELIHOOD. THE FEW HOMES BUILT IN
                        SCENIC HILLS SINCE 1987 HAVE BEEN INITIATED BY INDIVIDUAL OWNERS ON LOTS
                        THEY HAD PURCHASED.

                        STILL, THE ANNOUNCEMENT BY U.S. HOMES OF ITS WITHDRAWL CAUSED
                        CONSTERNATION LATE IN 1989. THE COMPANY HAD RUN SCENIC HILLS COMMUNITY
                        ASSOCIATION, HAD OPERATED THE LODGE, HIRED LAWN-CARE AND SECURITY COMPANIES,
                        AND, FISCALLY, HAD SUBSIDIZED OPERATIONS GENERALLY.

                        HOWEVER, U.S. HOMES DID NOT PRECIPITOUSLY LEAVE, BUT PRESENTED A PLAN TO
                        HOMEOWNERS TO ENABLE THEIR ASSOCIATION TO CONTINUE ADMINISTERING THE
                        COMMUNITY. THE PROPOSAL HAD SEVERAL MAJOR FEATURES, INCLUDING:
                        1) IT WOULD DEED THE LODGE, VALUED AT PERHAPS $750,000, TO THE SHCA
                         DEBT-FREE, ALONG WITH THE STOUTLY-FENCED PARKING AREA FOR RECREATIONAL
                        VEHICLES ON TO THE WEST SIDE OF THE NORTHCLIFFE HOUSING AREA;
                        2) TWO LOTS ADJOINING THE GATE, ALONG WITH THE GATE-SIGN, WOULD BE PART
                        OF THE PACKAGE, ALSO DEBT-FREE;
                        3) U.S. HOMES WOULD PAY THE SCENIC HILLS COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION …
                        SHCA … $150,000, IN CASH, TO FACILITATE THE CHANGEOVER, AND PROVIDE
                        A CUSHION FOR OPERATIONS.
                        4) SEVERAL OTHER LESSER ASSETS, A VAN VEHICLE USED BY THE LODGE, THE
                        EXTENSIVE FURNISHINGS AND RECREATIONAL EQUIPMENT OF THE LODGE, AND
                        OTHER ITEMS WOULD ALSO BE TRANSFERRED TO SHCA. SOME TRANSFERS,
                        NOTABLY OF TWO LOTS ADJOINING THE GATE TOOK CONSIDERABLE TIME, AND
                        U.S. HOMES ULTIMATELY PAID AN ADDITIONAL $10,000 FOR DELAYS.

                        THIS LARGESSE HELPED TO CALM RESIDENT’S CONCERNS, BUT NOT FOR SEVERAL
                        WEEKS, AND SOME HOMEOWNERS ULTIMATELY SUED U.S. HOMES, ALLEGING,
                        GENERALLY, BREACH OF FAITH IN NOT SPREADING COMMUNITY COSTS …
                        THE LODGE, YARD CARE, SECURITY … OVER A LARGER BASE, AS INDICATED IN
                        SALES PITCHES, AND ON MAPS GIVEN PROSPECTIVE BUYERS.

                        THE LAWSUIT RAN INTO SNAGS: U.S. HOMES WENT INTO CHAPTER 11 BANKRUPTCY
                        IN 1991, AFTER THEIR STOCK ON THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE HAD DROPPED
                        TO SOME 37 CENTS A SHARE. THE COMPANY HAS CONTINUED TO OPERATE, EVEN
                        PROVIDING AN OCCASIONAL SMALL FISCAL BOOST TO MUD #2, AND THIS YEAR IS
                        JUST EMERGING FROM BANKRUPTCY.

                        THE LITIGATION WAS JUST ONE OF THE TRANSITION RUMPLES..IN COMMUNITY
                        MEETINGS IT DEVELOPED, SOMETIMES ANIMATEDLY, THAT RESIDENTS HELD WIDELY
                        RANGING VIEWS ON HOW THE SHCA SHOULD RUN: SOME WOULD SHUT DOWN THE
                        SWIMMING POOL AND SOME LODGE FUNCTIONS, OTHERS WOULD TRIM SECURITY
                        COVERAGE AND OTHER COMMUNITIY NICETIES.

