San Gabriel's Horn - Secluded Private River Retreat - Distinctly Williamson County
The Horn is currently not offering tours and
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Last week 277th District Court Judge Ken Anderson ruled on a plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in a deed restrictions lawsuit related to a residential property in the Georgetown Extra Territorial Jurisdiction of Williamson County. Several neighbors had filed against the operation of San Gabriel’s Horn owned by Dennis Ray Palla (Ray) as a rental property for family events. The judge issued an order to shutdown the business within 60 days and granted the plaintiff's attorney fees and damages totaling some $50,000.00.
The ruling involves some 5 acres along the south side of the San Gabriel River near the new campus of Georgetown High School, TX Toll 130 and TX 29 (University Avenue). The court filing was headed-up individually by the elected officials of a newly formed North Berry Lane Homeowners’ Association: President, Dr. Murray Snook and his wife Rebecca; Vice-President, Mary Goertz and husband Ralph; and Secretary, Christopher Jenkins and wife Sara. This HOA was formed after Palla purchased his homestead property at 1201 Berry Lane in November of 2007. Other plaintiffs are Ruth Roberts and Don Snell (who operate a successful art gallery from their Berry Lane home) and Rick Dinsmore. All are residents of what is informally known as the North Berry Lane subdivision, which was formed in the early 1980s. Palla’s property was originally built by Dr. Thomas Sterling Parker, who raised his family and operated his medical practice in Georgetown for some 25 years. Following a mortgage foreclosure on the Parker home, Palla purchased the property after a year of research and the belief that the deed restrictions that were modified in 1982 had been waived by the subdivision residents and were no longer legally viable or supportable.
Counsel for Palla and Horn Development Incorporated maintain that the nature of the neighborhood has been permanently altered by the introduction of Toll Road 130, the proximity of the new Georgetown High School campus and impending development around the school, as well as by the actions of the neighborhood residents themselves in allowing half of the properties to be granted commercial standing. David Darnell, local real-estate attorney, declared that “The south portion of Berry Lane, the only entrance to the subdivision (half of the original residential properties), is now permitted to become business or industrial property. It could be a truck stop or a bridal shop.” Darnell argues that San Gabriel’s Horn is being discriminated against by the fact that the neighborhood allowed the lifting of restrictions on some of the acreage, but not on the Palla tract.
Two of the south owners have expressed their concerns that this current judgment is a grave injustice. David Culbertson and wife Sande have resided on Berry Lane for over 25 years under the same deed restrictions that are being upheld against the Horn. According to Culbertson, “We have operated and continue to operate a day care center out of our home that the entire neighborhood has used to care for their kids. Everyone is aware of it and we were allowed to become a commercial property by the new HOA.” Tammy Mezayek is adamant regarding the new HOA, "Unbelievable. They only agreed to allow our land to be released if we agreed to pay them over $100,000.00 so that they could repair their road… It sounds like misappropriation of funds to me. I don't know how those people sleep at night." Mezayek owns a portion of land that remained after imminent domain absorbed most of her property to become Toll 130 and frontage road for the northbound Tollway entrance ramp from Hwy 29. Mezayek and Culbertson were 2 of 5 properties that last year were allowed by the neighborhood to have their deed restrictions lifted in exchange for $101,000.00. The money was sought by the remaining property owners to make repairs to the private easement which is Berry Lane. In deposition, Dr. Snook stated that some $64,000.00 of the settlement money had been used to maintain the easement and that much had been put toward legal fees to bring the action against Palla and the Horn. The plaintiffs were represented by Georgetown attorney Christopher Stanley and associates. Palla was not party to the cash settlement and was never given the benefit of a 5-acre share of the monies. Additionally, the portion of the easement adjacent to Palla’s property has not been repaired or maintained in any way by the HOA.
Defendant Palla points out that he lives on the property and therefore, according to Georgetown city officials, if his property were annexed and zoned, his home would be considered ‘family residential with a special use permit’ but not necessarily commercial… Much like San Gabriel House, a bed-n-breakfast in town on University Ave. is now. Palla had a solemn response to the court ruling: “As you may presume, I am very disappointed in the court decision. I'm especially disappointed that I was never even allowed to speak or present evidence that is supported by legal statutes as well as by past court judgments in similar cases. I'm also frustrated that a jury was not allowed to hear the case, as I still believe that the extenuating circumstances of how this property was sold to me and the fact that other businesses continue to be operating in the neighborhood are compelling evidence. Going forward, we're not certain about choices for appeal or retrial; however we are considering all of our options and will abide by the court ruling until those options are realized and/or placed before the court.”
In a letter to his ‘Horn Supporters’, Palla said, “Personally and unfortunately, this ruling leaves me with no future for sustaining income and destroys all of my retirement funding. My dream of a family-centric contribution to a growing community has been arbitrarily crushed.”
The news has been heartbreaking for the many people who have enjoyed the isolated river retreat; they have only the highest praise for the manner in which the staff and Palla operated San Gabriel’s Horn. Palla, who is a native of Williamson County and born in Taylor, explains it was never his intention to alter the residential feel of the neighborhood. “It was my understanding that cardiologist Tom Parker had operated a therapy clinic for his patients on the property for 25 years. There was a lot of medical waste in the burn pile, various public records from Medicare, and numerous pharmaceutical company and tax liens had been levied on the property. I was told by the sellers that the property had operated as a clinic and the evidence gave me little doubt.”
