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The New Grey Moss Inn–Cocina Mexicana: A Modern Take on a Local Classic

Helotes News Grey Moss Inn Padlocked Gate

Nestled below the moss-covered oaks in Grey Forest, the Grey Moss Inn, a time-honored dining tradition that ended during the pandemic, has reopened with new owners Martha Valadez and Marisol Mendoza.

Helotes News Grey Moss Inn Sister Owners
Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, the sisters launched the new family-run restaurant, Grey Moss Inn–Cocina Mexicana, in June. The new menu features dishes unique to Northern Mexico, including authentic guisados prepared with the unique spices of the region.

Valadez and Mendoza discovered the property when searching for commercial kitchens for their catering business, Got It Covered Events of San Antonio. Purchased in October of last year, the sisters quickly began to restore the property to its original condition while making a few minor changes, including a bar in the Garden Room.

With the rapid growth and change in Northwest Bexar County, many locals are delighted to see a familiar landmark reopen and hope it will flourish under new management. 

Jan Ann Nichols Schwarz moved to Grey Forest with her family in 1953 and remembers the original restaurant as a magical, hidden gem. “The candles on the tables were covered in colored wax and the steaks fixed on the wishing well were superb,” reminisced Schwartz. “They were always packed on the weekends and you would always see limousines there.”

Like many other long-time residents, Schwarz, who now lives in Helotes, was pleased to see the restaurant reopen and is eager to see it succeed. 

Valadez says the outpouring of the support from the community has been encouraging. “Much love and effort was put into the project and we appreciate the response from the community,” said Valadez. “Our customers are happy to see Grey Moss Inn reopen and are willing to try food that is different from the original restaurant.”

Helotes resident Nancy Roberts and her husband visited for the first time during their soft opening and enjoyed it so much that they have already been back three more times with family and friends. “We have tried different entrees and appetizers and loved them all,” said Roberts. “All together it was a great experience!”

The live jazz music that is played on the patio most evenings is a special touch, she added.

The original Grey Moss Inn holds memories for many former patrons as it was the place to dine for special occasions, including first dates, engagements and anniversaries.

Helotes resident Teresa Ives Lilly was thrilled for it to reopen as she remembers a special night at the restaurant 35 years ago when her husband asked her to marry him.

Helotes resident Patricia Ballenger holds special memories from a romantic dinner in 1998 with her boyfriend which ended in a marriage proposal. “Grey Moss Inn will always hold a special place in my heart,” added Ballenger who recently celebrated her 24th wedding anniversary.

San Antonio residents Amanda Milian and her husband, both originally from Helotes, had their first date there 11 years ago, and recently dined there to check out all of the changes. “The inside was brighter than before and updated without changing too much,” said Milian. “The table placements were still in their original spots so seeing our table from our first date was really special to us.”

Cathy Schweisfurth recently celebrated her wedding anniversary there, and says they will visit again due to the delicious food and generous portions even though she thinks the restaurant has lost some of its romantic atmosphere.

“The ambience is bright and clean, and the patio was nice,” said Schweisfurth. “We noticed it seemed pretty loud inside and we had to almost yell to talk to each other so to us it has lost some of its romanticism which was one of the reasons we loved the old Grey Moss Inn.”

While the new owners focus on the daily demands of running a high-end restaurant, they haven’t forgotten to embrace the rich history of the property. 

According to local historian Cynthia Massey, author of Helotes: Where the Texas Hill Country Begins–A Comprehensive History, the Treaty Tree, one of the huge oaks on the property, has historical significance. 

“According to the legend, Indians met underneath the tree to discuss treaties,” said Massey. “Whether the two parties were Indian tribes trying to negotiate a peace pact or tribes parlaying with Spanish troops, Texas Rangers or early settlers is unknown.”

In 1929, Mary Howell purchased the original inn on the property, and later opened a restaurant. Some locals say Mary’s spirit continues to haunt the property. Although the new management hasn’t experienced anything unusual, Valadez says she stays neutral, keeps an open mind and appreciates the history of the property.

Helotes News Grey Moss Inn Portrait
Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

According to the current Grey Moss Inn website, over the years “stories have been passed down of guests seeing Mary’s apparition wandering the dining room, while others have caught a whiff of her sweet rose-scented perfume.” In the past some employees have reported tables being mysteriously rearranged and candles suddenly relighting.

Helotes News Grey Moss Inn Outdoors BW
Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

Massey reports in her book that eye-witness accounts of strange occurrences at the Grey Moss property involved crashing wine buckets and flying utensils. Nell Baeten, a past Grey Moss owner, “felt the presence of another person in the restaurant even when she was the only one there.” 

Like Valadez, Massey reported nothing unusual about her 2011 visit to the inn for a “paranormal investigation.”

The Grey Moss Inn–Cocina Mexicana is open Tuesday through Friday for dinner starting at 4 pm. Saturday and Sunday the restaurant opens at 8 am for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Former Alamo Curator to Speak at Historical Society Meeting

Historical Society of Helotes Queen of the West

The General Meeting of the Historical Society of Helotes will be held Tuesday, September 12, at the Gardens at Old Town Helotes, 15060 Antonio Drive, from 12:00 to 2:00 pm.