                        ULTIMATELY, THE COMMUNITY CONTINUED TO OPERATE MUCH THE SAME, AND
                        SMOOTHLY, THIS LARGELY TO THE CREDIT OF THE SHCA BOARD OF DIRECTORS,
                        WHO BROUGHT TO THEIR JOB A WEALTH OF BUSINESS KNOW HOW … AND UNTOLD
                        HOURS OF DEDICATED WORK. A LOT OF PAPERWORK, NEGOTIATIONS AND DECISIONS,
                        WERE REQUIRED TO SUPPLANT THE U.S. HOMES PRESENCE IN SUCH THINGS AS
                        INSURANCE COVERAGE, SERVICE CONTRACTS, TAX RECORDS, CREDIT RATING,
                        A MYRIAD OF OTHER DETAILS.

                        JERRY FESPERMAN, A RETIRED OIL COMPANY CHEMIST, HAD THE THANKLESS JOB
                        OF SHCA PRESIDENT IN THE INITIAL THREE YEARS; THIS SPRING HE WAS REPLACED
                        BY ALLEN JOHNSON, RETIRED FROM A CAREER IN A FINANCE CAPACITY WITH AN
                        INTERNATIONAL PHARMACEUTICAL FIRM, SPENDING MUCH OF HIS TIME IN MEXICO.

                        FESPERMAN, A TEXAS AGGIE WITH AN EASY MANNER, FIELDED COUNTLESS
                        COMPLAINTS OVER MEMBER PROBLEMS, COMPLAINTS SOMETIMES REGISTERED
                        IN HEAT, AND AT ALL HOURS; RUNNING SHCA IS NOT UNLIKE RUNNING A SMALL
                        TOWN. SHCA, IN PASSING, IS A QUASI-PUBLIC AGENCY, EMPOWERED BY IT’S
                        CHARTER TO ENFORCE PAYMENT OF ASSOCIATION DUES TO THE EXTENT OF
                        ATTACHING A LIEN TO A PROPERTY’S TITLE. THIS AUTHORITY HAS BEEN INVOKED
                        A COUPLE TIMES, ON PROPERTY THAT FELL INTO FORECLOSURE.

                        A CRITICAL FRICTION POINT IN THE CHANGEOVER LAY IN THE NECESSARY INCREASE
                        IN DUES TO SHCA. INITIALLY, U.S. HOMES HAD SUBSIDIZED MUCH OF THE COSTS OF
                        SCENIC HILLS, ASSESSING ASSOCIATION DUES OF $15 A MONTH AND SOME $40.50
                        FOR LAWN CARE. THE $15 A MONTH DUES ACTUALLY COULD NOT COVER EVEN THE
                        COST OF SECURITY SERVICE, PROVIDED BY THE NATIONAL SECURITY FIRM OF WELLS
                        FARGO, MUCH LESS OPERATING THE LODGE.

                        OBVIOUSLY, U.S. HOMES PICKED UP LARGE CHUNKS OF THE TAB, NOT ONLY FOR THE
                        SHCA BUT TO SUPPLEMENT PAYMENTS ON THE MUD #2 DEBT, THAT INITIALLY WAS
                        WELL OUT OF PROPORTION TO THE TAX VALUE THAT SUPPORTED IT. THE COMPANY
                        STILL OWNED NUMBERS OF LOTS IN SCENIC HILLS, AND PAID DUES ON THEM, A FACT
                        THAT GAVE IT EFFECTIVE CONTROL OF THE SHCA; APPARENTLY THE SUBSIDIES TO SHCA
                        COULD BE JUSTIFIED AS A COST OF SELLING LOTS AND HOMES IN SCENIC HILLS …
                        UNTIL THE MARKET DRIED UP.

