Updated Aug. 30 at 11:30 a.m.
The stretch of West Hwy. 71 that lies within the jurisdictions of Bee Cave and Lakeway is set for numerous commercial and retail developments in the corridor intended to draw from the new residential communities lining the road.
According to a June report by the Austin Board of Realtors, of the 21,036 single-family homes sold in Central Texas’ 18-county region in the first half of 2016, only about one in five homes, or 21 percent, were sold within the Austin city limits.
“[Central Texas] population growth is going in every direction,” said Aaron Farmer, Austin Board of Realtors president. “The effect out [West Hwy.] 71 is not a search for affordability—it’s a search for more home for your money, more room, and more amenities like the lake and neighborhoods with swimming pools.
“[West Hwy. 71’s] commercial growth is following the people—a good demographic with disposable income.”
These commercial projects are an income source that Bee Cave officials say is imperative to maintain the city’s property tax rate of $0.02 per $100 valuation, one of the lowest in the region.
“Sales tax is really our [revenue] driver,” Bee Cave City Manager Travis Askey said.
As of July 13, 10 residential developments are in the works in Bee Cave, with many new commercial businesses under review, approved or being constructed in the West Hwy. 71 region, said Lindsey Oskoui, Bee Cave’s director of planning and development.
Tom Taylor, a commercial Realtor and area homeowner, said he has witnessed the development of the western Travis County region during the past 28 years.
In the 1980s when he relocated to the area, Taylor said the region included a trading post, a gas station, a couple of restaurants and “hardly anything else.”
“As Austin got more and more crowded, people wanted to move out here,” he said.
With its 3- to 5-acre lots, Travis Settlement, one of the first subdivisions in the area, drew city residents to the far western suburbs of the county, Taylor said. It was a “home in the country,” he said.
Restaurants eventually opened along the highway such as Angel’s Icehouse, and Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, but the region’s commercial development lagged behind, Taylor said. Residents were forced to do their grocery shopping or errands in Oak Hill or Marble Falls, he said.
“However, the [commercial real estate market] along Hwy. 71 has exploded in the last two years,” Taylor said.
More shopping, offices, services
Askey said Bee Cave’s Home Depot and Target were built in the early 2000s, followed by The Shops at the Galleria, and the opening of Bee Cave Parkway.
“We negotiated rights-of-way and easements [with property owners] to [construct] Bee Cave Parkway to Hamilton Pool Road,” he said.
Bee Cave Parkway provided easier access to West Hwy. 71 and probably improved the owners’ options to develop the corridor, Askey said.
“In the next few years, the West Hwy. 71 area will see a large uptick in its commercial building,” broker Rocky Navarro said.
With its educated labor force, excellent Lake Travis ISD schools and scenic topography, Navarro said the region is “the best investment in the whole U.S.”
Among the anticipated new commercial sites are neighborhood service centers, which may include restaurants, dry cleaners, nail salons and office space, planned for the northeast corner of West Hwy. 71 and Vail Divide Drive; the south side of the highway at the Bella Colinas development; the Gateway to Falconhead on South RR 620 near West Hwy. 71; Park at Bee Cave, at the corner of West Hwy. 71 and South RR 620; and the Summit 56 development/Bee Cave Shopping Center fronting West Hwy. 71 and housing Nitro Swimming.
“We have a lot of activity in Summit 56—a couple of [permits] are pending and a lot of applications,” Oskoui said.
In July, Bee Cave approved adding a traffic signal at the center’s Nitro entrance and two right-turn-in, right-turn-out driveways.
Planned development district, or PDD, Sweetwater East, which fronts the south side of West Hwy. 71 next to the LTISD bus barn, is under review for a tract Bee Cave annexed into its extraterritorial jurisdiction Dec. 8. The PDD, with its own set of city-approved building regulations, will include a Covert automotive dealership and commercial, retail and residential projects, developer WS-COS Development Manager Mike Rafferty said.
The Terraces PDD, on Bee Cave Parkway, is on hold while developers Christopher Milam and John Paul DeJoria amend the plan—which includes a restaurant and condominiums—to conform with city code.
Amended plans for The Backyard PDD, on Bee Cave Parkway, are in city review, Oskoui said. Milam and DeJoria changed the plans from proposed movie studios to data storage facilities, she said.