Dr. Bruce Winders, former historian and curator of the Alamo, will give a presentation on his book Queen of the West: A Documentary History of San Antonio, 1718-1900, winner of a San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award. He will discuss the transformation of San Antonio from a threatened outpost to a thriving Edwardian city using eye-witness accounts.

Dr. Winder is an internationally noted authority on the Alamo. He served as historian and curator at the Alamo for twenty-three years before leaving to become an independent scholar and historical consultant.

A deluxe box lunch from Jason’s Deli can be ordered online at the Historical Society of Helotes website under the Meetings tab. Member cost is $15, guests $18. Order from five menu items. The meal order is your RSVP. If you are not going to order a meal, but plan to attend, please email info@historicalsocietyofhelotes.org to RSVP. Reservation/meal order must be made by September 10. Guests who do not order a meal are asked to donate $5 at the door.

This meeting is open to the public.

Miss Helotes Scholarship Pageant: 57 Years of Community Service, Personal Growth, Small-Town Pride

Miss Helotes Pageant Scholarship Court Crowns Dresses Boots Square
2023 Miss Helotes Pageant Scholarship Court. Photo by Annie McEntire

Every Saturday morning the Miss Helotes Scholarship Court gathers for their 6 a.m. roll call at Mary’s Tacos. Gathering to represent Helotes throughout South Texas at parades and special events, it’s clear this program of the Helotes Festival Association has become a time-honored tradition over the past fifty plus years. 

During a typical season, the Miss Helotes Court will travel to a dozen parades and over 20 community events to support the Texas city known for corn and Cornyval. Crowing their first queen in 1967, the Helotes 2023 Court maintains the small town values that have anchored the program over the years while reflecting the growth and change of Helotes. The 2023 court members represent an accurate depiction of Helotes. Some have recently moved here from other parts of the country while others have always called Helotes their home. 

According to Maxine Benke of the Helotes Festival Association, the mission of the Miss Helotes Scholarship Pageant hasn’t changed since its inception 57 years ago when community leaders, including John T. Floore decided to start the pageant in conjunction with the opening of a new post office in 1966. 

Held at John T. Floore Country store over the first several years, Benke said the small budget didn’t allow for scholarships until the 80s. In the early days of the program, Benke remembers how pageant officials traveled to Mexico to purchase glass crowns to reuse every year–-all in an effort to save money. Today the pageant offers prize and gift packages worth $15,000 in addition to the scholarship awards. 

The 2023 court attends several different area high schools, including Harlan, O’Connor, and Sonia Sotomayor. Although students from Brandeis have participated in the past, Brandeis is the only area high school not represented on the court this year. 

Vice President and Pageant Director Jamie Taylor is thankful for the growing support from each of the area high schools. “I’m thankful they see the value of the pageant and are committed to get the word out to students every year,” she said.

At first glance many newcomers to Helotes may think the pageant is part of the larger state and national circuit; however, the Miss Helotes Scholarship Pageant is independent with a unique set of goals. 

For Jennifer Nowlin, a pageant committee member charged with special events otherwise known as “court mom,” the program is special because it creates a myriad of opportunities for the participants to grow in character and confidence. The young women experience public speaking, essay writing, and interviewing–all while learning to balance a hectic pageant schedule.

Pageant activities run year round. Each February the Miss Helotes Scholarship Pageant launches a 10-week workshop held each Sunday at pageant-sponsor Pedrotti’s Ranch. The workshops, designed to prepare the applicants for the pageant competition, utilizes the current court as mentors for the new applicants. The number of applicants over the years has ranged from 10 to as many as 30.

Court Duchess Alexis Jasmine Owens, a senior at Harlan High School, tells future contestants to commit to frequent practice whenever they get a chance. Miss Congeniality Sabrina Moore, a junior at O’Connor High School, agrees. “Be prepared to work hard for a court spot because it is not easy,” she said. 

Miss Helotes Evelyn Nordstrom encourages future Miss Helotes contestants to have fun and enjoy the process. “You are learning everything you need to know for the competition through the workshops so just enjoy the learning,” said Nordstrom. “Have fun, be yourself and don’t let others get you down.”

Nowlin explains that the spirit of the competition is to strengthen each other. “We encourage the girls to encourage and support everyone so they can be the best they can be.”

Seeking Pageant Volunteers

“If you have a heart to support the young ladies in the Miss Helotes program, there’s always a place for volunteers with energy,” said Benke. “We need help with all the details that make this program a success year after year.”  

The program is entirely volunteer run. The current Miss Helotes Pageant Committee includes: Jennifer Nowlin, executive vice president of Miss Helotes Court and Helotes Festival Association Vice President; Jamie Taylor, Miss Helotes Director and Vice President of Miss Helotes Pageant; Lynn Bohac, Pageant Workshop Director; Jenny Marshall, Public Speaking and Confidence Coach; and Anne Bohac, Wardrobe Director and Backstage Coordinator.

For more information on volunteering, see https://cornyval.org/volunteer-sign-up

2023 Miss Helotes Scholarship Pageant Court

Miss Helotes–Evelyn Nordstrom

Miss Helotes 2023. Photo by Annie McEntire

Sotomayor Junior Evelyn Nordstrom decided to compete in Miss Helotes to have fun and earn a scholarship. Through her participation in the program, she has improved her public speaking skills through representing Helotes at area events. Originally from Southern California, Nordstrom has come to love Helotes because it feels like home. 

