Manchaca community on the rise

This article has been corrected after its publication on April 25.

Builders consider South Austin, unincorporated Travis County

Manchaca, an unincorporated community along FM 1626, is poised for growth.

To the north, Southwest Austin has recently been called a strong real estate market by several industry professionals.

To the south, Hays County is one of the fastest-growing counties in Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The demand for all channels of real estate has made far South Austin and Manchaca "the next logical opportunity for development" because of location and traffic times, said Mark Sprague, state director of information capital of Independence Title.

People are moving to the area's subdivisions, but the community—and all of the 78652 ZIP code—may remain less densely populated until developers can affordably connect to Austin resources.

Sprague said that developers are responsible for bringing utilities to developments.

"If utility costs bring the values of the land too high, then it [won't] sell, and the developer looks at septic, well and self-contained alternatives," he said.

Chip Kidd, owner of Chip Kidd Realty Services, called accessibilty to city water and sewer lines the most important elements that spur dense growth.

"The things that have prevented Manchaca from blowing up years ago are the lack of sewer and water," he said. "The interest is there, but the infrastructure is not."

Greater density could be more common if Austin annexed Manchaca and extended its pipelines—thereby making it more affordable for developers to connect to Austin utilities—but city officials say there are no plans to do that in the near future.

ETJ and annexation

Manchaca is located in Austin's extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ—any area within 5 miles of Austin's boundary that is not part of the city limits or ETJ of another city. Only Austin can annex land in its ETJ, which extends to Buda's city limits in Hays County.

Austin ETJ residents officially live in unincorporated Travis County or Hays County. They do not pay city taxes and only vote on city referendums that affect them, Austin City Planner Virginia Collier said.

One advantage of an ETJ is that it allows Austin to regulate some aspects of development outside its city limits. If Austin later decides to annex area in its ETJ, any development or subdivision there would meet minimum standards for road access or lot size, according to the city's website.

There are two types of annexation—limited and full, Collier said.

In limited annexation, the new area would be subject to land development and environmental codes, she said. In full annexation, the area becomes part of Austin and all city codes, taxes and services would apply.

Proximity and predicting future growth

Southwest Austin continues to be a desirable place to live because of its proximity to downtown Austin, Sprague said.

However, Sprague called the Southwest market static—there is a limited supply of available single-family housing and no major projects on the way, he explained.

He said that most of the activity he sees are one-off projects and subdivisions building out.

The exceptions include Greyrock Ridge at the intersection of MoPac and SH 45, Avaa-Esquel off of SH 45, Ladera Hill Country along I-35, Ridgeview off of West Hwy. 290 and Reunion Ranch in Dripping Springs.

Sprague said that most of the single-family homes under $200,000 are now located south in Buda and Kyle or north in Williamson County.

He predicted that most of the major future growth will occur in East Austin, partially because commuters are increasingly less willing to tolerate long commutes.

"Bedroom communities in Texas metros will need to aggressively pursue corporations to be in their community, which will in turn affect values," Sprague said.

Buda Planning Director Chance Sparks said he would argue that the City of Buda is already a bedroom community.

"Most of the people that live here commute to Austin or San Marcos," he said. "Ultimately what we're hoping to do is create a situation where people live here, but they can be employed here as well. If they have to go through that 30-minute commute to Austin, maybe they will decide that they don't want to do that anymore."

Local responses

Much has changed since Chris Winslow, owner of garden center It's About Thyme, moved to the Manchaca area in the 1970s.

He can rattle off the names of the new subdivisions and remembers when it used to be open space. He said he used to go deer and dove hunting in the fields where Bridges of Bear Creek now stands on Brodie Lane.

Winslow said the traffic along FM 1626, Brodie Lane and Manchaca Road has grown significantly, mostly from Hays County residents traveling to Austin.

He called Manchaca "sleepy" and "the kind of place people drive through."

He highlighted the area's sense of community, as seen in the new Manchaca Volunteer Fire Department station, the U.S. Post Office and the number of restaurants and businesses that have stayed open through the years.

The Village of San Leanna, an incorporated village of about 210 homes on larger lots, is located east of the Manchaca community along FM 1626.

Village Administrator Kathleen Lessing said she noticed demand for housing rise about two years ago.

"I get calls from people asking to take their name and number for when a lot comes up for sale. This little area is so desirable based on the way it was built," she said.

She said she had heard of a house that had sold off of a small "Coming Soon" sign in the front yard.

"It never made it to the market listing," Lessing said.

Kidd said he has been expecting the area to grow rapidly for years.

"Ultimately it will grow at some point, and the utilities will be extended. Where there's a will, there's a way," he said.

"For the 33 years I've been out here, I have thought that the sheer demand and city growth would have extended those [utilities], and it just hasn't happened yet."