Top 10 of 2022 | Fredericksburg Standard


Fredericksburg and Gillespie County continue to change rapidly, as does much of Texas. Here is a look back at the top 10 stories (plus a few) that led the news in 2022.

1. Short-term rentals

Skyrocketing real estate prices and a lack of affordable housing for essential workers, like teachers and firefighters, have thrust short-term rentals into the crosshairs locally, leading to citywide restrictions and mandates detailed by city ordinance.

In January, the city began to discuss making changes to the city’s short-term rental (STR) ordinance, namely involving STR-B&B and STR-Accessory. Councilmembers began reviewing the ordinance and its relationship with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The city introduced the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) process, a request to the city for a language change, which the city reviewed and granted along with a revised STR ordinance which took effect April 1.

The revised ordinance, which included definition changes and new STR regulations, was found unconstitutional mid-August due to a Fifth Circuit of Appeals court case (Hignell-Stark v. The City of New Orleans) in mid-August.

The ordinance’s requirement that the (STR-B&B/STR-Accessory) property be the principal residence of the property owner was found to be a violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Councilmembers have been working to revise the ordinance to align with the ruling, making some narrow changes within the definitions of the ordinance last week to minimalize unconstitutionality and protect it from being challenged as un-constitutionally written, which would make it virtually unenforceable.

The Fredericksburg City Council is still taking steps toward enforcement and balance within the STR community, keeping its comprehensive plan in mind.

2. City celebrates 175th Anniversary

Fredericksburg residents celebrated the town’s 175th Anniversary with events spotlighting the city’s history, faith, founding families and a mutual respect of cultures over a long weekend in May 2022.

Though a year later than originally intended after COVID-19 derailed plans for a 2021 event, the three-day anniversary festival highlighted things that make Fredericksburg special.

Tony Klein, co-chairman of the anniversary committee, touted the 175th as a great success.

“I really appreciate the many volunteers, and our sponsors and donors,” he said. “Part of our task was to make all these events free of charge. That support from sponsors was overwhelming, and pretty much every event worked out great.”

Members of the Comanche Nation also joined in the festivities, performing and playing a part in the anniversary, just as they did in the mutual negotiation of the original peace treaty signed between German settlers and the Penateka Comanche tribe in the mid-1840s.

The celebration included dancing during “Pat’s Hall Night” on Saturday at Marktplatz; community worship; a Friendship Ceremony with Comanche Nation representatives; and culminated in a Founders Day ceremony, which happened to be on Mother’s Day.

Local historian Glen Treibs talked about the difficult days faced by the town’s founding father, John O. Meusebach, how he persevered and how locals owe the town’s existence to him.

After the ceremony, a wreath was placed in front of a bronze bust of Meusebach.

A Pioneer Luncheon was also held for descendants of the town’s original settlers.

3. Hill Country Memorial sale

Hill Country Memorial (HCM) Hospital announced Nov. 15 that — two years after board members began discussions of a sale — it would become part of the Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio starting in early 2023.

HCM’s Board of Trustees unanimously selected Methodist Healthcare as a partner after assessing the increasingly dynamic rural health care environment, said CEO Jayne Pope.

“Our board is as forward-thinking as any, and after a long evaluation and looking at serious headwinds in our industry, it has decided to join Methodist Healthcare,” Pope said when making the announcement.

“We didn’t have to do this,” she said, citing a strong balance sheet, “but the board believes this will allow Hill Country Memorial to grow and to thrive.”

HCM officials said Methodist Healthcare recognizes the impact that Hill Country Memorial has on healthcare services in the region and the high bar that the local hospital has set in providing quality patient care. Methodist’s acquisition will bring in a nine-time Fortune/Merative Top 100 Hospital as well as a recipient of the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award.

HCM is also the largest employer in Gillespie County, with roughly 600 team members and 226 medical staff. HCM provides more than $21 million in annual charity and uncompensated care, as well as offers state-of-the-art services like its Restore Joint Replacement and interventional cardiology programs.

“We chose Methodist because of its strong commitment to quality and because of our aligned vision for the future of healthcare in the Hill Country,” Pope said.