                        ASSOCIATION DUES AND LAWN CARE COSTS WERE BEING FUDGED UP, ABOUT 10 PERCENT
                        A YEAR, BUT HAD NOT REACHED A BREAK-EVEN POINT BY THE CHANGEOVER. THE HARD
                        FACT THAT SHCA DUES HAD TO BE BOOSTED IMMEDIATELY DID NOT MAKE THE
                        TRANSITION EASIER.

                        A SYSTEM WAS INSTALLED ABOUT 1985 TO VARY THE YARD CARE CHARGE ACCORDING
                        TO THE SIZE OF A HOMEOWNER’S LOT, AS IS DONE TODAY. BY 1989, JUST BEFORE THE
                        PULLOUT, SHCA DUES WERE $246.16 A MONTH, LAWN CARE SOME $50 TO $60. THE
                        DUES AMOUNT, THE SAME FOR ALL RESIDENTS, WENT TO $65 A MONTH IN 1990;
                        YARD CARE WAS CHANGED SLIGHTLY.

                        BY USING A PORTION OF THE U.S. HOMES PARTING PAYMENT EACH YEAR, AND CLOSE
                        MANAGEMENT, DIRECTORS HAVE KEPT SHCA ON AN EVEN KEEL FINANCIALLY. IN 1993
                        MONTHLY DUES, IDENTIFIED AS “COMMON FEE” AND WHICH PAY FOR SECURITY,
                        LODGE AND UPKEEP OF THE COMMONS GROUND, ETC., ARE $78.29 FOR EACH
                        RESIDENCE; LAWN CARE AVERAGES PERHAPS $70 A MONTH.

                        THESE HIGHER FIGURES HAVE BEEN DIGESTED OVER THE THREE YEARS, AND THE
                        FRETTING AND FEAR THAT CAME WITH THE CHANGE HAVE LARGELY BEEN QUIETED.

                        THE SHCA TODAY HAS BUDGET OF SOME $340,000, AND AN INCOME ALMOST THAT
                        MUCH. IN 1992 IT USED $4,622 FROM IT’S RESERVE FUND, THAT WAS AT $105,466,
                        TO MEET IT’S BUDGET. THE BREAK EVEN POINT HAD BEEN REACHED, AND A PRACTICAL
                        RESERVE FOR CONTINGENCIES REMAINS.

                        THE MUD TAXES, THAT ARE A SIGNIFICANT ANNUAL COST FOR EVERYONE, CLEARLY
                        HAVE LESS ACCEPTANCE, PERHAPS BECAUSE THEY ARE LESS UNDERSTOOD, OR EASILY
                        GRASPED. AN AVERAGE SCENIC HILLS HOME WILL PAY SOME $700 TO $1,000 IN
                        ANNUAL MUD TAXES, LESS IN MUD #1, MORE IN MUD #2. SEVEN OF 10 HOMES ...
                        70% … ARE LOCATED IN MUD #2.

                        THIS SPECIAL TAX SEEMS TO GET OVERLOOKED BY MANY HOME BUYERS AT THE
                        TIME OF PURCHASE, PROBABLY BECAUSE MUDs ARE UNIQUE TO TEXAS, ALTHOUGH
                        FEW TEXANS ARE FAMILIAR WITH. SIMPLY A MUNICIPAL UTILITY DISTRICT IS A
                        POLITICAL ENTITY CREATED TO PROVIDE WATER / SEWER SERVICES TO HOME
                        DEVELOPMENTS THAT ARE NOT IN AN INCORPORATED TOWN OR CITY, WHERE
                        THESE THINGS ARE INCLUDED IN GENERAL OPERATIONS.

                        HOME DEVELOPERS HAVE FOUND MUDs A NECESSITY IN RURAL DEVELOPMENTS,
                        AS U.S. HOMES DID IN THE NORTHCLIFFE COUNTRY CLUB AREA. IT IS RELATIVELY
                        SIMPLE TO FINANCE UTILITIES THROUGH A MUD DISTRICT, AND THERE ARE
                        THOUSANDS IN TEXAS; A MUD CAN BE VOTED IN BY AS FEW AS THREE RESIDENTS
                        OF A SPECIFIED AREA, AS WAS DONE IN BOTH MUDs #1 AND #2.