It took considerable wrangling to buy the place because Duetsche Bank (the lien holder) and LandAmerica Commonwealth Title of Dallas were not local companies, and the bank required the sale to be contingent on using ‘their own people (Title Company)’. Palla bought the land and dilapidated home with the intention of making it available to the public for private river retreat family getaways including weddings, receptions, family reunions, vacations and church retreats.
Years of neglect, the long-term floods of 2007, and attrition had put the nearly 4000 sq. ft. home into a condition that was no longer inhabitable and upon closing the purchase, crews immediately began the reconstruction process. “Four months after repairs were underway and well past any option to turn back, the neighbors informed me that they believed some antiquated deed restrictions were enforceable and that they wanted us to discontinue our plans. I had spent 2 years looking for a property to develop, and bang, I was abruptly faced with the possibility of a costly legal battle. Copies of the deed restrictions and a pending ‘Shell transaction’ were not disclosed to me at the time of purchase, although I declared upfront all of my intentions for developing the place for retirement income. When I learned in March of ’08 about all of this, I made every possible attempt to reach a compromise with the neighborhood. I was then told by neighbors that they were in discussions to dissolve the deed restrictions on the south end of Berry Lane.” That settlement resulted in the approximate south half of the properties becoming commercial and the sale of the corner property at 29 and Berry Lane to Shell Oil Company. “Counsel (several attorneys) recommended that I continue my plan and force the issue into trial. I really had no other financial choices by then.”
The previous owner of the land which was sold to Shell Oil Company has provided further support for Palla's assertion that the deed restrictions had been waived by virtue of non-enforcement over time. Earl Watson states: "Some eight years ago I purchased 2.05 acres at the corner of Berry Lane and Highway 29. At the time of purchase there was a building on the property which was occupied and used for commercial purposes as the headquarters for a firm known as Trans-Vac... I purchased the property from the owner of that company." Palla notes that county deed records show that the corner lot was indeed owned, at least since January, 1996 by the business, “TRANS-VAC SYSTEMS, INC., a Texas corporation, formerly CONTRACTORS ENGINEERS INTERNATIONAL, INC.”
San Gabriel’s Horn has been in operation as a short-term rental property and small event venue since the spring of 2008. The facility's internet site, www.SanGabrielsHorn.com boasts that the Horn provides visitors with a unique personal location to host secluded, private river bluff and valley events and family activities. The site offers: vast sunset views, an expansive great room, 2-fireplaces, 6-bedrooms (2-suites), 3.5 baths, and 2 elevated river-view decks; on 5 acres & 400' of wooded San Gabriel River frontage. The property features a large outdoor amphitheater, pavilion area, on-site parking, versatile layout & setup possibilities, plus all the necessary amenities for a special occasion, and the subtle comforts of home for short term overnight stays and guest lodging accommodations. The recent court ruling enjoins the website from advertising offerings related to: Weddings, Receptions, Seminars, Retreats, Reunions, Banquets, Events Center and Vacation Rental.
Palla, Ray, who is 57, was forced into early retirement by a 1999 diagnosis of spinal stenosis. A new surgical procedure got him back on his feet, but has not entirely relieved the pain and intermittent paralysis involved with this condition. “I’d like to go back to work, I enjoyed my career of traveling the U.S. consulting database programming, but my hands just don't do the typing like they used-to and younger folks are always preferred by most employers. Following a 2-year search for an event venue to invest in, I chose this site to be near my retired parents in Taylor and begin a semi-retirement of my own. I was inspired by my parents who had been in the wedding services business in Austin's Capital Plaza and later on U.S. 183 for near 30 years as ‘All-In-One’ cake decorations and bridal services. I had hoped to settle-in here and give something back to the community that helped raise me.”
San Gabriel’s Horn has enjoyed a mutually successful partnership and internet web link with the Georgetown Visitors Bureau, the City of Georgetown website, as well as many other businesses, tourist attractions, and institutions, and has played a positive role in the vital promotion of the community to our visitors and guests. SGH is a 2nd year accredited member of the Better Business Bureau and member of Nuptial Essentials – Association of Wedding Professionals. The Horn has been host to church groups, exchange students from Hong Kong China, an array of families and friends, and has helped tie-the-knot for many happy couples. Through its three-year operation the Horn has been proud and humbled to participate in so many diverse lives and pleased to add to the Williamson County tax roll, while bringing families of great values and vast distances together in Georgetown. We salute the local caterers, shops, markets, restaurants, hotels, motels, churches, parks, festivals, merchants and individuals who have served our patrons to satiate their palates as well as nurture their spirits for a quality life. It really is the great people that make Georgetown unique and distinct in the world. During our tenure we have cherished the excellent customer reviews and celebrate the fact that we have been fortunate to know each individual along the way. We will be honoring all of our reservations through January 8, 2011 and working closely with those currently booked after that date to return deposits and assist in finding suitable alternative venues and lodging. We regret the inconvenience this cessation of operation will impose on all of our old and new friends. We hope that we can somehow return again in the future.
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