“Unlike other places–where it’s just a collection of houses or businesses–Helotes builds community,” said Nordstrom. “There is always an event going on–like Market Days–when you can go out in the community and support everyone living in Helotes while having a great time.”

Her days are filled with activities including being a varsity cheerleader, and earning a membership in the National Honor Society by maintaining a high grade point average. She also loves swimming, crafting and hanging out with friends. 

In the future, Nordstrom plans on earning a college degree in finance. To see the world through travel, she would like to work as a flight attendant. 

Princess–Abigail Baley

Miss Helotes Pageant Scholarship 2023 Miss Helotes Princess Web
Princess 2023. Photo by Annie McEntire

Sotomayor Senior Abigail Baley was motivated to participate in the Miss Helotes Scholarship Pageant because it was a unique opportunity for personal growth. “Throughout my pageant experience, I have learned important life skills such as poise and public speaking,” said Baley. “These are vital skills that I will carry with me into adulthood.”

One of Baley’s most important accomplishments is overcoming the challenges of moving to Helotes last year from Portland, Oregon. “My family and I moved over 2,000 miles away from the only place I had ever known,” said Baley. “It was scary at first, but after settling in I am proud to say that I have found community and purpose here in Helotes.”

Baley loves the unique location of Helotes. “Helotes has a wonderful small town charm while still being close to the fun that San Antonio has to offer,” she said. “Bonus points are it’s just minutes away from the beautiful and scenic hill country.”

Someday Baley would like to earn a degree in ministry and missions to “share the love of God and make a difference in the world.” Her future plans may also include having a farm. “The idea of having a bunch of farm animals while living in the serenity of the country seems very lovely to me,” she added.

Duchess–Alexis Owens

Miss Helotes Duchess 2023
Duchess 2023. Photo by Annie McEntire

Harlan Senior Alexis Jasmine Owens keeps a rigorous schedule of academics, employment and extracurricular activities. Her proudest accomplishment has been learning to achieve balance while maintaining good mental health through an ordered and tranquil life. When not at work or school, Owens loves to bake, exercise and hang out with her friends.

Owens’ older sister, Alyssa Owens, served as Miss Helotes in 2019–motivating Owens to enter the competition so she could have the same experience. So far Owens’ time on court has been valuable. “I have learned how to speak eloquently and how to be a good representative for the City of Helotes,” she said.

In the future, Owens would like to attend Texas A&M University in College Station or the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She plans on pursuing a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in accounting in order to become a Certified Public Accountant.

Miss Citizenship–Alexandra Garcia

Miss Helotes Pageant Scholarship 2023 Miss Citizenship
Miss Citizenship 2023. Photo by Annie McEntire

O’Connor Junior Ally Garcia’s list of accomplishments includes even more than a place on the Miss Helotes Court. Last year Garcia’s goat won a commercial championship. In addition to raising goats, she was a member of O’Connor’s softball team which recently won the state championship. “Both accomplishments took a lot of long, hard work,” said Garcia. “To see it all pay off was so rewarding.”

Garcia’s mother encouraged her to participate in Miss Helotes after seeing information about the program on social media. Although Garcia says she’d rather be playing sports, she decided to apply, and has gained insight through her service on the court. 

She has come to appreciate how community involvement can have a big impact on others. Her love of Helotes fuels her work with the court. “I love Helotes. People are nice and friendly,” she said. “Our tight knit community supports each other.”

When Garcia isn’t serving on the court, playing softball or raising goats, she enjoys making handcrafted jewelry. In the future Garcia, would like to help people and save lives as an occupational therapist, a surgical nurse or a surgeon.

Miss Spirit–Jaelyn Ainslie

Miss Helotes Pageant Scholarship 2023 Miss Spirit
Miss Spirit 2023. Photo by Annie McEntire

O’Connor Junior Jaelyn Ainslie’s tenacity was in full dismay after competing for a spot on the Miss Helotes Court for three years running. She cites earning a place on the court as her proudest accomplishment. 

“Running for the Miss Helotes court in order to gain more experience and confidence through each competition has been a huge accomplishment,” said Ainslie.

Ainslie decided to compete for Miss Helotes because she wanted to expand beyond her passion for agriculture. Through the competition she has expanded her public speaking and interviewing skills. 

  Ainslie is a Helotes girl at heart. She attended Los Reyes Canyon Elementary, and has lived in Helotes for most of her life despite a short stint in Colorado. 

She loves being around livestock and enjoys studying how they can act, change and evolve. In addition to her service on the court, she is an officer in the Helotes 4-H Club. In the future, Ainslie would like to become a travel nurse “to see the world and help people along the way.”  

Miss Congeniality–Sabrina Moore

Miss Helotes Pageant Scholarship 2023 Miss Congeniality
Miss Congeniality 2023. Photo by Annie McEntire

O’Connor Junior Sabrina Moore entered the pageant competition in her own words to “get out of my comfort zone and try something new.” During the weekly workshops, she learned how to build self-confidence through public speaking.

When recalling the court’s most recent event, Moore realized Helotes is really well known for Cornyval. “Everything is about corn afterall,” said Moore. “When people realize we are from the city that hosts Cornyval every year, many will immediately connect to Helotes.”

