Residents said they have been meeting with local officials such as Hays County Commissioner Lon Shell and Travis County Commissioner Ann Howard, along with the LTISD’s superintendent and others.
In April, the district permitted the superintendent to contact landowners to negotiate a purchase sale agreement for the two land plots. Community members initially gathered at the district’s May 18 board meeting to publicly speak against the land acquisition, citing a number of concerns.
The community meeting May 26 brought the community together for a second time at Family Business Beer Co., located just down the street from the proposed purchase site.
The land consists of two side-by-side parcels with different owners located between the Hamilton Hills and Vista Oaks neighborhoods. The larger 19.58-acre plot of land is at 700 Bell Springs Road and the smaller 4-acre lot is at 20511 Hamilton Pool Road. School district documents did not specify the intended use for the land; however, the district is in need of elementary schools for the growing population of students, according to the district.
Concerns of residents
Residents of the area expressed several issues with the purchase of this land for a school. Concerns about the topography of the landscape, water availability and traffic hazards were among the chief concerns expressed at the meeting, alongside preservation of the natural landscape and lack of infrastructure in the area to support more people. Several residents said they were not notified of the potential purchase of the land.
The plot of land is in the least-populated part of Travis County, according to the Statistical Atlas, which utilizes census data. The population density of southwestern Travis County is 84 people per square mile, compared to 646 people per square mile in Hudson Bend, and 861-1,919 people per square mile in Lakeway and Bee Cave.
Jessica and Ken Hepburn run a nature resort on the property next to the proposed land purchase. People go there to enjoy the beauty of the nationally treasured Texas Hill Country, which would be ruined in the event an elementary school were to be put on the land next door, Ken Hepburn said.
“This is the last bit of Hill Country that exists that’s not big-box stores and stuff you can see anywhere,” Jessica Hepburn said.
Water was a major point of contention for several residents. Being located so far from surface water supplies, many homeowners and agriculturalists in the area use wells for water. Many have had to dig their wells deeper and deeper as water supplies run low and the Trinity Aquifer grows weaker. The district likely would have to run its own water line out to the school, which would open up more possibilities for further development in the area, resident and geologist Tom Griffith said.
“Out here on West Hamilton Pool Road, we’ve got a bit of a house of cards going on,” Griffith said. “Between transportation, water and the developers, and even power, all these things that are missing ... all those little things we don’t like, they’re keeping out the high-density developers. I would argue that the lynchpin of it all is water.”
SouthWest Water Co. is a utility agency that services the area just below the intersection at Hamilton Pool Road and Bell Springs Road in the River Oaks Ranch neighborhood, which is in Stage 4 water restrictions. The goal of a Stage 4 water restriction is to reduce water consumption by 40% by prohibiting any use of water for irrigation, outdoor washing, refilling pools or other nonessential purposes, according to the utility’s website.
“They get the [Public Utility Agency] to put a water line down west Hamilton Pool Road, what happens then?” Griffith said. “The final card falls, and it’s high-density development from here all the way to the Pedernales [River].”
Another issue brought up is the lacking student population past RM 12. According to an LTISD 2020-21 demographic study, projected growth anticipated four high school students will be added to the district by 2025-26, but no elementary or middle school students. East of RM 12, the report predicts 685 elementary students, 359 middle school students and 445 high school students will be added to the district in the same timeframe.
Although the plot of land is very close to the Hays and Travis County border and the land is technically in Dripping Springs, students in Dripping Springs would not be allowed to attend the school.
In terms of a solution, residents of the area suggested the district revisit the idea of building a school in Provence, a master-planned community farther northeast on Hamilton Pool Road. The district held discussions on the possible acquisition of this land in 2020, but no further action was taken, according to district documents. Project developer Masonwood Homes said no promises of a school were made to residents.
The area for the proposed school LTISD considered in Provence would service Belvedere, Destiny Hills, Rocky Creek Ranch, Twin Lake Hills, West Cave Estates and other neighborhoods farther east on Hamilton Pool Road.
“I think regardless of the outcome of what happens here on the corner of Hamilton Pool and Bell Springs, we need to keep the heat up and we need to make sure they understand that it’s not sustainable,” Ken Hepburn said.
The district will reconsider moving forward with the land acquisition at its next regularly scheduled meeting June 15.