During the past eight months, Oskoui said many applications have been made to the city for storage projects. However, City Council has been somewhat reluctant to entertain these types of projects—as it tries to weigh the needs of the community with maintaining the look and feel of the Hill Country through the buildings’ architecture styles and landscaping, she said.
“In terms of how that [West Hwy.] 71 corridor develops, it isn’t envisioned to be all mini-storage but a balance,” she said. “Mini-storage tends to be a low traffic-generating use and a pretty quiet neighbor.”
The Preparatory School of Bee Cave will be located on a private preschool at the corner of West Hwy. 71 and Bee Cave Parkway, The Prep Schools co-owner Mark Schuh said. However the opening date of the new school has not yet been determined, he said.
“[Preschools] are one of the uses where we’ve seen a lot of development,” Oskoui said. “It’s not surprising, given all of the houses [being developed] and the demographics of the area.”
Austin Regional Clinic—offering general medical services—will open in fall 2017 just off West Hwy. 71 in Bee Cave, north of the Hill Country Galleria, ARC community relations specialist Lynda Shanblum said.
Following years of planning, sports complex Hill Country Indoor is set to open this spring on Bee Cave Parkway, said PJ Todd, HCI director of public relations and marketing. The 130,000-square-foot project will offer indoor volleyball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse and a running track, she said.
“In years past, a lot of the development activity has been toward the center of town and out west,” Oskoui said. “We really are developing all over the city at this point.”
With the commercial growth in the area, INVESCO—owner of the Hill Country Galleria—is bringing the city’s largest shopping center up to date with a $16 million renovation project including covered awnings, a redesigned center lawn, closing the City Hall roadway and the Aug. 25 opening of Swedish-based retailer H&M, property marketing manager Courtney Bunte said.
In April, Christopher Commercial Inc. sold The Shops at the Galleria to InvenTrust Properties Corp. Together, the two malls—located in Bee Cave’s city center—comprise about half of the city’s retail sales, Askey said.
Lakeway annexed a 318-acre tract at the northwest corner of West Hwy. 71 and Bee Creek Road in 2014, after purchasing a portion of the tract with funds from a November 2014 bond election. The site is reserved for a possible youth sports complex.
A 10-acre tract at West Hwy. 71 and Serene Hills Drive in Lakeway is being developed as Serene Hills Commercial East. Joint-replacement surgery center Muve Healthcare will serve as its first tenant.
The Texas Department of Transportation has one project—to overlay West Hwy. 71 from Hamilton Pool Road to RR 620 this fall—planned for the West Hwy. 71 section outlined in this story, TxDOT Public Information Officer Kelli Reyna said.
“TxDOT faces significant challenges to address congestion and keep Texans moving with limited funding resources,” she said.
Other TxDOT projects near the corridor were completed in 2013-15, she said.
“The reasons for the projects were population growth, mobility and safety,” Reyna said.
In October, TxDOT widened Bee Creek Road, which adjoins West Hwy. 71—from two lanes to four lanes—from West Hwy. 71 to Highland Boulevard.
TxDOT added a left-turn lane and shoulders to West Hwy. 71—from 1.5 miles east of Bee Creek Road to just west of Vail Divide. The project began in February 2014 and was completed in June 2015, Reyna said.
Another project—finished in September 2013—included pavement repair and seal coat on West Hwy. 71 from Blanco County to the Pedernales River.
A two-year project that included constructing a center turn lane, acceleration lane and shoulders at the intersection of Southwest Parkway and West Hwy. 71 was completed in January 2014, Reyna said.
Askey said Bee Cave has done its best to manage the balance among growth, infrastructure needs and development.
Despite the growth, the city has tried to maintain the look and feel of the Hill Country by creating large setback requirements, minimizing driveway curb cuts, having a strict tree ordinance and controlling building height, Bee Cave Mayor Caroline Murphy said.
The City Councils have striven to not grant variances if development requests to deviate from city code did not hold true to Bee Cave’s comprehensive plan that guides city priorities and land uses, Council Member Kara King said.
“[We] look at the [proposed] project, its need and its benefit to the community,” she said. “We look at what the community wants, and that is retaining as much of the Hill Country feel we can.”
Correction: The story has been changed to reflect the name of the new school in Bee Cave as The Preparatory School of Bee Cave as well as the indefinite opening date of the school.