Development continues along West Hwy. 290

Multifamily housing units proposed in Hays County

The Hwy. 290 corridor between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs has been developing rapidly for almost a decade.

Homebuilders are still constructing single-family houses in Hays County, and new businesses are opening up to service a growing customer base.

Now developers are looking into adding multifamily housing to the area's real estate landscape.

The City of Dripping Springs is reviewing a development agreement for apartments at Ledge Stone, and the city may see a site plan for Belterra apartments in September, Dripping Springs City Planner Jon Thompson said.

The apartments signal the area's progression from the rural "Gateway to the Hill Country" to a suburb to more populated area.

"Dripping Springs is no longer a quaint suburban community," Hays County Commissioner Ray Whisenant Jr said. "It is not as densely populated [as the Austin area], but we are approaching economic limits [in the current configuration]."

Single-family housing

The subdivision boom began in the 2000s. Belterra, Ledge Stone and Highpointe all set down roots in the last decade and have been building on lots ever since.

Ashton Woods Homes is building Ridgeview, a development of 194 single-family homes east of South View Road.

Chris Werth, Ashton Woods Homes' Austin division president, said that southern Travis County has had a high demand for single-family homes for many years.

He said most people who are interested in houses along Hwy. 290 are Austinities looking to move up to homes with more square footage or amenities.

"Typically, there have been more luxury offerings going in," he said. "The land price dictates the type of house. The more valuable the land, the more difficult it would be to build a home that would appeal to a first-time homebuyer."

DH Investment Company represents Ledge Stone. DH Investment Vice President Mike Schoenfeld said there has been phenomenal growth in the area since 2005.

"The southwest market area has done very well. After a slowdown in 2008, things have started to come back," he said.

One reason for the growth is that it is easier to build in Hays County than in Travis County, he said.

Travis County has conservation easements and water and wastewater connectivity issues, so builders have been crossing the county line to build in Dripping Springs' extraterriorial jurisdiction, or ETJ.

The actual city of Dripping Springs is a small area, but its ETJ—areas not in city limits but under city control—is quite large.

The 2010 U.S. census states that 1,788 people lived in Dripping Springs when the census was being compiled.

Dripping Springs' ETJ was estimated to have 15,170 residents in 2009, according to ESRI Business Analyst data cited in the city's 2010 Comprehensive Plan.

Commercial properties

As residential real estate has grown, so have the commercial properties that support it.

Even as recently as 2002, there were not many other full-service restaurants along Hwy. 290 when Mike Farr purchased Nutty Brown Cafe.

Over the years, Farr saw new competitors vying for Nutty Brown's diners. He adapted by shifting his focus to live music and said he now generates much more revenue from the concerts than he does selling barbecue.

"When you start to see the rooftops multiply in number, you create a need for supporting retail and commerce—your gas stations and convenience stores," he said.

Lone Star Bank, a boutique bank dealing with construction and real estate, opened in April. Brent Gibbs, senior vice president of the Hwy. 290 branch, said bank officials chose their new location because of the area's growth.

Trudy's Four Star opened in November. Operations Manager Chance Robertson said the restaurant has been based in South Austin for 35 years and wanted to branch out farther south and west.

"We did traffic counts, and with the heavy development and people moving there, we thought it would be a good deal," he said.

The roadsides along Hwy. 290 in Hays County are dotted with "for sale" and "coming soon" signs.

A pizzeria/bakery, gas station, Burger King and indoor archery range are among the businesses that are being developed along Hwy. 290.

Multifamily housing

Farr sees the proposed apartments as a logical next step; these new businesses' employees need a place to live and often cannot afford the new single-family housing units.

Thompson said the Belterra apartments will be rented at the full market rate, while Cypress Creek at Ledge Stone Apartment Homes will be low-to-moderate income, rent-controlled housing.

The apartments are not Section 8 or government housing, according to the development's website.

In an online letter, Stuart Shaw, president of apartment developer Bonner Carrington, wrote that some community members took issue with Cypress Creek seeking a tax exemption.

Shaw wrote that the complex will not pursue an exemption and plans to pay its taxes in full.

Planning

Officials are planning ahead to manage growth on both sides of the county line.

Local transportation authorities are working to lessen congestion along West Hwy. 290 by improving intersections at and near the Y at Oak Hill. The Texas Department of Transportation is adding paved shoulders and a center turn lane to Hwy. 290 from Circle Drive to Oliver Drive.

Aside from new subdivision rules intended to protect groundwater resources, there are no specific zoning requirements in unincorporated areas of Travis County.

Dripping Springs lifted an 18-month development ban in 2005. The city has been working with developers to get more rules in place to benefit everyone involved, Thompson said.

"For the community, the idea is to centralize development onto existing tracts that have good infrastructure and a dense population core in close proximity," he said. "This and the encouragement of more development in the city's core is what we believe has been a good approach to trying to get growth to occur in existing development rather than creating new, unconnected development."

By Joe Olivieri
Joe covered Southwest Austin news for Community Impact Newspaper from January 2011 to April 2015. His reporting focused on new businesses, development, transportation, industry and Travis County issues. He was named the paper's managing editor in April 2015. Joe hails from New Jersey.


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