Roadway requirement could change development

Plans for a proposed 34-acre garden home development in northwest Georgetown have stalled because of a disagreement between developers and the city. A decision from City Council about a road extension could cause developers to scrap the lower-density project.

Austin-based Spicewood Development, who purchased the tract of land in September 2013 with an existing agreement to extend the Verde Vista roadway, has requested the city remove plans to extend the roadway through the middle of its property from the citys overall transportation plan, or OTP.

Ryan Ziehe, vice president of land development for Spicewood Development, said building the roadway would make it nearly impossible to build the 151-unit proposed garden home development, which features detached, low maintenancestyle housing.

[Constructing the Verde Vista extension through our property] places significant economic and functional strain on our proposed garden home community development, Ziehe wrote in a letter to city planners.

Ziehe said that if the roadway remained a requirement, developers would have to scrap the lower density project in favor of a higher density multifamily development.

However, city staff members have said the roadway is necessary to improve traffic flow on nearby Shell Road and provide a connection for the Serenada neighborhood.

The roadway is meant to connect the development on both sides of Shell Road and to provide access and mobility throughout the area, Georgetown Transportation Services Director Ed Polasek said.

If built, the roadways intersection with Shell Road could become a major intersection with a traffic signal, he said.

At its Sept. 9 meeting City Council postponed making a decision about the roadway to allow more time for the developer and city staff to discuss the project. As of press time Nov. 7, City Council was expected to discuss and take action on the project at its Nov. 11 meeting.

If the removal of Verde Vista extension is approved, Ziehe said he will also request a zoning change to the citys recently created lower-density Multifamily 1 zoning.

Traffic improvements

Polasek said the Verde Vista connection is needed to help ease traffic on Shell Road. The current exit from the Serenada neighborhood to Shell Road is Sequoia Spur, which was intended to be a temporary solution until the extension was built, he said.

[The Sequoia Spur and Shell Road connection] was always intended to be closed because it is too close to the Williams Drive intersection to really be a good, full-access intersection, Polasek said, adding that Sequoia Spur is marked as a temporary access easement on the citys planning map, and the easement is owned by private developers. It was just meant to make do until Verde Vista was built.

Ziehe said that he believes the Verde Vista extension is no longer needed.

We understood why it was originally there. It was put on the overall transportation plan and in the original development agreement in 1997, and a lot has happened on Shell Road to change the situation there, Ziehe said. We felt like a lot of the drivers that were pushing the need for that extension had gone away.

However, Polasek said the new roadway is needed to help diffuse traffic so nearby arterials and intersections are not overburdened.

Connectivity is the heart of all these issues, he said. All these points of connectivity are all in an effort to increase access and mobility. More mobility means less impact on the Williams Drive intersection.

Proposed development

A preliminary plat approved in 2008 for the development site included more than 300 apartments, two retail pad sites and about 1.46 acres zoned for office space, Ziehe said.

To be perfectly honest, the economics of [a project under the existing plat] may very well be better, but we really had our sights set on doing this garden home project, he said. In talks with the neighbors we felt like it was more compatible, and it was the best fit for this property to do the 151 garden home units.

The Gardens at Verde Vista proposed development could include 110 garden home units with similar floor plans and design as Spicewood Developments Gardens at Teravista in Round Rock. The proposal also includes 41 larger villa units, Ziehe said.

[The Gardens at Teravista] were the experimental grounds for this project, he said. We took that product type, and that is going to be a large part of what we are hoping to do. [The project] is derived around a courtyard concept where the traditional backyard outdoor living space is resituated to the side of the unit and is incorporated into the entrance of the home. It also allows some of the living space inside to be situated where you can look out into the courtyard of your home.

The garden homes are expected to be 1,500 to 2,700 square feet in size with prices starting in the low $300,000s. The villas will range in size from 2,000 to 3,300 square feet and be priced starting in the high $300,000s, Ziehe said.

Serenada residents spoke at the Sept. 9 City Council meeting in favor of removing Verde Vista from the citys OTP.

We are concerned about the neighborhood we live and play and raise our kids in, Serenada Neighborhood Association President Ann Marie Ludlow said. We believe this version of the transportation plan is going to downgrade the landscape of the western part of this city. The garden home option is much more desirable than a multistory facade with as many as 600 cars.

Ziehe said the roadway extension would require developers to split water quality and stormwater detention ponds into two systems, which would reduce the developable space on the property and increase development costs. Increased traffic through the neighborhood would also decrease the marketability of the development, he said.

We truly believe this [development] is the best for the piece of property, he said. We were also paying attention to initial feedback that we got from the neighborhood constituents. Obviously they would prefer something that is more compatible. We truly are trying to take that feedback and fight for it.