Booming housing market in Kyle and Buda presents challenges to service providers

Home sales in Kyle and Buda have surged 56 percent since 2009, according to Austin Board of Realtors data.

In 2012, the two cities recovered from what had been two relatively stagnant years in 2010 and 2011, but in 2013 home sales totaled 546 in Buda and 739 in Kyle, up 34 and 30 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

The two Austin suburbs have experienced population booms in recent years, and recent housing statistics indicate that growth is here to stay.

But growing pains often accompany growth. The infrastructural improvements needed to meet the needs of the two ever-evolving communities are many and, often, expensive.

With increasing home sales and new residential construction comes the need to build schools, add emergency personnel, improve mobility and bring retailers and other conveniences to the cities.

Education

With constant growth, it is only a matter of time before overcrowding plagues Hays CISD's 22 schools, officials have said. HCISD officials project that enrollment at Barton Middle School will be over capacity in the 2014–15 school year.

A demographer contracted by the district has suggested a sixth middle school be located east of I-35 in the northern portion of the district.

A $35 million middle school is proposed along with other projects in a potential $59.3 million bond program. The HCISD board is expected to decide Feb. 24 whether to call the bond election in May.

HCISD, which covers Buda and Kyle, was the fourth-fastest growing district in Texas in terms of home starts and closings over a 12-month period from 2012 to 2013, according to Deputy Superintendent Carter Scherff. Only Leander, Round Rock and Austin independent school districts had higher numbers, he said.

"We are generally [among] the five fastest-growing districts in the state," Scherff said. "That type of growth has been normal."

Even during the recession growth did not wane, as the district grew at an average rate of 607 students per year, he said. As of January 2014, total enrollment, according to Scherff, is about 800 students higher than it was in late January 2013.

"We are continuing to grow quite rapidly," he said. "The housing [growth] is a reflection of that."

Emergency response

In its five-year needs analysis submitted last year to the city of Kyle, the Kyle Police Department by far called for the largest increase in personnel.

Under the plan, the police department would increase its force by, on average, 16.4 full-time employees a year. The closest a department came to KPD's request of 82 new full-time staffers was the Public Works Department, which asked for 20 additions in the five-year period between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2017.

"Obviously the explosive growth in both the residential and business communities within Kyle has brought about an increased level of demand for services," Police Chief Jeff Barnett said. "Fortunately we have a very dedicated staff of law enforcement officers, dispatchers and others that help keep our operations running smoothly."

While Barnett feels expanded services are needed, he knows that funds will be distributed in an equitable manner to each of the city departments, he said.

"Each year we present our needs analysis to the city manager and council," he said. "They make the best with what funding they have available to provide the services."

The department is staffed with 37 officers, which Barnett said is slightly lower than the staffs of cities of comparable size and location. Kyle's location along the I-35 corridor has an impact on the amount of services needed, he said.

For example, one reckless driver on I-35 may generate multiple phone calls, he said. There has to be enough staffing in the 911 dispatch center to respond to each call, he said.

In a city such as Wimberley, situated away from the corridor, the dynamics are vastly different, Barnett said.

"We not only serve those who live here [in Kyle], we serve those who work here, those who visit and those who are simply passing through on our roadways," he said. "All of those people need service from time to time."

Transportation

One way a local government can address the issue of congestion on the roadways is to invest in and promote alternative means of transportation, said Daniel Yang, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's modeling program manager.

CAMPO, whose six-county jurisdiction in Central Texas includes Travis and Hays counties, adopted the concept of activity centers—concentrated development, for example, in a downtown area—in 2010 to promote mixed uses and to establish more of an urban core that puts less strain on the region's roads, Yang said.

"If we can walk or bike to our destination of services, that is one way to address our transportation needs," Yang said. "We don't want to get everybody in a vehicle and drive from point A to point B."

The city of Kyle plans to invest in improvements to downtown this year, but perhaps the cornerstone of its infrastructural improvements will be the implementation of its $36 million road bond. The city is in the midst of approving contracts with engineering firms to design the road improvements. The city of Kyle's spokesman, Jerry Hendrix, said the city is "at least a year away" from beginning the construction phase on any of the five projects.

However, the city learned in a late January meeting that the projects might not be eligible for federal funding. While the road bond funds are expected to pay for a majority of the construction costs, the city is actively searching for alternate funding sources that might save the taxpayers money, Hendrix said.

Local governments often devise master plans that forecast growth and what capital improvements might be necessary to serve the growing areas, but the funding always lags behind, he said.

"That has been the challenge that our regional leaders have faced for a while," Yang said. "That is a common symptom for fast-growing regions: that the infrastructural funding is not commensurate with the growth."

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