Avery Centre seen as next step in growth along University Blvd. corridor
When a planned behavioral health facility was pulled from the agenda of the March 8 Round Rock City Council meeting, it signaled more than a typical development stall.
Instead, the rethinking of the facility that would have sat along University Boulevard shadowed a confluence of the various visions that will sculpt Round Rock’s last great growth corridor for the next several decades.
City officials, neighboring residents and the Avery family, among other players, each have interests in the future shape of northeast Round Rock, an area of the city that many expect to be the final frontier of the city’s build-out.
“We see the University Corridor as the area that will probably see the most growth over the next probably 10 to 20 to 30 years,” Round Rock Planning Director Peter Wysocki said. “For the simple fact that’s where the undeveloped land is.”
The city has been planning for growth in the northeast section of Round Rock for years. The widening of A.W. Grimes Boulevard, water and sewer lines and attention to zoning requirements have all been steps taken over the past several years to prepare the area.
“We’re preparing for the growth in that area,” Wysocki said. “To the west, we’re pretty much done to the south, of course, we can’t go any further, so really north and northeast, really the northeast part of town, is where we see the growth going.”
University Boulevard first gained prominence as a growth corridor when the road’s intersection with I-35 caught the eye of several developers and Swedish retail giant IKEA. About that same time, various locations on or near University Boulevard attracted attention from Scott & White Healthcare, Seton Medical Center, Austin Community College, Texas State University and Texas A&M University.
“We had been looking at Round Rock. Round Rock was booming at the time,” said Jeff Newberg, managing principal of Endeavor Real Estate Group, which developed the University Oaks shopping center at I-35 and University Boulevard. “We had identified this corner as being the next [growth] intersection.”
Since then, developers have taken note of the corridor for other projects, from a 720-unit apartment complex—located about midway between I-35 and A.W. Grimes Boulevard—that was approved in March to fast-food restaurants such as Sonic and McDonald’s that have opened in the past year along the roadway.
Wysocki said he expects development along University Boulevard to eventually stretch all the way to Toll 130, but that the full build-out of the area is probably several decades away.
The Avery Centre
Much of the eastern development on the corridor is due in part to the Avery family, which has donated about 126 acres of family land to create an education and medical center on the east end of University Boulevard.
Anchored by three colleges and a hospital, the Avery Centre represents not only the vision of a family for the area, but also stands as a centerpiece of the city’s plans for building northeast Round Rock as well.
“The Avery Centre, that’s where the synergy begins,” Wysocki said. “We certainly realize that there is enormous potential.”
The eldest Avery brothers, John and Charles, said their vision for their family’s land is to create a mixed-use development with a purpose. Charles Avery said they want a medical and educational community that is walkable.
“I really see this University Boulevard enhancing its reputation as an educational and medical hub,” John Avery Sr. said.
Plans for the area include various housing options ranging from high-density to single-family options mixed in with commercial options to keep the area feeling like a neighborhood. Charles Avery said their vision is a mix of housing, including lower-income housing to smaller, patio-style homes.
“The goal is to have the housing be used by the people who work there,” John Avery Sr. said.
To that end, the Averys said they have turned down offers from gas stations, fast-food restaurants, single-family home developers and other developers that did not fit their vision for the Avery Centre.
“We could probably fill the whole thing with single-family tract houses tomorrow,” John Avery Sr. said. “But that really wouldn’t serve the community in a way we want to serve it.”
Both Wysocki and the Averys said they expect that further development in the Avery Centre is still five–10 years away, in part due to the economy and in part because they want to make sure the development is done right.
“It’s important for us and the landowner to stay with the vision,” Wysocki said. “I hope that it can come to fruition.”
The Averys are not the only large landowners in the area. The Nelson family also owns much of the undeveloped land in northeast Round Rock.
Mental health facility relocated
How residents envision that portion of University Boulevard has gained prominence recently, specifically with regard to a planned behavioral health facility—a facility residents successfully forced to reconsider its location.
Springstone Incorporated—which operates four hospitals that treat “adults with mental health and addiction disorders as well as mental health issues arising from geriatric conditions,” according to the company’s website—was looking to build such a treatment facility near Teravista and the medical corridor on the Avery land.
“This was a place where children are constantly traveling and walking, and we didn’t think that was appropriate,” resident Harriet Dixon said. “We’re just wanting to put this where there’s not so many children.”
The planned location of the facility was not originally zoned for such a use, meaning it might not have been in the city’s original vision for the area, either.
“We’re against them rezoning and changing the plan for the area to shoehorn it in where they want,” resident Sean Dunham said, adding that he could see how such a facility would fit into other areas of University Boulevard, such as off of Sunrise Boulevard near Scott & White.
“The timing on that was terrible,” John Avery Sr. said, comparing the uproar to a similar facility in Lakeway. “Somehow it was misinterpreted by the community it’s just another building block for the community.”
Joe Vining, who has been facilitating the company’s local search for a site, said Springstone would consider other locations in Round Rock but that it had examined other sites in Central Texas as well. The draw, he said, had been the nearby medical facilities in the University corridor.