Raise the roofs

Although the city of Hutto's population underwent a boom in the 2000s that looked to bring a landslide of new development to the area, a crash in the national economy and housing market in 2007 put a halt to planned construction of hundreds of new homes and residential growth. But signs in the city's housing market indicate construction on Hutto homes and subdivisions could be back on the rise this year and that homebuyers are eager to move in. The created influx of new residents could have ramifications in areas such as city services, the school district and retail.

Permit numbers for single-family residences have averaged 35 per month so far in 2013, up from approximately 18 in both 2011 and 2012, according to Hutto Planning Department figures. Hutto Planning Director Will Guerin said the numbers are a result of developers working to build out subdivisions that had already been approved and platted but had not been completed because of budget concerns.

"The developers have gotten more comfortable in the last year or so in pulling forward with more permits," Guerin said.

Old sites, new growth

Through May, the city of Hutto has approved 177 permits in 2013, including finished construction in subdivisions such as Glenwood, HuttoParke, the Park at Brushy Creek, Carol Meadows, Hutto Highlands, Emory Farms and the Riverwalk.

Among the growth, KB Home announced in February plans to construct 150 houses in HuttoParke, while Lennar Austin debuted new home units in Hutto Highlands in May and plans to build more than 150 units in the subdivision.

"More people are moving to Hutto, and obviously the housing market [availability] is going to have to go up there," Lennar Austin Marketing Coordinator Kandis Wilberforce said.

Making Hutto's housing market even hotter is its quick sell rate. According to the 2010 U.S. census, Hutto had a home occupancy rate of nearly 96 percent. Even as construction increases, new homes sit on the market for only a month on average before being sold, RE/MAX Realtor Megan Jarrard said.

"I had one [house] that went in eight days," she said. "It's a seller's market. Hutto has definitely turned around."

Growth drivers

Developers and city leaders have credited some of Hutto's appeal with the city's proximity to SH 130. The toll road, which runs from southern Georgetown to Seguin, allows commuters to travel throughout the Austin area and avoid traffic and busy intersections.

"I think the location [of Hutto] makes sense," said Joey Grisham, Hutto Economic Development Corp. president and CEO. "You can jump on the toll road and be just about anywhere in a pretty short period."

The strength of the school district and Hutto homes' affordable pricing could be other attractive factors, Grisham added.

Hutto's housing market is also bolstered by residential values, with statistics from the Williamson Central Appraisal District predicting Hutto's total residential value at more than $766 million for 2013, a rise of more than $60 million from 2012. The average Hutto home value is also expected to rise this year by more than $4,000 from 2012 appraisals.

"Now that the nation is starting to come out of [the recession], we're actually continuing growth that we were [experiencing] even during the recession," WCAD Chief Appraiser Alvin Lankford said.

Diversity of housing

As Hutto sees more residential development, city leaders are hoping to diversify the types of living spaces the city offers. Currently, most of the available homes are single-family housing ranging in price between $100,000 to $200,000. Grisham said a priority of the city will be to bring in multifamily development and more rental opportunities.

"There are just some families that prefer to live in multifamily, or people who don't want to own homes," Grisham said. "Some families are transitioning. Also, there are a lot of young families that may not be able to get in a home yet, and they need to build up their credit, and they need time to build up to buying a home."

Some residents have also asked for higher-priced options and larger homes in Hutto.

"We want them to stay, not be forced to move to Round Rock or Georgetown or Austin," Guerin said.

'Retail follows rooftops'

While 2013 projections place more than 81 percent of Hutto's real property value in residential development, commercial development makes up less than 12 percent.

Traditionally, retail stores target specific areas where they can pull in the most shoppers, Grisham said. Retailers count on drawing customers from a specific radius around the store location and try to place a store in the right position to maximize shopper traffic. Because Hutto has a thinner population density than its neighbors, retailers are hesitant to build.

"There's more [population] density south of us than there is near Hwy. 79 and SH 130 or Limmer Loop and SH 130, but that will change," Grisham said. "We're on the radar for [commercial] development, but we're on the next wave as far as that."

New rooftops could spur that wave.

"In general we're seeing an increase in commercial interests, [including] service, business, medical [and] retail," Grisham said. "A pretty diverse group of businesses is now looking around, and retail follows rooftops, so the more residential development, that drives interests up."

The effect on schools

With increased residential development, the city is also preparing for a surge in population, a trend to which Hutto is no stranger, having seen its population skyrocket from 1,250 according to the 2000 U.S. census to more than 20,000 in 2012.

That increase spurred Hutto ISD to build Veterans' Hill Elementary School, the district's fourth elementary campus, in 2008. The school closed after the 2010–11 school year because of lagging residential growth, but two years later, development projects are forcing the district to consider reopening the school and may even create the need for an additional elementary school.

Siena, a development near Hwy. 79 and CR 110 that lies in the city of Round Rock's extraterritorial jurisdiction but within Hutto ISD's boundaries, could be one of multiple developments to send waves of new students into the district.

"While sudden and quick growth brings challenges to schools, we are prepared to embrace them and continue to lead this district to high standards of excellence and success," HISD Superintendent Doug Killian said. "The district and our demographers will continue to monitor the timeline of the Siena [development] to determine when to reopen Veterans' Hill. We are giving much thought to the planning process surrounding how we serve Siena. We want to first ensure efficiency in all of our schools and then make sure the community supports that plan."

Making way

To facilitate the possible residential and population increases, city leaders are looking at not only schools and retail, but also basic infrastructure needs including water and wastewater utilities.

In anticipation of growth, the city has already extended water lines and planned construction of two new wastewater treatment plants. Additional amenities, such as outdoor athletics fields, are included in the city's capital improvements plan.

"I think the city is prepared, and we can continue to handle the growth," Guerin said.

By Korri Kezar
Korri Kezar graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 with a degree in journalism. She worked for Community Impact Newspaper's Round Rock-Pflugerville-Hutto edition for two years before moving to Dallas. Five years later, she returned to the company to launch Community Impact Newspaper's Keller-Roanoke-Northeast Fort Worth edition, where she covers local government, development, transportation and a variety of other topics. She has also worked at the San Antonio Express-News, Austin-American Statesman and Dallas Business Journal.