Moore grew up in Helotes and spent much of her youth participating in competitive gymnastics. Today she is a member of O’Connor’s cheer team in addition to participating in two varsity choirs. 

She loves Helotes’ small-town feel. “Everyone knows each other,” explained Moore. “Due to the high school in Helotes, many families live in the area and kids work local jobs in the community–making lots of personal connections.”

In the future, Moore plans on attending college in Texas to prepare for a field in construction, including the mathematical design process. On a personal note, she looks forward to meeting more friends in all aspects of life.

Editor’s note: Congratulations to the families represented by the 2023 Miss Helotes Court! When asked who they admire the most, it is compelling to note that all six members of the court referenced a member or member(s) of their family, including parents and siblings.

Press Release: REP. Mark Dorazio Calls on TCEQ to Deny Permit for Wastewater Facility

Helotes news 2023 05 26 mark Dorazio press release



Proposed facility will have negative impact on constituents of HD 122

San Antonio, TX – Today, Rep. Mark Dorazio released the following statement:
“I am calling on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to deny Permit #WQ0016171001, which would allow Lennar Homes to construct and manage a wastewater facility in my district, House District 122, as a part of the development known as Guajolote Ranch.

My office has spent several weeks researching this permit and has not found satisfactory evidence that I need to feel confident in this proposed facility and its potential impact on my constituents. On the contrary, I have discovered many reasons to view this new facility with a high degree of skepticism.

We have been in regular contact with the city leadership of Grey Forrest, Helotes, and San Antonio. We have spoken with numerous constituents, from retirees to working professionals. We have worked with TCEQ and have spoken with representatives of Lennar Homes. It has been our objective to understand fully how this proposed wastewater facility would impact the people of HD 122.

The initial paperwork filed with the TCEQ had important errors, including the failure to note that Helotes Creek is used for recreation by the residents of Grey Forest. The permit also failed to note the presence of dams in the creek.
Additionally, a doctor from Helotes brought up the fact that pharmaceuticals and their biproducts in human waste cannot be filtered out of the effluent that will be pumped into the creek.

There have also been worries that the proposed water treatment facility will increase the risk of flooding in the local community.

The Metropolitan Health District has called on TCEQ to deny this permit. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has weighed in, laying out the risks posed not just to Helotes Creek, but to the entirety of Edwards Aquifer with the effluent from this facility being released into it’s Recharge Zone. Based on SwRI’s findings, it seems that this project would put this critical aquifer at risk. We cannot take this lightly, and it would be a shame to damage such a precious natural resource.

Given the overwhelmingly negative response from my constituents and the numerous concerns brought forward by experts in water quality and health, I must call on TCEQ to deny this permit at the present time.”

Helotes City Council Passes Resolution Opposing Guajolote Ranch Waste Water Treatment Plant Permit

Helotes City Council Resolution Opposing Guajolote Ranch web

Helotes City Council unanimously votes on resolution to oppose the Guajolote Ranch Waste Water Treatment Plant Permit No. WQ0016171001.


Reelection Interview with Helotes Mayor Rich Whitehead

Helotes Mayor Whitehead Sitting at Dais Center
Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

Jamming Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” with supporters is a fitting way for a Helotes mayor to celebrate a victory. Playing the guitar with his band during a recent reelection party, Helotes Mayor Rich Whitehead mixed his love for music with his love for Helotes–a city long known for music and one that he has served since he was first elected as mayor in 2021.

Whitehead, who recently won reelection with 76.6 percent of the vote, agreed to sit down with Helotes News to share his vision for Helotes–a city facing all of the challenges that come from rapid growth in Northwest Bexar County.

Helotes News: I think most residents know you are a captain with the San Antonio Fire Department, but many may not know you have a love for music. Tell us about your musical background, and how your recent reelection party turned into a jam session.
Mayor Whitehead: It’s really a blessing because I grew up playing piano, but never learned how to read music. I just played by ear, and soon I was playing guitar, bass and drums. I joined several bands growing up and even played through college. After college, our band produced some CDs. I still play guitar and piano at church, but every once in a while we throw a jam session. We put together a couple of songs for what we anticipated would be a celebration on election night, and suddenly it did turn out to be quite the celebration. My son Dillon plays the drums and saxophone. His band recently released their first single on Spotify.

Helotes News: Congratulations on your recent reelection as mayor. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges facing Helotes and what role can city government play in addressing them?
Mayor Whitehead: We obviously solved a lot of problems over the past two years and instituted a tremendous amount of change. And whenever there is change, you have to give it an opportunity to be able to grow and provide the results you’re looking for. That’s where we are as a city. I believe we’ve planted the crops, if you will. We’ve taken out the weeds, taken out the rocks, planted the seed and now we’re growing and ready for harvest. That being said, we do have a few remaining challenges for our city.

The most obvious challenge is the amount of traffic we have going through Helotes. This is not necessarily a direct result of growth in Helotes, but because of growth in Bexar County and the surrounding areas. We’ve had a tremendous amount of growth in unincorporated Bexar County to the north and west of us, and all that traffic comes through Helotes on Bandera Road as well as 1560. All of this development is outside of Helotes, but the traffic from these new developments funnels through our city.