“The reduction in intergovernmental funding, in addition to the effects of inflation, is creating more pressure on smaller, independent hospitals,” said HCM Board Chairperson Jenny Wieser. “Joining an established, high-quality regional health system can help us better manage expenses. This is particularly important in areas like supplies and equipment, which are some the most significant expenses for hospitals.”

Pope said Methodist will acquire the hospital and its buildings, but that three parts were not included: The HCM Wellness Center, its HCM Thrift Store and the HCM Foundation.

Philanthropic activities currently led by the Foundation for HCM will continue in service to the Hill Country community.

More details regarding ongoing investment in the community will be shared in the coming months, but Pope said the change could allow the foundation to focus on needs such as housing, more exercise offerings or even childcare arrangements.

In the near term, she said, patients can expect their care to continue uninterrupted, officials stated.

4. Drought-Big Sky Fire

Water restrictions, a well moratorium, burn bans and multiple wildfires have marked a much drier than normal year in Fredericksburg.

This month, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said drought conditions are impacting agriculture, and subsequently the economy, and he is touring the state discussing resource management and inventive techniques Texans are employing to deal with drier than average conditions.

Texas is currently experiencing the worst drought since 2011, which cost the state’s economy about $7.62 billion in direct agricultural losses and nearly $17 billion in total losses, reports the comptroller’s office.

Drought and water scarcity impact all aspects of Texans’ daily lives, affecting everything from the state’s robust agricultural and livestock industries to municipal water providers, warns the comptroller’s office as the state continues to experience its worst drought in more than a decade.

As a result of ongoing drought conditions in Texas and throughout the U.S., reports the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, fewer cows and higher calf prices are projected for 2023.

“Most of the country is in some form of drought,” said David Anderson, an AgriLife Extension Economist, during a recent South Central Texas Cow-Calf Clinic in Brenham. “Drought affects all aspects of the cattle business. The reason we have culled so many cows this year is because of drought and the cost of corn. High corn prices will lead to a high feed cost environment into next year. Production costs have also increased faster than calf prices.”

Anderson’s price outlook calls for tighter supplies of cattle going into 2023.

The drought has resulted in higher wheat prices due to low yield. Fredericksburg resident James Wahrmund, owner of Wahrmund Farms, told the newspaper that the drought has affected his wheat crops and his bottom line.

“We lost our crops last year because of the drought,” he said earlier this month.

Wahrmund expressed that because of the drought and dry soil, he has not been able to grow wheat for several months, nor does he plan to plant seed this winter due to the ongoing conditions.

“It’s not a good situation,” he said, regarding the price of hay for cattle. “The hay keeps going up. Every time you talk to someone, ‘The hay went up another $10.’ You can’t find a bale of hay for under $140.”

Out of the frying pan…

Drought conditions led to the postponement of July 4th fireworks, which have been rescheduled to Friday, Dec. 30, and resulted in multiple wildfires in 2022, the largest of which was the Big Sky Fire that ignited on Aug. 2 and was not fully contained until Aug. 11, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The Big Sky Fire that started near Eckert and Crabapple roads ravaged over 1,410 acres, leaving only burnt brush, ash and charred land in its wake.

Approximately 40 residents were initially evacuated, and dozens of structures were threatened, though only four metal barns were reported destroyed.

5. Dooley’s closes after near-century

After 99 years in business, a Fredericksburg staple said goodbye to the town it served for so long. Dooley’s 5, 10 & 25¢ store at 131 East Main in Fredericksburg announced in January that it would be shuttering for good and closed later in the year on June 30.

Tim Dooley, the third-generation owner of the store, thanked local residents for their patronage and recalled working in the family store as a youth.

His grandfather, Charles, opened Dooley’s in 1923, and later sold it to his eldest son, John, who ran the five-and-dime until his retirement at age 91. He expanded the business to four stores and kept the Fredericksburg storefront when he sold the others down the line.

Tim Dooley grew up in the local store and said he remembers his father’s hard work and how he himself was always trying to drum up business, even as a child.

“My dad would send me to school during the springtime with a yo-yo and a top to play with on the playground, to get everybody started,” he said. “The kids would see me playing with it, and they’d come down to the store and buy it. Cheap advertising!”

