Matt Briscoe

Matt Briscoe

In a recent report from the United States Census Bureau, Texas led the nation in numeric growth. The Lone Star state also came in as the second most populous state in the country, next to California. The growth numbers are certainly there, and political leaders here in Texas are keenly aware. But with all of the growth in Texas, there seems to be the question of where to put the so called corporate “relo-refugees” starting to flood into the state.

Between 1982 and 2012, Texas lost more than 3 million acres to development. That number has certainly increased between 2012 and now, but in a state that is home to more than 167 million land acres, one might ask what is the big deal?

Texas has more than 130 million acres of usable farm and ranch land left in the state that seems like more than enough, and it is a lot of land; however, in places, such as Corpus Christi, the standoff between good-quality farmland and the need for suburban subdivision development is starting to heat up.

“As we face a growing population in Texas and the need for development increases to house people, farmers and ranchers are often faced with the option to sell their land to developers, especially during the downturn in the farm economy,” says Laramie Adams, national legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau.

“Farmers and ranchers often have land located in the heavily congested areas and are more willing to sell their property so they don’t have to contend with development near and adjacent to them,” Adams says.

Just driving around Nueces County, it seems Adams might just have a point.

In areas once covered by prosperous farms, we are starting to see a big change. That change comes in the form of more and more subdivisions that are home to houses priced at over $250,000, which can hardly be classified as affordable housing, which municipalities such as Corpus Christi claim that they need to encourage continued growth.

“You work with cities and get an idea for where their leadership is taking the city,” says Brent Jacobson, a former real estate developer in Houston.

But it is what Jacobson says next that is most alarming.

“The next step is you work with the banks and identify agriculture land owners who could potentially be in financial trouble, and you approach them with a pretty low offer, just enough or slightly more than what they owe the bank or their creditors,” says Jacobson. “The landowner ends up losing.”

Banks refuse to admit this practice exists – and for good reason. Divulging the financial information of agriculture clients, or any client for that matter, would be unethical and highly illegal. But in secret off-the-record conversations, Jacobson says we’d be stunned to know what information is shared with investors and developers.

“If a business wants to attract top-notch talent, they have to be able to impress them and show them growth and potential,” according to Jacobson. “The talent pool wants to see potential and new growth, not neighborhoods that give the appearance of economic hardship. You can’t blame them.”

Holly Fairchild, who is a corporate and executive recruiter in the petroleum and engineering sector, seconds Jacobson’s viewpoint.

“Developers have to get their hands on suburban property and build, build, build,” Fairchild says.

Start out on Staples Street in downtown Corpus Christi. Streets are being slowly repaired, and trivial amounts of voter-approved bond money are being used for repairs and development. But drive about halfway down Staples, and people like Chuy Cruz, a lifelong resident of Corpus Christi, notice the improvements start decreasing and the economic culture changes. That is until you start reaching the suburban areas near Yorktown Road, where development is booming.

“The problem is that the people in the middle don’t have the money that areas like London have,” says Cruz.

“Sadly, we don’t vote, either,” he says. “And they know that.”

But what about those farmers who are slowly losing their farmland to developers? The truth is they do vote, but even by banding together on Election Day, their votes just are not enough. And even if they were, they likely couldn’t beat the banks and developers who have formed alliances together.

“The endgame is you have to have nicer homes and things to keep the new folks entertained,” says Jacobson, and that is where the complex issues really lie.

“The city, county and the bankers are all happy because the dollar signs align. It’s the heritage farm and landowners that will lose every single time,” says Jacobson, and if they lose their cropland, we all could end up losing in the end.

Matt Briscoe is a Texas-based political columnist and news journalist in Corpus Christi. His primary focus is rural affairs and politics. He may be contacted at Mattbriscoetx@gmail.com.

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