We have three major Texas Department of Transportation or TXDOT projects. The Hausmann Road project is completed. We have Bandera Road that is right in the middle of everything and of course 1560 will be coming in the next year or two. That will be a multi-year project-–running from Culebra Road all the way to Bandera Road. So our biggest challenge is how to manage the traffic and the influx of people in the surrounding areas. Part of that really goes into our police department and emergency services. When you have increased traffic, you have traffic accidents. We have police, fire, and EMS service on scene for the accidents, and our police are then pulled away from patrolling our neighborhoods. Because we want to maintain safety in our communities, expanding our police department has been a priority. Adding additional police ensures we set the standard of what we expect for people who live here in Helotes as well as anybody who visits Helotes. It’s a standard that I have set for myself and for my friends and family too. It’s how we’re leading by example in our community.

Helotes News: What are some of the common misperceptions that citizens may have about city government?
Mayor Whitehead: One major misconception involves the Bandera Road construction project. It’s actually a TXDOT project and not a city project. I get a lot of phone calls and emails about it. It’s difficult. I feel the same pain as I drive through that traffic everyday. These plans were made years ago. The financing was arranged years ago. It was put out for bid years ago, and then it was selected for construction to finally start on Bandera last year. So now our reality is dealing with the construction. When all is said and done, the traffic flow will be much better and that will make things more tolerable for the amount of traffic coming through Helotes.

Another common misunderstanding involves the size of our ETJ or Extraterritorial Jurisdiction. Previous administrations annexed Bandera Road out toward 211, Shaenfield Road, and Braun Road from 1560 almost to 1604. This annexation took the roads, but none of the properties. Because these properties are not in Helotes, the city doesn’t get any property tax dollars from these areas. All of the developments in these areas are not in the city limits–it’s in unincorporated Bexar County. It is possible for these subdivisions to file and request to be annexed into the city. For example, we don’t have control over the apartments that are going up by the Triana development. We don’t have any jurisdiction over Triana or San Antonio Ranch or any of the areas of development further out toward 211. So even if they have a Helotes address, they’re not in the city limits. Our control in the ETJ is limited to the tree and sign ordinances.

Helotes News: Let’s move on to city-sponsored events. Are there any events you would consider scaling back or canceling? Are there any events you would consider bringing back or new events you would add?
Mayor Whitehead: I don’t think there is anything we want to scale back in the future. We want to expand and develop. For example, our 4th of July used to be at city hall and it was a nice little event, but had grown to about a thousand people. Our campus is not built to handle that amount of people. There were safety concerns, traffic issues and parking problems. When I was elected two years ago, we made an agreement with the Helotes Festival Association to move our July 4th celebration to the Helotes Festival Grounds. We do pay them for the use of the property, but when you take a look at all of the costs associated with the event, it actually was less expensive. Each year the event has grown giving the entire community the opportunity to participate in the festivities. We look forward to continuing this new Helotes tradition.

Other city events include the Old Town Christmas Parade which has been setting participation records every year. Helotes Market Days showcases around 200 vendors and draws thousands of people to Helotes on the first Saturday of every month. We did modify our movie night program over the past two years due to dwindling participation. Last year we sponsored one movie night for families along with a community band concert.

We plan to continue our support of the Helotes Area Community Band as it is a popular event with a number of people in our community. On May 26 the Helotes Area Community Band will perform at the City of Helotes Fire Department with Fort Sam’s own 323rd Army Band. These larger musical events are popular and well attended.

Helotes News: Last Fall voters in the city of Helotes voted for Prop A–a ballot initiative adding a quarter of a percent to the Helotes sales tax. How does the city plan to use these additional funds?
Mayor Whitehead: Prop A was approved by a healthy margin. We need more police officers in Helotes, and the passage of Prop A will provide the funding for these officers. The City of Helotes has expanded, not due to a significant increase in population, but due to the annexation of more roadways. As a result, we have significantly increased the miles of roadways our police must cover. This includes traffic accidents. Because our police are tied up with traffic accidents and have to patrol all the way out to 211, they are pulled away from our communities. In my opinion, that opened the door to small, petty theft, including a rash of car break-ins which is unfortunately an area-wide problem in Bexar County and statewide as well. So the idea of Prop A was proposed because we need more police officers to be in our communities while we also need them to continue servicing the traffic and car accidents that happen. Thankfully Helotes voters agreed that paying an additional quarter on every $100 spent in sales tax was a wise investment in public safety. Our tax rate now matches that of surrounding communities in Bexar County. The quarter percent gives us the long-term funding to hire up to 8 police officers, a couple of public works officers and one code compliance officer.

Helotes News: City budgets are financed primarily by sales tax and property tax. Please explain how cities budget based on these two sources of revenue.
Mayor Whitehead: While a city’s sales tax rate doesn’t change unless by vote, the amount of money a city receives from sales tax does fluctuate. For example, historically we never received over $650,000 worth of sales tax in any given month. Starting the month I was elected in May of 2021, we hit $700,000 then it fluctuated over the following months with the highest reaching $1.6 million. When construction hit in November, we started seeing an immediate impact on sales for some of our local businesses. We’ve taken about a 20 percent hit, but we anticipated some downturn. We have to actively manage what’s going on as people change their shopping trends.

