Wildfire evacuation concerns spark action from community
In December, several residents of Steiner Ranch registered the area as a neighborhood association with the City of Austin under the name Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association—separate from the Steiner Ranch Homeowners Association.
Concerns leading to the formation of the SRNA stemmed from wildfires that spread in the Steiner Ranch area last fall as well as new developments coming to the area.
“It’s been a culmination of six months or so of work,” Communications Chair for the SRNA Paul O’Brien said. “[There was] a lot of concern and frustration over safety in evacuation of the fires, some questions about future development plans for Steiner Ranch, and over the past six months, a few of us have talked and debated how to make a difference. It finally dawned on us there isn’t a single unified voice for the entire community.”
Despite its name, the neighborhood association’s boundaries are greater than Steiner Ranch, reaching from Lake Travis to Lake Austin to Love Bird Lane.
“One of the challenges in Steiner Ranch is simply the fact that there are a few different HOAs,” O’Brien said. “Our greater concern is the fact that those homeowner associations cater exclusively to homeowners, so it ignores any of the renters, it ignores people across [RR] 620 who are affected by Quinlan Crossing, it ignores people at the end of the peninsula that extends beyond Steiner Ranch.”
In addition to non-homeowner residents, a neighborhood association can also include business owners or workers who live in Steiner Ranch who may be affected by what is happening within the community.
O’Brien said that while he and some other residents had already begun discourse on how to best unite the area, the wildfires struck up even more conversations.
“First and foremost, our greatest concern was it took a few hours to evacuate,” he said. “There’s really only one way to get in and out of the community. As the community grows, that’s a significant concern.”
In the master-planned section of Steiner Ranch, more than 10,000 residents reside on about 4,600 acres
Steiner Ranch has two entrances from RR 620 that then meet up as Quinlan Park Road and winds through the neighborhood until it reaches Lake Austin.
A number of residents living in Longhorn Village, a retirement community within Steiner Ranch, also have concerns with safety during emergency evacuations. In November, William Schulte wrote Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt about residents’ concerns.
“Almost the entire Steiner Ranch population, which is pretty large now, [would be] pretty well trapped if that fire had gone different ways,” Schulte said.
In response, Schulte received a letter from Natural Resources and Environmental Quality Division of Travis County Program Manager Rose Farmer with an attachment stating the county was considering an alternate route from the Steiner Ranch subdivision.
Schulte was told the proposed alternate route, if approved, would evacuate residents via Flat Top Ranch Road to Montview Drive to Selma Hughes Park Road to Low Water Crossing Road and exit at RR 620. The route would require constructing about 200 feet of roadway between Flat Top Ranch Road and Montview Drive.
“[RR] 620 was as jammed up as anything at the time that the fire occurred,” Schulte said.
Longhorn Village residents have begun writing letters to the commissioners asking for a different alternate route, preferably exiting to a road other than RR 620. Their proposal includes extending Selma Hughes Park Road to the River Place area to allow a route that would have access to Capital of Texas Hwy. or RR 2222.
The neighborhood association also hopes its establishment will allow residents a voice to attract the kinds of businesses and restaurants it wants to open in the area, versus developers determining what the neighborhood needs.
“It feels like you get businesses and services that aren’t necessarily representative of what the community wants,” O’Brien said. “This gives us the opportunity to run surveys on behalf of the community, have a public voice with the media and to formally express our opinions with the city so we have more than one opportunity to speak with potential businesses.”
Forming a neighborhood association
While the neighborhood association existed as soon as it was registered with the City of Austin in December, the group will be holding a membership drive, collecting dues, holding nominations for board members and presenting bylaws at its meeting Feb. 29.
Carol Gibbs, with the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Assistance Center, said the main reason she found that residents established neighborhood associations with the city was to get notifications from the city when developments are being planned in the area. The city must communicate with any neighborhood association registered if a development, planned within the neighborhood’s boundaries, is having a public hearing at Austin’s Planning and Zoning or City Council. Each department within the City of Austin has different codes that requires who and what entities it must notify in a variety of instances.
O’Brien said that while he was not sure what exactly the neighborhood would be able to tackle, he hoped it would unify the area through its communications.
“What it establishes is a single voice for the community,” O’Brien said. “It’s a way for everyone to get involved in a set direction.”