Henly is not so much a town as a collection of farmers and ranchers along U.S. 290 between Dripping Springs and Johnson City. Community life revolves around volunteer fire department barbecues and services at the Henly Baptist Church.
The unincorporated town, which has more livestock than people, doesn’t have so much as a traffic light or a gas station.
But it has an 18-acre baseball park that attracts tournaments from across the state, drawing caravans of RVs and SUVs. At night, the stadium floodlights set the dark, rolling hills aglow.
“The lights are so bright you can’t look directly at them because they hurt your eyes,” said George Milner, who lives about a mile away from the sports complex. “We avoid going on the porch at night because it’s unbearable.”
Last spring the nine-diamond Field of Dreams was built on former ranch land near the highway. Residents up to two miles away complain about the lights, which are typically on four to six nights a week. Those closer to the park say they deal with trash, traffic and trespassers.
Field of Dreams staffers have not responded to multiple requests for comment. Records show that John D. Martin of Austin is the director of Field of Dreams Ventures, which owns the park. Martin is also the president of the highly competitive Austin Select Baseball League.
Milner’s home, which is on a high hill above the park, was built with most of the windows facing south to take advantage of the spectacular Hill Country views. The lights from the ballfield now shine in all of those windows, which he keeps covered. He and his wife used to enjoy sitting on their porch in the evenings. Now they avoid it. The lights have been on as early as 6:30 a.m. and as late as midnight, he said.
“Henly is blessed to have some very dark skies when the field isn’t lit up,” he said. “We have no industry and no streetlights. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way. It’s an excellent area for astronomy.”
Few rules in ‘the Wild West’
Because Henly is an unincorporated area of Hays County, there are few rules controlling development. There’s no town charter, no development rules for the community itself.
“We’re basically the Wild West out here,” Milner said.
The county can regulate a few things, such as residential developments, junkyards and strip clubs, said Clint Garza, director of Hays County Development and Community Services. Otherwise, its oversight of businesses is limited to ensuring food is properly served, environmental rules are followed and waste is disposed of properly.
Garza’s office has investigated complaints against the Field of Dreams involving allegations of wastewater discharge on the site and serving food without proper permits, he said. The county issued a citation for violating food preparation rules in June, but otherwise he said the facility has been in compliance with county rules.
“After the public health is protected, the property owners can worry about being a good neighbor,” Garza said.
There was a town hall meeting in 2006 to discuss incorporating because residents were afraid they would be annexed by Dripping Springs. But the discussion didn’t go much farther than that, Milner said.
“Most people didn’t want more government, and they didn’t want to have to pay more taxes,” Milner explained. “I told them, ‘Something is going to happen in the future, and we’re going to wish we had more control.’ ”
Taking the fight elsewhere
At least one couple has turned to the courts instead.
Kenneth and Susan Troppy, who own a ranch adjacent to the park, are suing the Field of Dreams owners, arguing that the ballpark has damaged their property values. The Troppys have lived on their ranch for 15 years and raise cattle.
“The lighting from the baseball fields inundate Mr. & Mrs. Troppy’s land and blast intense light into their home,” states the lawsuit, filed in July. The Troppys are seeking at least $200,000 in damages.
Crowd and game noise often exceed “lawful limits,” the traffic makes it difficult for them to get in and out of their home, RVs have been seen dumping sewage, and trespassers are common on the property as they seek to retrieve balls, relieve themselves or “just wander around,” the lawsuit said.
Because two of the diamonds were built within a few feet of the Troppys’ property line, the couple are unable to use one pasture for their cattle operation.
Residents have said that attempts to work with the field’s owners have not resulted in any changes. The field appears to be favored by elite select baseball leagues, which come from all over Texas to compete in tournaments. It is also used by little leagues and softball leagues from Round Rock to Copperas Cove.
Fixing the lights would go a long way to improving the relationship between Field of Dreams and locals, residents said. After contacting sports lighting manufacturers, Milner estimated it would cost about $15,000 to $20,000 to put shields on the lights to prevent them from shining into people’s homes.
“How do you put a price on being a good neighbor and working with the community that has given you a place to set up business?” Milner asked.
In the meantime, another town hall meeting was held a few months ago to discuss incorporation.
“It has a lot more interest now,” Milner said.