Property tax is the other component of a city budget. One portion is debt & interest, and the other is maintenance & operations. As we pay down our debt as a city, we have to decrease our property tax rate. I’m happy to say one of the great accomplishments over the past two years has been working with the Helotes Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) to refocus how they do business. Instead of taking taxpayer money and expanding businesses up Bandera Road towards 211, they’re focused on filling our current lease inventory. The HEDC also decided to reroute some of their money back to Helotes to pay off debt. This puts the city on a path to be debt free in 12 years–allowing the city to focus on other projects or decrease the debt & interest portion of our property tax. Either way, we plan to have a lower property tax each year going forward for the next 12 years which I believe is leading by example. I hope other taxing authorities are watching and see that you can survive without being borrowed to the max. I hope the State of Texas considers that by adjusting funding to incentivize cities to operate properly as opposed to neck deep in debt.

Helotes News: There has been a lot of local media coverage on the challenges in Helotes’ Beverly Hills neighborhood based on traffic cutting through their subdivision. Could you comment on the current status of this issue as it is an evolving situation?
Mayor Whitehead: Yes, it’s a really unfortunate situation. There are several new communities in the Davis Ranch development. Located off Galm Road, an already overloaded area for traffic, the new subdivision wraps around and now connects to Beverly Hills, a 60-year-old Helotes neighborhood. With a little over 100 homes, Beverly Hills used to be a dead-end with one means of entrance and exit. A community at the back end of Beverly Hills that is in unincorporated Bexar County allowed the road to tie into Davis Ranch. Suddenly, we had a wide open gate for traffic to come through Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills residents enjoy taking walks on the roads. There are no sidewalks or curbs, and so with the massive increase in traffic we had safety issues, including near-misses of pedestrians by cars running through stop signs and speeding.

There is also a financial component because the road was not designed for that level of traffic. The City of Helotes used traffic counters to monitor the changing traffic levels. Originally the neighborhood experienced 600 cars per day. With the new road connected, it saw over 1,000 cars per day and was soon seeing over 2,000 cars per day. To address this situation, Helotes City Council passed a no-through traffic ordinance. As a result, the traffic cutting through from outside neighborhoods is subject to being ticketed. We’re working with the Bexar County Commissioners Court, and their public works department to develop another road from Davis Ranch through Bricewood and the new Sage Brooke development off 1560. The new road would have curbs, sidewalks and the appropriate lighting. In fact, the section connecting to 1560 is already developed, paved and striped. Its five-lane entrance is in a position where a traffic light could be added in the future. So while it’s not a perfect solution, we are trying to manage the situation and I believe this alternate option for motorists trying to reach 1560 will serve the needs of Helotes and Bexar County.

Helotes News: I’ve heard you say, “we can’t stop growth, but we can manage it.” There are changes coming on Scenic Loop across from Old Town Helotes on Bandera Road. Please provide a brief description on development plans and what citizens can expect in the coming months.
Mayor Whitehead: The QT or Quick Trip gas station is being built on the corner of Bandera Road and Scenic Loop. I guess we’ll call that the northside of Bandera Road and the eastside of Scenic Loop. They are a great organization with a wonderful track record of being good to their employees. During the permitting process with the City of Helotes, they voluntarily eliminated signage on the Scenic Loop side and instead of leaving the metal tower for their gas pumps, they will be surrounded in brick. They have done a lot to be a good partner in the community and certainly have a positive following as far as their customers go.

That piece of property has been zoned for a gas station for 40 years, and there are a fair number of people who are sad to see the QT. Some have suggested it should become a parkland; however, the city cannot take someone’s private property and turn it into a park. It’s their private property and their right to sell the property for use as it was zoned for.

Across the corner, we have a planned unit development or PUD which was approved by the city council. Originally a developer planned on using the 30 acres for a big box type retail area. They asked the city during development discussions if it could be developed into single-family homes with some commercial mom- and pop-type stores. Our city council approved the variance believing it was a better mix for this corner. There will still be final approvals moving forward, but once completed it will be 200 single family homes for rent with one landlord. The property will be managed on-site with 50,000 square feet of commercial development facing Bandera. We’re hoping for a mid-level eating restaurant like for a date night, and a small community grocery store. The developer will determine which tenants lease the space; however, the city ordinance under the PUD development limits the developer to a limited list of businesses.

Helotes News: How can citizens contact you if they have questions or concerns?
Mayor Whitehead: That’s a great question. I do have a busy schedule with 60 hours a week at the fire department, but I’m at city hall for about 30 hours a week combined with a small insurance business and a family. But that being said, I will always make time for citizens, employees or business owners. Contact our city secretary via email or phone and she can help you schedule a meeting. We can meet at my office or go out for a cup of coffee or even grab lunch. I am happy to talk to all of our citizens about any issue they may have.

Helotes News: What makes Helotes unique? Despite all the growth in Northwest Bexar County, how has Helotes maintained its small town feel?
Mayor Whitehead: When you consider what makes up our fiber, I consider the fabric of our culture here. It’s a neat mix of live music, barbecue, churches and beer. That may be an odd pairing, but we like live music as evidenced by 80 years of Floore’s Country Store being here. We obviously like beer because we probably have the largest per capita of beer joints, but we also have a tremendous amount of churches in our community. And that’s evidenced by the way we interact with each other. We have a highly diverse community with many different races and countries of origin. We interact well with each other because we have a high degree of respect for one another.