                        INCORPORATORS FOR MUD #1 LIVED IN A SET OF FOUR HOMES THAT ARE TODAY
                        JUST EAST OF THE SEVENTH FAIRWAY ON THE GOLF COURSE; THE INCORPORATORS,
                        AS IN MUD #2, WERE ASSOCIATED WITH U.S. HOMES.

                        MUD #1, FORMED IN 1976, SERVES ALL THE NORTHCLIFFE AREA EXCEPT SCENIC HILLS,
                        AND LAPS OVER TO 50 HOMES IN IT’S SOUTHWEST CORNER. THE OPSAHLS, FOR
                        EXAMPLE, ARE IN MUD #1. BONDS VOTED BY THOSE FIRST RESIDENT /
                        INCORPORATORS PAID FOR WATER / SEWER LINES IN THE FIRST AREAS OF THE
                        NORTHCLIFFE COUNTRY CLUB DEVELOPMENT, SOME 500 HOMES, AND THOSE IN
                        THAT CORNER OF SCENIC HILLS IN MUD #1.

                        A SEWAGE DISPOSAL PLANT JUST WEST OF THE GOLF COURSE WAS BUILT AND TURNED
                        OVER TO AN AREA PUBLIC COMPANY TO OPERATE, WITH SERVICE CONTRACTED TO
                        MUD #1, AND LATER TO MUD #2. BECAUSE MUD #1 IS LARGER, IT’S BONDED-DEBT
                        TAX RATE IS LESS STRINGENT THAN IN MUD #2, WITH IT’S 123 HOMES TODAY,
                        ONE-FOURTH THE SIZE OF IT’S OLDER SISTER.

                        IN 1992, A HOME WITH A TAX VALUE OF $70,000 PAID $560 IN TAXES TO MUD #1,
                        WITH A TAX RATE OF 80 CENTS PER $100 VALUATION. A $70,000 HOME IN MUD #2
                        PAID $903 ON A TAX RATE OF $1.29 PER $100. THIS DISPARITY BETWEEN TAXES FOR
                        NEIGHBORING AREAS ADDED TO THE CONFUSION OF HOMEOWNERS OVER THE MUDs.

                        BECAUSE IT’S 51 HOMES IN SCENIC HILLS ARE A MINOR PART OF MUD #1, WITH IT’S
                        LOWER TAX RATE, AN ANALYSIS OF IT MAY NOT BE GERMANE HERE. MUD #2 IS A
                        SOMEWHAT CLOSER TO HOME; AND DESPITE IT’S TAX BITE IN 1993, THERE IS A
                        GLIMMER OF LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL.

                        THOSE THREE MUD - HOUSES RESIDENT ON SCENIC DRIVE APPROVED $1,155,000
                        IN BONDS IN 1981, BONDS THAT WERE SOLD IN 1982 TO PAY FOR WATER / SEWER
                        LINES IN THE NEWER PART OF SCENIC HILLS. THESE TAX-FREE BONDS CARRIED A RATE
                        AVERAGING SOME 10%, AS THEY DO TODAY. AGAIN, OBVIOUSLY, THIS MANEUVER WAS
                        DONE UNDER THE FISCAL WING OF U.S. HOMES, WHICH REQUIRED THE BOND FUNDS
                        FOR IT’S UTILITY INSTALLATIONS IN MUD #2. THE TAX BASE TO GUARANTEE THE
                        35-YEAR BONDS WAS PAPER-THIN IN 1982, AND THE U.S. HOMES CREDIT APPARENTLY
                        SUPPLIED SOME BACKUP.

                        IN 1983, WITH SCENIC HILLS LAUNCHED, THE PROPERTY TAX VALUE IN MUD #2 WAS
                        $3,629,270, MUCH OF THIS IN STILL-EMPTY LOTS OWNED BY U.S. HOMES; IN 1992,
                        THE VALUE WAS $10, 363,655, ALMOST TRIPLE THAT OF 1983.