John Dooley died in 2018, and his obituary quotes his strategy that kept Dooley’s running strong, even in a changing business landscape:

“Don’t try to compete with (Walmart). Merchandise around them,” he said. “We have survived several competitors (Winn’s and Gibson’s) but haven’t put Walmart out of business yet!”

Dooley’s niche inventory — goods that evoke nostalgia or items not found in today’s large chains — resulted in its longtime success, said Dooley.

A sale of the property is currently in progress to an undisclosed purchaser, Dooley said. (The print edition of this story contained an error as to the buyer.) 

6. Turner Hall sale

Turner Hall, also known as Social Turn Verein, burned to the ground as the result of arson in 2016, but locals can celebrate knowing that its legacy will live on, at least in some form, after the City of Fredericksburg agreed in October to purchase the property for about $850,000.

“Acquiring the property is just important for the city, and it’s the second-best decision,” said Fredericksburg Mayor Jeryl Hoover, noting his first choice would have been to rebuild Turner Hall in the organizers’ vision. “The appeal of it, to me, is to keep it within the purposes of the community.”

Hoover said then the city was unsure yet what it wants to do with the property, but he would like for it to benefit the community in some way. Turner Hall had been a community hangout spot for Gillespie County residents since 1871, until it was destroyed by fire.

“I think almost every youngster in Gillespie County probably hung out in there,” said Duane Durst, president of Social Turn Verein. “I know I did, and the wife and I even bowled there.”

After the tragedy, Social Turn Verein, a nonprofit organization who owned the location, began fundraising efforts to rebuild it. When COVID-19 interrupted the group’s fundraising efforts, the organizers began to question the feasibility of the project as donors pulled back. Escalating construction costs put the final nail in the proverbial coffin.

“Our original bid was $2.5 million for the whole project,” Durst said. “A year ago, we had it rebid again to finish it out from where we’re at because we already spent about $1 million on what we’ve got.

“It was going to be another $2.9 million to complete it.”

The cost was too high, and the group put the property on the market.

After putting the building up for sale, Social Turn Verein asked its donors where they wanted the money to go, as the bylaws said it had to be distributed to nonprofits. Since then, the money has been distributed to nonprofits, including charitable organizations and volunteer fire departments.

The city began considering the purchase of Turner Hall in September.

“Our No. 1 reason was to acquire it for community purposes,” Hoover said.

The property wasn’t in the budget, so it would require a budget amendment mid-year, but Hoover said purchasing the property was a timely necessity, as the wanted to keep the property from turning into a short-term rental.

City Manager Clinton Bailey said the architects will incorporate historical aspects of Turner Hall, including the red granite slab that read, “Fredericksburg Social Turn Verein: 1871-1950.”

A decision on the use of the property is expected to be made after the first of the year.

7. Daycare shortage

Fredericksburg is still struggling to increase daycare options for residents after 2022 saw more closures in childcare facilities, building on a pre-existing shortage and creating a crisis.

In February, Bluebird Beginnings, a childcare facility on Milam that had been in operation for nearly eight years, shut its doors citing labor shortages and high property values as reasons it could not continue.

“It’s been one heck of a ride trying to keep the doors swinging,” owner Heather Davis said.

The center has been trying to staff two positions for nearly eight months but hasn’t been able to lock down candidates. Davis said people applied, but never showed up for interviews, meaning she cannot operate at max capacity.

“I’m licensed for 54 children, but right now, I’m at around 44,” she said.

On top of the two open positions, Davis said she’s about to lose two more employees, as one will be going on maternity leave and the other has found a higher-paying job.

Davis’s lease has also recently expired. She investigated buying the building but discovered it would cost $625,000 to do so.

That left the families of the 44 children under her care looking for alternatives.

In June, as the statewide childcare crisis intensified, Billie Kids Day Care also closed its doors.

By then, staffing shortages had already impaired enrollment at the facility. Throughout the 2021-22 school year, the childcare center struggled to find and keep the state-mandated number of certified workers.

“You have to have a certain number of children per adult,” Robyn Derrington, assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning at Fredericksburg Independent School District, said. “We didn’t have enough adults to maintain a 3- to 4-year-old room.”

