CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Generations of the McAdams family have visited Padre Balli Park over the last 60 years, playing in the sand and learning how to fish.
For decades, Matt McAdams and his father, Robert, have camped in the very spot they visited Friday, still faithfully using the old and tattered tent that’s starting to show its age.
Last year, Matt McAdams' daughter Helena caught her first "keeper" at the park, right near Bob Hall Pier. Now, McAdams wonders if Helena will have the opportunity to make similar memories to the ones has from childhood.
Padre Balli Park was created in 1949 after the Jones family donated the land to Nueces County. It encompasses nearly 400 acres south of Packery Channel and south of Bob Hall Pier.
The donation, however, includes restrictions on how the land can be used. Among those conditions:
- the land remains public.
- campers can only stay on the land for a limited time
On Feb. 22, an attorney representing the family sent a letter to county officials, accusing them of violating those and other restrictions. The letter threatens to take back the land if the county doesn't resolve the issue within 30 days.
The letter also accuses the county of granting 15 acres of land to a developer that it wasn't authorized to give. That gift would create a wetland, which was a requirement by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for a large-scale project on North Padre Island to dredge canals and develop a marina, residential and commercial space on the island.
"It's been public access our whole life," Matt McAdams said. "It's life-changing for generations."
Laura Bennett is a Winter Texan who has visited the area for nearly 20 years. She walks seven miles of Padre Balli daily and says the county turning over land for wetlands doesn't bother her.
"Well, as long as nothing's been built,” she said. “I wouldn't want anything built here. It would concern me if it was open to development."
USACE awarded the permit nearly 50 years ago to Gulfshores Joint Venture, despite a memorandum dated Aug. 20, 2020, stating Lake Padre Development Company originally applied for the USACE permit. Lake Padre Development Company, LLC, is the parent company of Gulfshores Joint Venture.
On July 6, 2020, Tim Lange, managing partner of Lake Padre Development Company, requested a five-year extension of the USACE permit. The extension application would be the 12th since the permit originally was awarded in 1973.
Two months after that request, several concerns were raised, including whether the project could even be completed in the Padre Balli Park area.
According to the permit documents obtained from the USACE, a letter dated Sept. 11, 2020, stated the concern.
"It appears that the USACE has amended and/or extended the permit eleven times since 1973. The Applicant has been given extensions for an excessively long time (almost 50 years) without completing the project. Even if the Applicant is committed to completing the project, the (US Fish and Wildlife) Service is concerned that the Applicant cannot complete the project."
The same letter went on to explain that Nueces County was interested in pursuing the plan, but progress was stalled because "Padre Balli Park already has a deed restriction granting mineral rights to the original land owner."
In permit documents from Sept. 22, 2020, Peter Carlton, co-managing partner of Gulfshores Joint Venture, responded:
"The approved mitigation plan for the Padre Balli Park site is in the process of being completed. The Deed Restriction document has been accepted by the USACE as well as Nueces County and is in the process of being signed and recorded by required parties."
KRIS 6 News obtained a copy of that deed restriction, which was signed by Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales on Oct. 15, 2020.
On November 13, 2020, that extension was granted to the developer by the USACE.
The last time Nueces County commissioners publicly discussed the wetlands was in June 2019, but no vote was taken.
No good deed
The cease-and-desist letter sent to the county from the Jones family's attorney states that Canales executed a deed restriction without commissioners-court approval, and "without any apparent authority."
Two weeks ago, the county hired an attorney to respond to the letter.
KRIS 6 News asked Canales and commissioners whether any discussions about this land happened after 2019. Pct. 2 commissioner Joe A. Gonzalez was the only one to respond. He says he could not respond on the advice of the county attorney. We also reached out to the Jones family, their attorney, and developer Tim Lange, and they have not responded.
The USACE tells KRIS 6 News that if the 15 acres deeded by the county were to be taken back, by either the county or the Jones family, the developer would have to apply for a permit modification.
Robert McAdams says he believes that the Jones family had good intentions for donating the land and reasons for the restrictions they enacted.
"If the people that donated this land for the public use -- I think they donated that with great goodwill on their part, and it seems like they've been betrayed," he said.
He said the county must remember the people who visit the beach in whatever it does to resolve the issue.
"Think of the people that have traditions that come here, and continue to come here, and do they really want to lose that?" he said.