The Westlake Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2018 State of the Westlake Community lunch on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at the Lost Creek Country Club, highlighting issues currently facing Westlake residents and businesses. Rollingwood Mayor Roxanne McKee, West Lake Hills Mayor Linda Anthony, and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty answered questions as part of a panel moderated by Community Impact Newspaper.
1. Bee Caves Road update
Anthony said if weather permits and construction goes smoothly, all four lanes, the new center turn lane, and the sidewalks on Bee Caves Road should be completed over the next six months. Additional utility work, retaining walls and a 16-inch water line to serve Water Control and Improvement District 10 still has to be installed as part of the Bee Caves Road expansion project, which might not be totally completed until summer 2019, she said.
“In the next six months you should see quite a few big changes on Bee Caves Road,” Anthony said. “[Texas Department of Transportation] has started the process of leveling up Sundown [Parkway] and they are working on retaining walls on the north side of Bee Cave Road and starting on the south side.”
She said work to raise the road by about 7 feet for a 400-foot stretch of road near Old Bee Caves Road should start soon.
2. Mopac South improvement proposals
McKee said Rollingwood is still opposed to any Mopac South improvement proposals, including putting elevated lanes over Lady Bird Lake or the Bee Caves Road and Mopac intersection. The city of Rollingwood has asked Austin to continue to explore options without elevated lanes, she said.
“We think these elevated lanes are divisive,” she said. “They separate communities, they are industrial looking, they increase noise and light pollution. The crown jewels of Central Texas are right there: Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park, Barton Springs.”
McKee said there is also a chance the Bee Caves Road and Mopac intersection would be shut down as a result of improvements, which would negatively affect business and traffic on Bee Caves Road.
“We don’t view this as a Rollingwood issue, we view this as an issue that could impact people all along Bee Caves Road,” she said.
3. Combating growing home sizes
Anthony said West Lake Hill’s master plan and ordinances have helped maintain the rural character of the area, but the city is not immune to the trend of ever-increasing home sizes and older established homes and neighborhoods being replaced by larger ones. While City Council could set stricter building standards and size limits, an alternative solution for the Westlake area could be establishing overlay zones, which aren’t set by a city council, but individual neighborhood groups, she said.
“[Overlay zones] have been used in cities and counties across the country and the concept is if you get 60 percent of neighbors to sign a petition, they work to create [building] standards for that area,” Anthony said. “What’s nice is it’s not a council coming in and setting standards for the entire community, but a smaller community being able to say this is how we want our street to look and what we want our neighborhood to be.”
4. Potential future bonds
Anthony said West Lake Hills could call a future bond to make improvements to municipal and police facility, as well as area drainage and road conditions.
“The reality is if you’re going to look at bonds you have to look at the entire package: What are your communities needs, how do you pay for them,” she said. “Bonds are unfortunately the most likely way to do that.”
Anthony said the police department was built by residential standards to be a city hall and chamber, and currently would not meet building codes. Built in the ’70s, it has also exceeded its projected lifespan, she said.
McKee said a bond is most likely the solution to address immediate infrastructure needs in Rollingwood as well, which include a new home for the city police department and drainage projects.
“While you might think we would be able to recoup some of the expenses through taxes, the fact of the matter is even if we had a new retail business to come into town it wouldn’t be enough to pay the upfront cost of for the kind of infrastructure projects that we need to do,” she said.
5. Travis County Bond projects
Daugherty discussed the $185 million bond county residents approved in November, stating that most projects in the area have to do with transportation, parks and drainage.
“Most people know that whenever you pass bonds it is going to raise some taxes, but I think the reason that people voted for this bonds is because they’re convinced that what is being asked for is needed,” he said. “Transportation is something you can generally go out and ask the community to support, because who in the world doesn’t know that traffic and mobility is the number one issue in this community.”