Childcare workers progressively left Billie Kids Day Care for other job opportunities, even though a pay increase from $12 per hour to $15 was implemented in 2021, leaving the childcare center understaffed.

“There’s other opportunities out there where they can make more per hour than what we can afford to pay,” Derrington said.

According to the Center of American Progress at the time of the closure, “48% of Texans live in a childcare desert.” In Fredericksburg, data from Children at Risk shows there are only 25 childcare “seats” for every 100 children of working parents.

The City of Fredericksburg continued to work with local childcare professionals to assemble a committee to deal with an ongoing crisis in the availability and affordability of childcare.

“Childcare is linked to two key issues that are plaguing the viability of our service industry workforce,” said Fredericksburg Mayor Jeryl Hoover. “Housing and wage scale.”

Hoover explained the common household spends 30% of its income on housing and that Fredericksburg residents often spend significantly more.

“What they spend on housing threatens their ability to afford other necessities such as food, medicine, clothing, transportation, healthcare and childcare,” Hoover said.

Hoover asserts that 89% of the workforce in Fredericksburg is priced out of the homebuying market, but there might be a way for the city to help reduce the burden.

Bethany Preschool is one of Fredericksburg’s largest childcare facilities and one of the ministries of Bethany Lutheran Church. The preschool at Bethany launched in 1983. In 2019, the church had hoped to expand its building and program significantly, and though delayed by COVID, the plan is back on track.

“I’ve been here 28 years, and the congregation loves kids,” said the Rev. Casey Zesch.

Bethany Lutheran Church owns the lot at the corner of West Austin and North Crockett streets. It hopes to move forward with the construction of a new preschool building. But the plan’s resurrection has its challenges.

“We had started our long-range plan around 2013 and we wanted to include a preschool,” Zesch said. “In December 2019, we voted to build. But we started our capital campaign in 2020 and COVID hit. So, we went back to get a contractor’s estimate again and it had almost doubled in price.”

Bethany will bring the project to the congregation for a vote in January.

Zesch would like to see construction begin in late spring or early fall of 2023 if the church votes to support the expansion.

The Hill Country Community Needs Council (HCCNC) also has a plan for helping with the crisis.

The HCCNC plans to begin construction on an infant care facility. Infant care is an area of significant need, and their program would provide for newborns and children up to three years old.

“Our goal is to start building in late spring (2023) if we can get the plans and the bids out,” said Cindy Heifner, executive director for the HCCNC.

With growing community awareness, the organization of government leaders and the leadership of some of local institutions, hope could be on the horizon for Fredericksburg families.

8. Elections office resignations

Anissa Herrera, elections administrator for Gillespie County since 2019, and the other two people working in her office, all resigned in 2022, citing threats, harassment and other irreconcilable differences as the reasons for departing in August, with elections just around the corner. 

“After the 2020 (election), I was threatened, I’ve been stalked, I’ve been called out on social media,” Herrera said. “And it’s just dangerous misinformation.”

Herrera worked for Gillespie County for nine-and-a-half years, serving as an elections clerk prior to her role as administrator.

What had been an enjoyable job for Herrera took a different turn following the most recent presidential election.

“The year 2020 was when I got the death threats,” said Herrera. “It was enough that I reached out to our county attorney.”

According to an article published in this paper on Aug. 31 by Natalia Contreras of Votebeat and The Texas Tribune, media coverage of the mass exodus of elections department employees attributed it to threats of the type that have become common since the 2020 presidential election, but she said it started some time prior to that.

Contreras wrote that in Gillespie County, Herrera started getting attacked almost immediately upon taking office after activists lost an effort to have fluoride removed from the city’s water supply. The activists suspected malfeasance, and Herrera was the target of their attacks on the election process.

Herrera’s working hours “ballooned” since then, wrote Contreras, and she found it impossible to lead a normal working life in the elections office.

“The threats against election officials and my election staff, dangerous misinformation, lack of full-time personnel for the elections office, unpaid compensation, and absurd legislation have completely changed the job I initially accepted,” Herrera wrote in her resignation letter, dated Aug. 2. “The life commitment I have given to this job is unsustainable.”

