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Round Rock Growth Explosion

SH 130 likely to shift epicenter of growth in Round Rock from land around Dell to one-time farmland on northeast end of town

By Kimberly Reeves, Fri., Sept. 1, 2006

The opening of State Highway 130 is likely to shift the epicenter of growth in Round Rock from the land around Dell Computer – and those scattered subdivisions in the southwest – to one-time farmland on the northeast end of town. <br><a href=http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2006-09-01/roundrock.jpg target=blank><b>View a larger image</b></a>
The opening of State Highway 130 is likely to shift the epicenter of growth in Round Rock from the land around Dell Computer – and those scattered subdivisions in the southwest – to one-time farmland on the northeast end of town.
View a larger image

The opening of State Highway 130 is likely to shift the epicenter of growth in Round Rock from the land around Dell Computer – and those scattered subdivisions in the southwest – to one-time farmland on the northeast end of town.

The growth began three years ago with the opening of Newland Communities' Teravista. In Houston, Newland is known for master-planned communities on the scale of Cinco Ranch, a subdivision so large that it is served by not one, but two, Katy high schools. The equivalent in Austin would probably be a Circle C, but with a lower price point.

In recent months, three major deals – the Round Rock Premium Outlets, a regional shopping center, and Scott & White Hospital – were closed on 160 acres that Newland owned on the northeast corner of I-35 and FM 1431. A new 252,000-square-foot IKEA will open across the street. And on the other end of the Teravista development, across FM 1431, is the Round Rock Higher Education Center and Seton Medical System's new 180-bed Williamson County hospital.

Charley Ayres of the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce says that contiguous raw land is a huge driver in the growth to the northeast. Round Rock encompasses about 16,000 acres. (By comparison, Oak Hill is about 11,000 acres.) The University Boulevard corridor is almost 15,000 acres of raw land. Develop that land and the city doubles in size.

"Our focus as a community is to continue to move Round Rock beyond the perception as an Austin suburb," Ayres said. "As we develop the northeast sector of our community, we will have more jobs, more education opportunities, and more entertainment. It gives them more reasons to avoid that commute into Austin."

So much development in one place would have been enough to tax a small city's infrastructure – and Round Rock, for all its growth, remains a small city – but that concern is compounded by the impending opening of SH 130 this year. FM 1431, otherwise known as University Boulevard, will be a direct connector to the SH 130 tollway that's intended to be a major bypass for I-35.

Nowhere will development pressures from the opening of SH 130 be felt more intensely, or more directly, than Round Rock. At a recent meeting on SH 130 among regional leaders, Round Rock Public Works Director Tom Word said SH 130 would be the tipping point to shift development in Round Rock from a scattered pattern of subdivisions along Gattis School Road to the northeast quadrant of the city, which was farmland owned by the Avery and Nelson families only five years ago.

That growth will come with challenges. Word says that water service in the area is split between Round Rock and Jonah Water Special Utility District. Round Rock is prepared for growth to the west of FM 1460, with water service and water lines within two miles of the I-35/FM 1431 intersection. City officials fear, however, that Jonah will likely be less prepared to serve future development east of FM 1460 once SH 130 opens.

"This is not the kind of widely disbursed development – the small farms or homes on a 5- or 10-acre tract – that Jonah is used to serving," Word said. "We're talking about residential subdivisions, at four homes per acre, or even apartment complexes. The question comes down to whether they are prepared to handle such dense development or the kind of water flows necessary for the fire flows in the area. Certainly all things are going to be possible in this area, but at what cost?"

If Jonah gets off of well water and moves to surface water, Lake Granger or Lake Georgetown would be the likely water supplies for the area, Word said. Neither is very close to Round Rock, meaning that pipelines would have to be built. That means more infrastructure for water storage and water treatment, too. And while those costs belong to Jonah, the city is concerned about the impending costs, too.

"It is a concern for us," Word said. "We want to be competitive in attracting new business and to do that requires not only the available land but also the right tax rates. A lot of things have to work in our favor to attract the high-quality businesses we want."

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