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An open and boundless prairie

Map by Chuck Kerr

 

Lacking the creative-class industries said to guarantee a financially glorious 21st century, a small but ambitious town might turn to that timeless lure of the young and industrious: a blank slate.

Proof? Young’uns are moving back to Von Ormy, a longtime resident tells me. If that’s true (and the Current’s talked to two of these alleged fresh bodies inside of a week), they’re led by a gen-next visionary (OK, he’s 50-percent of the relocated youthful, but still). This century-plus-old settlement on the city’s southwest corner had talked incorporation off and on for years, but Art Martinez de Vara, a prodigal son, lawyer, and volunteer fireman, led the charge to make it happen. Not two years after they were first introduced in these pages, the Committee to Incorporate Von Ormy (brandisher of the sexy moniker CIVO), is predicting a landslide win in a May 10 special election. [See “Von Ormy, Inc.,” July 13, 2006.]

Just under 500 people are eligible to vote whether to make the scant 1.88 square miles ceded by the City of San Antonio an official town, in need of a mayor, alder(wo)men, and a marshal. They’re trickling into Sacred Heart, where a parish hall in back of the church proper serves as the polling site. Three volunteers, Sally Martinez, Ramona Flores, and Mike Suarez, report some 71 early voters as of May 5. Roughly 13 percent, says Suarez, who gives me a tour of the proposed boundaries on a mounted map. We’re standing in historic Von Ormy. He lives in Von Ormy Heights, the new section of town. Across the freeway, in what he jokingly calls “the panhandle,” is the town’s historic soul: the Santa Anna Oak, one of innumerable places the infamous Mexican general may have camped on his way to pillage the Alamo.

The Texan Paul Revere, one Blas Herrera, Von Ormy resident, rode to the village of Bexar to warn them of Santa Ana’s arrival, says Martinez de Vara. A museum celebrating these feats as well as the more mundane passings documented in AJ Food Store’s Von Ormy hall of fame is just one of the amenities Martinez hopes to realize once Von Ormy is no longer a bridesmaid. It could also document the early 20th-century TB sanatorium San Antonio shunted south of town, leading to the deaths of numerous area residents – just one of the historical slights that drives Von Ormy to repudiate the behemoth to the north. SA would offer infrastructure along with incorporation, but could swallow a proud community’s identity.

More than righting past wrongs, Von Ormy’s present-day leaders want to shape the future by commanding the respect accorded sovereign entities. Its list of “lacks” is long. Von Ormy doesn’t have high-speed internet, municipal police or fire fighters, parks, medical services, health care, or libraries. None of the modern-day services, in short, that spell convenience and bureaucracy. (It does have a double-eagle-graced flag and a very Texas motto, “Liberty, Faith, Family,” which you can admire at vonormytexas.com.) When CPS said let there be light along I-35, they managed to skip the stretch where the town’s center hugs the access road, says Martinez de Vara. SAWS, holder of the exclusive right to provide sewer service, had no plans to do so for the next quarter-century. Now that the community’s won the opportunity to hold an incorporation election, “SAWS seems more receptive.”

Yet, where there is no bureaucracy, there is opportunity.

Take that open marshal office, for instance. Thanks to a quirk in Texas’s “reformed” election laws, Von Ormy, population circa 1,800, won’t be able to select its first governing slate until November, giving hopefuls a six-month window in which to stump Deadwood-style.

“In November, when everyone else is consumed by presidents, we’ll be thinking about mayors,” Martinez de Vara said. Until then, it’ll be a dormant city. “We don’t have any laws; we don’t have any ordinances … a traffic code.”

The Current has to admit that that sounds oddly liberating, so we headed down I-35 to do a little prospecting. Von Ormy’s nascent limits include a lot of highway frontage along 1604 and 35, thoroughfares linking SA’s expanding southern region and the booming Valley to the big city proper. A sign just inside 410 on the drive north advertising upscale condos at The Broadway suggests that if affluence is not yet settling here, it’s at least driving thru. Servicing this traffic is a key piece of Von Ormy’s economic future. Martinez points out that the municipality’s assets will include three truck stops. “With gasoline sales alone we have a tremendous advantage,” he said.

“Six of one, half-dozen of the other,” was Von Ormy lifer Philip Skees analysis of impending cityhood as he flipped torn-out magazine pages at the AJ. He handed the Current a “Vote Yes” flier, and with good-natured skepticism pointed out the word “opportunity” on the red, white, and blue card.

Not just opportunity for the civic-minded, either. Where business goes, to name just one example, litigation follows. “As far as I know,” says Martinez de Vara, “I’m the only lawyer in town.” •

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