In addition to increasing harassment, Herrera expressed that her responsibilities in the position often required long hours while being understaffed.

The wave of resignations in the Elections Department has left county officials wondering how to successfully conduct upcoming elections.

“We have some people who are pretty fanatical and radical about things,” said Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher. “Unfortunately, they have driven out our elections administrator, and not just her, but the staff. Everybody has resigned … I don’t know how we’re going to hold an election when everybody in the election department has resigned.”

With Herrera’s resignation and those of other members of the department, the voting process in Gillespie County was uncertain, but volunteers stepped in to assist County Clerk Lindsey Brown and all votes were tallied. Issues faced by elections staff and administrators still require resolution, however. 

9. County judge retires

Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher, the longest-serving judge in county history, retired his robe after 28 years. His last day is Dec. 31.

“I don’t know where the time has gone,” said Stroeher, whose family roots run deep and go almost to the 1846 group of German immigrants who settled this area. “It does sometimes feel like I just took office. And I guess that’s a sign that I’ve, for the most part, enjoyed being in that position for 28 years.”

In rural counties, the county judge position can be all-encompassing, serving over criminal and probate courts, being an administrator and more, a predecessor of Stroeher’s, Jay Weinheimer, said.

“Not only judge of court, but also ‘mayor’ of the county. He leads the budget and administrative duties and it takes a lot of talent and time,” Weinheimer said. “The person in that position has to be able to negotiate and coax and it’s a special position.”

“Mark has been a great judge,” he added. “He’s been very conservative in taking care of the county’s business. I’m very happy for his retirement.”

“The county has changed so much over that 28 years,” Stroeher said. “I mean, just within the last three years, historically, the most significant events of our lifetime have happened, which was a pandemic and that Snowmageddon.”

Though Stroeher will retire, he vows to be available for his successor Daniel Jones, the City of Fredericksburg attorney who won his primary in May and was unopposed for the November general election.

“Water is going to be our biggest issue, along with the regulations from the state legislature,” Stroeher said.

Overall, Stroeher expressed gratitude to the people who kept him in office for the past nearly three decades.

“I just feel extremely blessed,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got basically the best job in the world. People have asked me before if I ever wanted to run for the state legislature or Congress? I briefly would think about those things, but then I realized that you’re just really a number, one of many, and it’s hard to have any kind of a significant impact. And I really had no desire to go to Washington or even Austin.

10. New mayor takes office

The City of Fredericksburg saw a new mayor take his seat in May — or a former mayor back in office, really.

Jeryl Hoover returned to the Mayor’s seat on the Fredericksburg City Council, joined by Emily Eppright Kirchner and Tony Klein, who were voted into office with him in May.

Hoover won with 1,335 votes over incumbent Charlie Kiehne, who had 706. Challenger Timothy Ellis Riley had 123 votes.

Hoover campaigned on an anti-STR platform as residents and potential buyers have been watching real estate prices balloon. With limited housing options for people working in Fredericksburg, Hoover formed an STR Task Force that has met regularly since Nov. 1. This group of varied stakeholders is working to provide separate recommendations to the council on enforcement, ordinance changes, software enhancements and related items to ensure the integrity of Fredericksburg neighborhoods.

The Task Force has not yet made any formal recommendations, but it is planning on making suggestions to the city starting in 2023.

Residents and property owners who would like to share their opinions on STRs are encouraged to email [email protected] and [email protected].

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 3, 2023.

…and a bonus ‘Top Story’

11. Fredericksburg ISD bond passes

In May, voters elected to approve an $82 million bond for a brand-new Fredericksburg Middle School campus, as well as other assorted improvements. The vote passed by a large margin of approval, with about 70% of voters in favor of the bond.

After a months-long campaign, voters agreed that the Fredericksburg Middle School campus’s historic-yet-aging facilities needed significant investment. A new middle school will be built on land acquired by FISD just off Friendship Lane, south of the Fredericksburg High School campus.

At the most recent school board meeting on Dec. 12, Huckabee Principal Architect Linda Ghazawi said plans are underway and showed graphics of goats ascending a hillside painted in key areas around campus.

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