We recognize that as Americans we have a great amount of freedom, but I think that freedom doesn’t give you the right to just do anything. I think that is lost across most of America. Freedom comes with a great responsibility and we haven’t forgotten that in Helotes. I think that is a product of our faith and our upbringing. When we respect each other and we build on that with community events–whether it’s with neighbors or at church or during a city sponsored event. That’s when we build relationships and engage with each other. We experience life together as opposed to just existing together. And I think that’s what makes Helotes–Helotes.

Lennar Urinating Into The Aquifer

Helotes News Lennar Corp Urinating into Edwards Aquifer web


Editorial cartoon depicting Lennar Corp and local subsidiary Municipal Operations LLC urinating into the Edwards Aquifer water supply with a pool of contaminated surface water growing from construction and stormwater flooding.

Helotes Residents Urge City Council for a Resolution in Opposition to the Guajolote Ranch Wastewater Treatment Facility

Helotes Residents Urged City Council for a Resolution in Opposition to the Guajolote Ranch Wastewater Treatment Facility

During a Helotes City Council meeting held last night, Helotes residents urged the city council to consider a resolution in opposition to an on-site wastewater treatment facility for Guajolote Ranch, a proposed development in Northwest Bexar County. No decision on the resolution was made by council at the meeting.

Municipal Operations, LLC, is seeking approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for an on-site wastewater treatment facility to service the proposed Guajolote Ranch subdivision. If the wastewater treatment facility is approved, Lennar Homes, a home construction company based in Florida, will proceed with the development of 2,900 homes in a 1,160 acre tract located just outside of Grey Forest.

Helotes resident Dr. Stuart Birnbaum, an emeritus associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UTSA, and a board member of the Trinity Glen Rose Groundwater Conservation District, explained the direct impact this facility would have on Helotes Creek.

“When the Guajolote Ranch is fully built out, it is designed to release 1 million gallons on average into the headwaters of Helotes Creek, including 2-hour peaks not to exceed 4 million gallons,” said Birnbaum in his comments to council.

He added that the wastewater treatment facility would pose a threat to the quality of the water in Helotes Creek, and cited the real possibility of problems with the effluent discharge based on system failures at similar wastewater facilities in Bexar County.

Helotes city councilmember Cynthia Massey presented a report to council from the TCEQ public hearing on the project application held earlier this week at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in San Antonio. Massey, who also serves as Helotes mayor pro tem, attended the public hearing as a representative for the city of Helotes.

In public comment at the TCEQ meeting, Massey expressed concerns about the wastewater application due to the direct impact it could have on Helotes. According to Massey, Old Town Helotes could experience severe flooding with “extra running water from the treatment plant, coupled with heavy rainfall.”

Because the TCEQ staff only examined a small portion of the creek near the discharge point, Massey asserted in her public comments to TCEQ that she believes the agency is not doing due diligence in the application process. “If the treated wastewater is going to flow down the length of Helotes Creek, then those properties downstream need to be taken into consideration,” she said.

Over 250 residents attended the TCEQ hearing, and many provided public comments on a variety of complaints, including pollution of the Edwards Aquifer and San Antonio’s drinking water, failure of the TCEQ to notify residents along Helotes creek and lack of oversight of the facility.

Britt Coleman, president of the Bexar Audubon Society, expressed concerns about the stormwater that will be created when Lennar Homes clears the land for 2,900 homes in Guajolote Ranch. Even if the treatment facility works as it is designed, the real challenge will come with storm water run-off, explained Coleman. He expressed frustration that stormwater and flooding are outside of TCEQ’s jurisdiction, and urged TCEQ to take a holistic approach when making decisions that impact the safety of Texas waterways.

“The real damage isn’t the wastewater treatment plan because I believe they will do a fairly good job of keeping that water clean–except when there is a failure,” said Coleman. “But the real problem will come when Lennar starts the construction process and brings in the equipment to scrape everything off the surface for the development, and then it rains, and then you have storm-water run off into the creek.”

Now that the TCEQ public meeting and public comment period has concluded the agency must respond to every question asked at the hearing in-person as well as those submitted on-line. This research is expected to take several months. The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance has formally requested a contested hearing from the TCEQ, and, if granted, the legal proceeding will be the next step in the process.

Helotes residents may still provide input on the project during the citizens to be heard portion of any Helotes City Council meeting. The next regularly scheduled Helotes City Council meeting will be held on May 25 at 7 p.m. at Helotes City Hall.

Rich Whitehead Wins Reelection in the 2023 Helotes Mayoral Election

2023 Rich Whitehead Wins Reelection Helotes Mayor

Rich Whitehead wins his reelection effort against former Helotes Mayor Tom Schoolcraft. This is the second time Whitehead and Schoolcraft ran against each other in a bid to be the Mayor of Helotes.

All 251 vote centers in Bexar County are counted as of near 11:06 PM last night according to the Bexar County Elections Department.

Incumbent and current Helotes Mayor Whitehead received 1,182 votes.

Challenger and former Helotes Mayor Schoolcraft received 361 votes.

