It turns out developer Gary Bradley struck first in the war over the Heep Ranch, but it's unclear if anyone knew about his attack.
Companies associated with Bradley filed two lawsuits against Hatsy Heep Shaffer on Aug. 31 seeking the developer's share of the ranch along with $700,000 in loans allegedly made to Shaffer.
Shaffer, one of three heirs to the ranch that covers a large swath of land along the I-35 corridor in Travis and Hays counties, came out swinging at Bradley in the media in early September. She claims the Circle C developer was trying to steal her land and her water. However, Shaffer says she was unaware of the lawsuits until a process server blocked her driveway last week and tried to serve her legal papers. Her anger at Bradley hasn't subsided with the word of legal action. "I'm going to put him behind bars," she says.
In the lawsuit, Bradley maintains that Shaffer and her husband, David Shaffer, signed a Feb. 22, 1999, limited partnership agreement to develop her portion of the ranch, about 1,900 acres. Under the agreement, a development corporation would own 49%, Shaffer would own 50%, and a general partner -- Bradley -- would own 1%. The agreement also states that Bradley would be paid $30,000 a month, and that by September of 2002, Shaffer would receive a minimum of $350,000 a year as part of the deal. The terms say the land would be turned over to the partnership once the heirs reached a settlement on how the land would be divided, which occurred in July.
With the deal, Bradley is attempting to solidify his plan to develop a vast area of land east of I-35 that would be served by another project he is spearheading, an extension of State Highway 45 from FM 1626 to U.S. 183. He also has a contract to buy the 2,500-acre tract owned by Texas A&M's Herman F. Heep and Minnie Bell Heep Foundation, which is thought to be an ideal site for attracting a major employer such as a chip manufacturer.
Although the foundation land buy looks like a done deal, the same can't be said for Shaffer's land or that of the other heirs, Heep sisters Betsy Urban of Dallas and Kathleen Adkins of Houston. Adkins has stated publicly that she won't do business with Bradley, and Shaffer said Urban is of the same mindset.
Shaffer says that the agreement with Bradley isn't binding, because it states that the signers would later write a more detailed and formal limited partnership agreement. "I've got a fleet of attorneys who examined the document and said it's worthless," she says.
While the agreement uses formal language such as "binding agreements," it also notes, "This letter is intended to reflect the general intent of the parties and confirm the understanding regarding the business terms which will form the basis of a final agreement ..." The lawsuit also includes a confirmation of the limited partnership from the secretary of state's office. But that confirmation is dated Aug. 29, 2000, the same day Bradley applied for it and just two days before he filed the lawsuits.
However, the other lawsuit, filed by Alien Inc., claims that Bradley lent Shaffer $700,000 to help pay off judgments and liens on the land. Although Shaffer says she never received a dime of Bradley's money, promissory notes dated Feb. 24, 2000, bear her signatures. Bradley is not commenting on the brouhaha. But his attorney, Wallace Smith, says, "We will have no problem proving in court that she got the money."
But the roadblock from Shaffer isn't the only obstacle facing Bradley. The city of Austin is weighing in, although not exactly in a hostile manner. The developer had hoped to get water service from the local supplier, Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Corporation. But since Creedmoor-Maha's service area doesn't cover the entire area planned for development, they applied to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) for a service area expansion. Problem is, the city says the company has no business expanding, since it doesn't have the water or infrastructure it needs and it will impact Austin's future service area. City officials have contested the TNRCC application, which will go to an administrative judge on Oct. 24 for a decision.
"We're challenging the adequacy of their service," says assistant city attorney Nancy Matchus. She says the city has invested in infrastructure in anticipation of expanding into northern Hays County, east of the Edwards Aquifer. Additionally, the city has a few issues with Bradley's development plans. Thousands of homes, commercial and retail development, and a potential major employer will impact the entire region, so officials want to have a say in what gets developed. "The one thing that keeps bringing Bradley back to the table is water and wastewater service," Matchus says.