Home builder, autism center eye local tract River Place tract plan[/caption]

An 82-acre tract off Milky Way Drive in River Place may soon feature a single-family home neighborhood and a center for adults with autism.

In 2014 tract owner Berta Bradley sold 40 acres to MileStone Community and donated the remaining 40 acres to The Autism Trust, an organization that provides vocational, educational, wellness and residential programs for individuals with autism.

MileStone is working with The Autism Trust to collaboratively develop the property, President and CEO Garrett Martin said. In exchange for an easement to create a required secondary emergency access to the proposed neighborhood, MileStone agreed to provide the utility infrastructure to both projects including water, wastewater and gas lines, he said. The developer will also make a per-home donation to The Autism Trust for each home purchased at the proposed West Austin site, he said.

Traffic impact

Martin said the project’s main access is planned to cut through Milky Way Drive, a street with $1 million plus homes on more than an acre.

“[The development] will have the same character and feel as the broader River Place community,” Martin said.

However, nearby residents have already voiced their concern about the project’s possible traffic impact to city of Austin officials evaluating a rezoning request filed by MileStone, said Wendy Rhoades, principal planner in the city’s Development and Review Department. The tract, in the city of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, is currently zoned development reserve—an initial zoning designation given to undeveloped property—and does not provide for single-family residential units, she said.

The request, along with a rezoning request filed by the Autism Trust may not be heard before August.

MileStone’s request provides for a maximum density of 7.57 homes per acre, Rhoades said.

Although the 40-acre project was originally slated to include 110 single-family homes, an average of 2.75 homes per acre, Martin said the company has not made a decision on the number of homes that will ultimately occupy the tract. He said MileStone is already voluntarily conducting a traffic impact analysis.

“Our goal is to find a situation that is a win-win for everybody,” Martin said.

The River Place Homeowners Association wrote a letter July 10 to the city’s planning and zoning commission stating it was against Milestone’s request, board President Scott Crosby said.

“The HOA is opposed to any rezoning until the issue of roads and traffic is addressed,” he said. “The exit out of River Place has one of the longest lights in the state. [RR] 2222 is underbuilt for the amount of traffic [on it].”

Crosby said the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization—the regional transportation planning board—estimates a remedy to the congestion may be 12 to 14 years in the future.

“The city [of Austin] is allowing housing and commercial development to occur but is 12 to 14 years away from addressing infrastructure issues such as traffic and roads,” he said.

The Autism Trust

Following their son’s autism diagnosis, Polly and Jonathan Tommey founded The Autism Trust and focused their efforts on building a center in their native England that would foster support and community integration for teens and adults living with autism, Polly Tommey said. The family of five sought to continue their life’s work locally after moving to the Four Points area, she said.

When Bradley learned of the foundation’s need for a center site for adults living with autism in Central Texas, she donated a portion of her land to the group, Polly Tommey said. Bradley’s 47-year-old son, Kent, lives with autism, she said.

“It’s every parent’s nightmare,” said Polly Tommey who worries about care for adult children living with autism. “Autism is difficult because the older the [children] get sometimes the worse the problems get.”

The Tommeys’ son, Billy, is 18 and intends to live in the proposed center along with Kent Bradley and 33 other adult residents, she said. Polly and Jonathan Tommey will relocate to the site as caretakers and overseers of the center, she said.

The Autism Trust plans include facilities for various vocational programs, a wellness center, a cafe, an art gallery, a recreational community hall, and housing for residents and staff.

Many individuals with autism are nonverbal and have difficulty expressing pain, leaving doctors guessing as to the cause of an illness, Jonathan Tommey, a nutritionist, said. These physicians will be trained to spot pain in a nonverbal patient, he said.

A temporary wellness center is planned for a January opening in the River Place Medical Center, he said.

“Autism is still viewed as a psychological disorder,” Polly Tommey said. “We believe you can treat it and improve the quality of life.”

The property—valued at roughly $5 million—includes a 2,500-square-foot home that was in disrepair, she said.

Although the foundation used donations to update the home, it lacks funding to move forward with construction of the $6 million project, Jonathan Tommey said.

“[This program] enables us to build the first autism community for life in Austin,” Polly Tommey said.

For more information, visit www.theautismtrust.org.