Florida-Based Developer Requesting Permission to Discharge 1 Million Gallons of Wastewater into Helotes Creek

Helotes Creek Running Water Children Playing Web
Children Playing in Helotes Creek. Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

Lennar Homes, a home construction company based in Florida, is requesting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to approve an on-site wastewater treatment plant for Guajolote Ranch, a proposed development in Northwest Bexar County. If approved, the permit would allow the facility, located 1.75 miles Southwest of the intersection of Scenic Loop and Babcock Road, to discharge 1 million gallons of treated wastewater into Helotes Creek daily.

Helotes Creek Swimming Pool web
Helotes Creek Swimming Hole. Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

Grey Forest and Helotes residents opposing the facility are preparing for a TCEQ public meeting concerning the application. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 9, 2023, at 7 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 6809 N. Loop 1604 W.

If the on-site wastewater treatment plant is approved, Lennar will proceed with the new development of 2,900 homes in a 1,160-acre tract located just outside of Grey Forest. According to online records, Lennar Homes has not purchased the tract to date.

Nathan Glavy, technical director for the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, says this proposal is more than a ‘Not in My Backyard’ issue because the daily treated septic discharge impacts everyone due to the location’s proximity to the Edwards Aquifer and its potential impact on the region’s drinking water. 

“Upstream complications have downstream implications,” explained Glavy. “The Guajolote track is in the aquifer contributing zone and the effluent will run downstream into the recharge zone—where water enters the aquifer at a quicker pace—making the location more prone to pollution.”

If approved, the on-site wastewater treatment would be the first of its kind in the area. Opponents believe it sets a troubling model for future development. Increased impervious cover caused by more development could create elevated levels of stormwater run-off—making the area more prone to flooding.

Helotes Creek Flood Waters Swimming Hole One
Helotes Creek Flood Waters Swimming Hole One. Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

“Because the on-site septic facility would be the first of its kind in the area, other developers are closely watching this process and will point to an approval as precedent to do the same,” added Glavy.

Concerned residents fought the Lennar project throughout the entire San Antonio Water System (SAWS) approval process. In January 2022 they urged the SAWS Board of Trustees not to approve the Guajolote development due to its negative impact on water in the region. 

In public comment to the SAWS board, Susan Beavin, a long-time resident of Grey Forest, said she had “over 60 years of personally observing the changes that have occurred to the water [in the Helotes Creek area]. Once a flowing creek with large fish, it hasn’t had a steady flow of water since 2005, since the onslaught of development and numerous nearby wells.”

The region has experienced significant change since it was originally developed in 1929 as the new Scenic Loop Playground, a subdivision featuring homes along Helotes Canyons off Scenic Loop. It quickly became a popular location for summer homes because swimming in the local creeks was a welcome escape from the extreme Texas heat. 

According to local historian Cynthia Leal Massey in her book Helotes: Where the Texas Hill Country Begins, the new subdivision was a popular oasis with “shared recreational areas, such as a fresh spring swimming hole.” Although initially a summer retreat, Massey writes “by 1945 some people were using their cottages as permanent homes.”

Today, with a mostly dry creek bed, the summer days of swimming are for the most part a thing of the past for the Grey Forest community. If the Lennar application is approved, it will permanently mark the end of this pastime as locals will be unable to swim in the creeks even when they fill due to the presence of treated wastewater.

Grey Forest resident Annie McEntire and her family live on Lee Creek which connects to Helotes Creek. She fears if approved the effluent discharge will have a negative impact on wildlife in the area. Even after treatment in the wastewater facility, the water will still contain chemicals dangerous to the environment, said McEntire.

Helotes Creek Swimming Hole Full of Water
Helotes Creek Swimming Hole Full of Water. Photo Credit: Annie McEntire

During a citizen meeting held last week in preparation for the upcoming public hearing local residents like McEntire discussed their concerns with pollution, flooding, stormwater run-off, traffic, and air and water quality.

Long-time Helotes resident Lisa Pack explains the fight isn’t about ruining hill country views or swimming holes. For Pack it is about responsible and managed growth in the region. 

“Water is becoming more and more of an issue as more people move into the area,” said Pack. “We understand and accept that growth will occur, but we need to protect the region’s water with responsible development.” 

If approved, Guajolote Ranch, featuring an estimated 4 to 5 homes an acre, will set a precedence for more high-density, high-use developments in the area, she added.

For some residents, the neighboring Canyons at Scenic Loop development is an example of responsible development because it consists of larger half an acre to 1 acre plus lots, making an on-site wastewater treatment facility unnecessary because homeowners are required to install their own septic systems.

Even with 1,000 of laws on the books in Texas concerning water rights, opponents have an uphill battle. 

Lennar’s TCEQ application reports that wastewater will be discharged via a pipe into Helotes Creek, and it has determined the existing water quality uses will not be impacted. Lennar has created a limited liability company or LLC called Municipal Operations to handle the permit process. Keith Arrant, an engineer with Municipal Operations who is listed in the TCEQ application, declined to comment for this article.

Lennar’s application also reports minimal aquatic life in Helotes Creek because the creek bed remains dry for “most normal weather conditions during the year.”

According to the application, if approved, construction on the initial phase will begin in late 2023.

Concerned residents can submit their online comments and questions in advance of the meeting. See https://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/ and reference Permit # WQ0016171001. To view the TCEQ permit, visit the Igo Library at 13330 Kyle Seale Parkway. For additional information on citizen efforts with the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, see www.scenicloop.org

Link to map of proposed location of water treatment facility: Sign in to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality