As drivers sit in rush-hour traffic at the intersection of I-35 and University Boulevard, just 3 miles east, cattle graze on vacant farmland. Both settings are emblematic of the rapidly growing city of Round Rock.
Most of the city is built out at this point, said Brad Wiseman, Round Rock director of planning and development. However, thousands of acres of undeveloped land are nestled in the northeast, prime for development and future growth.
“When you look at the historical growth patterns of Round Rock, this is more or less the last frontier,” Wiseman said.
The prairie-like view in northeast Round Rock looks nearly the same today as it did five generations ago. Much of the property is owned by a handful of landowners. In particular, two families—the Averys and the Nelsons—collectively own roughly 4 square miles of undeveloped land, according to landowner John Avery.
Avery said his great-great grandparents emigrated from Sweden in the 1850s. They established a working farm and a homestead on the land.
“This is extremely old land,” Avery said. “Because of its heritage, we’re being selective with how we choose to develop it.”
Meanwhile, developing the northeast is a top priority of Round Rock City Council, Wiseman said.
“By and large, the majority of Round Rock’s future growth is going to be in the northeast,” Wiseman said.
In the near future, new rooftops are on the horizon for the final frontier as plans for two residential developments are taking shape in the area. Both proposed developments are in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, or the unincorporated land just beyond the city limits. This complicates transportation infrastructure—calling into question what the city can and cannot regulate—and the resulting implications on traffic and safety.
Early this year, KB Home announced plans for a 1,200 single-family home development on 350 acres southeast of University Boulevard and CR 110.
The developer entered into a memorandum of understanding—a nonbinding agreement—with the city of Round Rock on Jan. 24. As part of the agreement, KB Home stated intentions to voluntarily annex the development into the city limits.
In return, the city consented to the developer’s request to establish an in-city municipal utility district, or MUD. The MUD will tax property owners in the subdivision to offset the cost of public infrastructure within the development. This will be Round Rock’s first in-city MUD, Wiseman said. As such, many of the details are still being ironed out, he said.
The property is currently under negotiations. Representatives from KB Home declined an interview, citing company policy to not speak about land they do not yet own. The developers said proposed closing is late June.
A second development underway in northeast Round Rock is known as Saul’s East. On March 6, the Round Rock Planning and Zoning Commission voted to change the bulk of the designated land use from commercial business park to residential.
Saul’s East is subject to an annexation development agreement with the previous owner, Wiseman said. This means when the land is developed, it will be annexed into the city limits.
Jane Spangler has lived on CR 107 for 35 years. Her property is adjacent to the Saul’s East tract. On March 6, she addressed Round Rock’s planning and zoning board.
“I have concerns for our little road,” Spangler said.
She referenced the Saul’s East concept plan, which proposes two access points for the development onto University Boulevard, one access point on CR 110 and three onto the much smaller CR 107.
“Three entrances on [CR] 107? I’m against it,” Spangler said.
In light of proposals for new subdivisions on the outer bounds of the city limits—joining Vizcaya, Paloma Lake and others—some residents are questioning the safety and capacity of rural roads they traverse daily.
Many roads in northeast Round Rock—such as CR 110, CR 112, CR 117, CR 122 and part of University Boulevard—are county-maintained. When a road is located within a city’s ETJ, that city has no jurisdiction over striping, shoulders, widths of roads or other features.
Plans for improvement
The city of Round Rock has a plan for roads in the northeast—and all throughout the city, Round Rock Transportation Director Gary Hudder said. Known as the Ultimate Roadway Network, the $1.2 billion transportation plan calls for upgrades across the city. Some of the funds could be earmarked to improve a handful of rural roads should the land be annexed into the city limits, Hudder said.
Williamson County also has plans for roadways currently under its jurisdiction.
“They’re small, rural roads,” said Bob Daigh, Williamson County senior director of infrastructure. “If you think about the development of Williamson County, not that long ago, this was way out in the country.”
As the northeast develops and the city annexes more land, Round Rock will work with developers on improvements to road quality, Daigh said. Or if development occurs and remains outside the city limits, the county will need to take steps to improve the quality of the roads, he said.
“There is only so much money in the world,” Daigh said. “So, you have to prioritize.”
While all roads are important to the county, which spans 1,137 square miles, the county’s planning focus is establishing north-south and east-west arterials—or high-capacity—roadways, Daigh said. In northeast Round Rock, this looks like establishing alternatives to SH 130 by investing in CR 110 as a north-south route and building out parts of east University Boulevard and Westinghouse Road as east-west corridors.
On the horizon
Looking around northeast Round Rock today, it is not hard to imagine Swedish immigrants selecting the site for a farm and homestead in the late 1800s.
“We’re deeply steeped in the heritage of owning a massive farming property,” Avery said.
Development plans could stall if landowners decide not to sell.
“I’m fifth-generation landholder,” Avery said. “What’s another decade?”
At issue is the Round Rock City Council recently approved roadway impact fees. Developers will soon be responsible for paying a set fee based on the size of the development and its anticipated impact on transportation infrastructure. Avery said he worries the new fees will drive developers to other cities.
“We could easily walk away, and then the city’s in the same place they’re in now,” Avery said.
Hudder describes roadways and development in northeast Round Rock as “a chicken and egg” situation. The city needs the new developments to provide capital to fund new roads, he said. At the same time, improved roads are critical to attracting new development.
“Developers look at these things,” Hudder said. “Are there adequate roadways for the developments they want to build? These conversations are happening all the time.”
Despite a variety of viewpoints on how to fund roadways to keep up with growth, many area residents, landowners, and city and county staff voiced concerns about building 1,000-plus-home subdivisions on small county roads.
“If we don’t keep up with the growth, the growth becomes the casualty,” Hudder said.