                        MUD #2 WAS ABLE TO MEET ONLY INTEREST PAYMENTS ON IT’S BONDS THROUGH 1988,
                        AND THIS WITH OCCASIONAL HELP FROM U.S. HOMES. AS OF APRIL 1, 1993, THE
                        MUD #2 DEBT HAD BEEN REDUCED ONLY $155,000, IN 11 YEARS, AND STOOD AT AN
                        EVEN $1 MILLION. THE PAYOUT SCHEDULE IS ACCELERATING SHARPLY, TO FULLY RETIRE
                        THE BONDS BY APRIL 2005. ADDITIONALLY, SCENIC HILLS APPEARS POISED TO GROW,
                        AND EACH NEW HOME WILL LEAVEN THE MUD DEBT SOME; THE DOWNSIDE OF THIS IS
                        THAT PUBLIC FINANCES DO NOT ALWAYS FOLLOW A SCRIPT. 

                        TO A DEGREE, MUD TAXES ARE A TRADEOFF. BECAUSE SCENIC HILLS … ALL OF THE
                        NORTHCLIFFE COUNTRY CLUB SUBDIVISION, FOR THAT MATTER … IS NOT AN
                        INCORPORATED TOWN OR CITY, THERE ARE NO CITY TAXES.

                        BOTH MUD #1 AND #2 HAVE ADMINISTRATIVE BOARDS, FIVE MEMBERS EACH, ELECTED
                        TO STAGGER. 3-YEAR TERMS. THE DISTRICTS CONTRACT FOR MANAGEMENT SERVICES.

                        THESE MUNDANE, SOMEWHAT DRY NUMBERS LIKELY ARE OF SMALL INTEREST TO
                        MANY, BUT THEY ARE PART AND PARCEL OF THE COMMUNITY OF SCENIC HILLS; OF
                        WHERE IT IS TODAY, AND WHERE IT IS GOING.

                        THERE ARE MORE PERSONAL FACTORS IN THE COMMUNITY’S LIFE; THE MINIMUM
                        AGE OF 55 YEARS FOR RESIDENCE IS A GUARANTEE OF A CHANGING POPULATION;
                        OF THE 26 COUPLES HERE IN 1983, 15 REMAIN … OR SURVIVORS … AFTER A
                        DECADE. EACH YEAR SOME RESIDENTS MOVE AWAY, SOME TO FACILITIES WITH
                        HEALTH CARE, SOME TO BE NEARER FAMILIES, AND SOME DIE. INEVITABILITY,
                        IN A SENIOR-AGE LOCALE.

                        BUT, IN THE PATTERN OF THE FIRST 10 YEARS, NEW RESIDENTS MOVE IN REGULARLY,
                        ALWAYS TO A WARM WELCOME. THE HOME MARKET IS ACTIVE, BETTER PROBABLY
                        THAN ANY TIME SINCE THE MID-1980s; A SCENIC HILLS HOME WILL SELL WITHIN DAYS
                        OF BEING PUT ON THE MARKET. THE COMMUNITY QUALITIES THAT DREW RESIDENTS
                        IN 1983 ARE ENHANCED TODAY; QUIET, NEIGHBORLY LIVING, SHARED INTERESTS,
                        RECREATION, AND MODEST, SUN BELT LIVING COSTS.

                        PLUS, AND IT IS A LARGE PLUS, A SOLIDLY ESTABLISHED SOCIAL SYSTEM, FOLKS AT
                        HOME WITH EACH OTHER AND THEIR COMFORTABLE PACE OF LIVING. IT IS NOT JUST
                        THAT THOSE AMBITIOUS SMALL TREES IN ORIGINAL HAVE GROWN TO ADULTHOOD,
                        LINING THE STREETS, A WAY OF LIFE HAS MATURED, IS RICHER, MORE SATISFYING.

                        MAYBE, AS THOSE FIRST SETTLERS DECLARE, THE “SPIRIT OF SCENIC HILLS” HAS COME OF AGE.

 

 

 

 

AS WRITTEN BY DICK REAVIS

3717 SCENIC DRIVE

circa 1993

 

 

Reprint completed: 19 Jun 2009
Dan Walters
3612 Chestnut Court