One sheriff’s job is kind of overwhelming, and tasked with something he probably never predicted he’d be responsible for, he’s doing his best to keep “mowing the lawn and irrigating the orchard” of the massive polygamous compound of the Yearning for Zion Ranchafter it was raided by the state and seized in 2008. And while some jobs are still left to the lawyers—like the $1,600 per month utility bill footed by the Texas Attorney General’s office—there probably aren’t many attorneys in San Antonio or other central Texas cities anxious to get their hands on this situation.
Especially since beyond that $1,600 a month for utilities, no one has fronted any money to maintain the massive property. Schelicher County Sheriff David Doran is doing most of the work himself. He’s got a few of his staff and one jail inmate to help, but beyond that, he’s flying solo. Attorneys say that’s because the way the law in Texas works—it doesn’t really make allowances for seized property. So the state is kind of on its own as it tries to sell the property.
Who would be interested in buying the ranch, complete with a 23-acre orchard, 300-animal herd of exotic livestock, and an enormous, gleaming white temple? And how much would they pay? The Houston Chronicle’s report on the story says that it might go for around $20 million. And they’re busy scouting for buyers.
But who’s “they” exactly? Attorneys in San Antonio know that the fifty-first District Attorney is the one responsible for disposing of the property, which operates more like “a small city or small community,” according to the Sheriff who maintains the ranch. But when it comes down to it, D.A. Allison Palmer isn’t sure who might want the land.
She’s trying to showcase it as “a law enforcement training center, a holding facility for juvenile offenders, or a sleep-away camp.” But so far, no one seems very interested in buying the property. Maybe it’s because it’s “40 miles from the nearest town with a Wal-Mart,” or maybe it’s because it has a pretty bad reputation as the hotbed of illegal activity involving underage children that resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of Warren Jeffs.
Attorneys in San Antonio know how difficult it can be to sell stigmatized properties, and there may be no property more stigmatized in Texas than this one. Ms. Palmer does not have an enviable task ahead of her, no less because she feels like she has a moral obligation to repurpose the ranch for something good. Even though “it could go to auction, Palmer says she won’t consider selling it back to Jeff’s group,” a radical offshoot of a mainstream religious practice.
“If we had reason to believe someone was going to use the property to commit offenses, I think we could certainly not sell that to the group or person,” Palmer clearly states. The state should, however, be issuing a complete report on the potential for a sale sometime soon. Unfortunately for curious passersby, no tours are currently allowed.