Travis County holds off on making development funds available for South Austin Bella Fortuna PID through payments from future homeowners

A map of the Bella Fortuna PID
Bella Fortuna PID is located in Austin's extraterritorial jurisdiction about a mile southeast of I-35 and Onion Creek Parkway. (Courtesy Travis County)

Bella Fortuna PID is located in Austin's extraterritorial jurisdiction about a mile southeast of I-35 and Onion Creek Parkway. (Courtesy Travis County)

Brohn Homes is ready to begin construction of 526 homes at the The Bella Fortuna Public Improvement District, a 158-acre tract near I-35 and Onion Creek Parkway, but Travis County commissioners have chosen to hold off on levying an assessment that would begin the process of reimbursing the property’s developer for major infrastructure costs through payments from future homeowners.

Public Improvements Districts, or PIDs, are used by cities and counties to facilitate development that requires significant, often off-site, development and infrastructure improvements by issuing bonds to help the developer finance such projects. In the case of Bella Fortuna, a PID formed in 2017, those projects include water quality detention ponds, a wastewater main, neighborhood parks and the construction of Bella Fortuna Drive, a 2,400-foot road planned to connect South Pleasant Valley Road and I-35, according to documents by Brohn Homes.

Brohn Homes, which purchased the Bella Fortuna PID from The Views at Onion Creek in 2019, petitioned Travis County commissioners to levy an assessment prior to selling homes on any of the property’s 526 planned lots at a May 26 meeting. That assessment would require all future property homeowners in the PID to make additional payments to the developer.

Brohn Homes had hoped to have the assessment levied prior to beginning home sales in June, but several commissioners harbored concerns about increased prices on “affordable” homes at the development, and ultimately declined to take any action to levy assessments.

“My observation is that from the time the developers present the information to the time that the houses are ready to go to market, the cost of the houses have increased. I realized there’s some natural increase that happens just over the passage of time, but I would like to try and see if there’s some mechanism that we can apply that I guess gives us some certainty that the cost of the house is still being bought down with that PID funding,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Margaret Gomez, whose precinct is home to Bella Fortuna.

“We said it up front: we have to have affordable housing. That’s the greatest need in that area,” Gomez said of the development, which sits in the Cloverleaf area of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Projected home prices for homes in the PID have increased since the Bella Fortuna PID was created. The target price range for homes in the PID when it was originally conceived in 2016 was $200,000-$300,000. Brohn’s updated plan laid out a $236,029 to $314,705 target range. However, some homes would cost significantly less, with the project’s least expensive home models carrying a price tag of $199,900, according to Brohn Homes.

Those most affordable homes, project consultant Rick Rosenberg said, would become more expensive without PID funds.

“You should understand that there’s a big savings that the builder is able to provide because of the presence of the PID,” Rosenberg said. “It’s our analysis, and confirmed with our client, that if there was no PID the homes on the 40-foot lots would cost approximately 59,000 dollars more. That’s where you’re getting the cost benefit or price benefit on the homes, because the PID allows a lower price. If there was no PID, the home prices would go up between 59,000 and 77,000 on average.”

Travis County staff also advised commissioners that the inflation in projected home prices in Bella Fortuna was commensurate with market changes since the creation of the PID.

After a discussion in executive session, Gomez chose not to call a motion on the item, leaving it unclear whether the court would consider a future levying of the PID’s assessment. However, the issue has not been posted again on the court’s June 2 meeting agenda, making it unlikely that an assessment will be levied prior to Brohn’s planned start of home sales.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.