According to Burnet County Judge James Oakley, Spicewood is a part of “God’s country.”
The native Central Texan, who has lived in the Spicewood area for more than two decades, said he has witnessed the unincorporated area’s expansion that has replaced fishing cabins with new homes. He said that despite its residents’ failed attempt to incorporate into a city or village about 15 years ago, Spicewood will eventually become a municipality.
“To me, it’s just a matter of time as to when [incorporation] happens,” Oakley said. “As Austin grows and as the whole area grows, at some point there needs to be some control over the area’s destiny.”
He said a number of industrial plants have sprung up along the East Hwy. 71 corridor during the past year, including a controversial hot-mix asphalt plant under construction on the roadway.
“If you want to have control in the future, an incorporation really is your only avenue to be able to determine the land uses of what happens within that defined boundary,” he said.
Spicewood resident and attorney Michael Moore is leading the movement to incorporate.
“The people out here just really want to be left alone,” Moore said. “But there’s push from development. With 130 to 160 people coming to Austin every day, they’re going somewhere, which is the suburbs. So the suburbs are growing.”
He said development is encroaching on Spicewood from nearby communities—Marble Falls and Bee Cave. Older ranch families are selling their large tracts to developers without any type of regulation on what the buyer can develop, he said. A Texas county cannot regulate the development of neighborhoods within its jurisdiction, he said.
“One of the huge, huge problems [with incorporating] is taxes,” Moore said. “It’s not that people don’t want to pay taxes. What happens is you [incorporate into] a city, and people feel like they lose control over their taxes.”
He said Round Mountain’s city structure would be most like what Spicewood could emulate because it does not provide any city services other than some land-use restrictions.
Spicewood is serviced by Emergency Services District No. 9 and the area lacks any public water or wastewater services, Moore said. Wells are inspected by the county, and Spicewood’s 911 emergency calls would continue to be covered by the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office under incorporation, he said.
“[Spicewood does not] have to provide any services [if it incorporates],” Moore said. “The primary road around here is [Hwy.] 71, and that’s a state highway. The Texas Department of Transportation has to take care of that.”
He said some communities staff a police officer and a patrol car, with the fines collected from his or her issued tickets paying for the service, he said.
Local industrial development
Moore held several public meetings at the end of 2015 to determine support for incorporation, with about 100 to 200 people attending each session, he said.
“The local people were overwhelmingly in favor [of incorporating],” Moore said. “There was a silent minority who were concerned about taxes and government trust. A lot of people want to go slow and be cautious and careful.
“Sometimes getting a movement off the ground requires some sort of bad event. And that’s what we have here—a bad event. That kind of mobilizes
Moore formed a group to oppose an asphalt plant being built by Asphalt Inc. and permitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Aug. 31 for 6755 E. Hwy. 71, Spicewood, near a residential area.
Nonprofit Save Our Spicewood alerted the TCEQ that, since hazardous wastes produced at the plant may enter Little Barton Creek, and ultimately
Lake Travis—Austin’s drinking water supply—a Lower Colorado River Authority permit was needed. As a result, plant construction stopped at the end of 2015 but restarted in February with LCRA’s approval and additional conditions.
Leslie Davis, who rents a home on Deerpath Way behind the Asphalt Inc. site, said she is concerned about noise and light pollution as well as other hazardous materials, including a propane tank slated for the asphalt plant site.
Direct Propane Services will be installing an 18,000-gallon propane tank at the Asphalt Inc. hot mix plant in Spicewood, said Ramona Nye, media relations director at the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the propane gas in the state. She said the agency received one objection to the tank as of March 22, the filing deadline for objections.
Asphalt Inc. joined other plants along Hwy. 71, including Tex-Mix Concrete, 7780 E. Hwy. 71, Spicewood, which opened in October, Tex-Mix General Manager Seth Eggert said.
“From what I understand, the area is growing very rapidly, and we had the opportunity to get people more jobs and grow our plant,” he said.
The approximately 15,000-square-foot Spicewood plant employs 10 truck drivers and four other personnel, Eggert said. In the coming year, the business will grow to 15 to 18 drivers, he said.
The plant has occasionally opened for concrete pouring at midnight and is expected to get more work, he said. It is providing nearby Asphalt Inc. with the concrete to build its plant, he said.
There is a demand for the industrial products produced in Spicewood, Oakley said, but “the question becomes, ‘Where do you source those manufacturing plants?’”
“I would think from a cost perspective they’re not going to be in the high-dollar properties in Lakeway,” he said. “They’re going to find properties in unincorporated areas where they don’t have to worry about municipal rules.”
Oakley said industrial plants located within the same vicinity tend to be complementary, with an asphalt plant needing aggregate from a rock plant.
“So if [an asphalt plant] is real close in proximity to a rock plant, that helps them obtain the materials needed for their final product,” Oakley said. “A concrete plant will need rock to use in its batch. One sort of leads to the other.”
The incorporation requirements for Spicewood would include defining a 2-mile radius encompassing 260 people, Moore said. The area has so many large ranches and homesteads that finding a densely populated section is problematic, he said.
A committee is working to meet the requirements, Moore said.
Although he said the build-out of the Asphalt Inc. plant is not the only reason to incorporate, fighting the plant has shown him “how little control you have” over development in the county.
“[Industrial plants] are not in character with Spicewood, the entrance to the Hill Country, the entrance to the Wine Country,” Moore said. “That’s not the first thing you think of when you think of going from Austin out toward Fredericksburg.”
Asphalt Inc. could not be reached for comment on this story.