Hot Buttons in Hays County
Hays County residents are faced with several issues that will permanently impact the community. The biggest challenge, residents say, is accommodating new development and ensuring that it does not have a devastating impact on their quality of life and pocketbooks.
In addition to dealing with potential traffic, noise, water needs, and pollution, residents will also face higher taxes from new road, infrastructure, and school construction. Hays County officials are looking at ways to balance residential development with new commercial development, which would increase the tax base. The scope of development, however, could hinge on several specific proposals, including:
The pipeline would run from LCRA water facilities on Hwy. 71 to Dripping Springs along Hwy. 290, and would potentially serve thousands of new homes over northern Hays County and the Edwards Aquifer.
The Hays County Water Planning Partnership and the Save Our Springs Alliance have filed an intent to sue LCRA over the plan because the groups say the pipeline will encourage new development over the aquifer and its contributing and recharge zones. They say new development could pollute the aquifer and creeks that feed into Barton Springs, home of the endangered Barton Springs Salamander.
LCRA officials say the pipeline primarily is intended for existing homes in the Dripping Springs area. They also say any new development served by the pipeline would have to meet stringent standards for impervious cover and other pollution controls being developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Finally, LCRA officials cite the agency mandate -- to supply water, if it is financially feasible, to all residents in the Colorado River watershed (see "Dueling Missions," p.32).
Several development projects are underway or on the drawing board for Hays County (see map). In total, they represent about 2,500 new homes through the year 2000, as well as hotels, shopping centers, office space, schools, and churches. And the number of houses after 2000 could jump sharply, since several large tracts of land are available for development. Projects underway or in planning include:
Spillar Ranch: A residential and commercial development on 1,000 acres just east of Circle C Ranch on the northern edge of the county. Backed in part by Circle C's Gary Bradley, the project would have about 700 homes, a 350-room hotel, a golf course, and other retail. Future buildout could put hundreds more homes in the area, depending on the water and sewer service obtained.
Greenhaw Ranch: A 1,300-acre development planned for FM 967, between Buda and Driftwood.
Plum Creek: A 2,200-acre development underway near Kyle with homes, retail, and commercial space.
The Rutherford Tract: At least 6,000 acres in central and northern Hays County were under an option for purchase by Newhall Land & Farming Company of California. Newhall planned to build at least 14,000 homes here, but withdrew from the project in May. The land, however, is open for sale to another developer.
Multi-Corridor Transportation Plan
The Hays County Commissioners Court met on Sept. 14 to vote on a 25-year transportation plan that would designate "priority transportation corridors." However, the vote was delayed after 22 residents said they did not receive adequate opportunity for input and had no time to review the document. Those speaking against the passage were particularly concerned about the inclusion of what amounts to an extension of MoPac south to San Marcos and several four-lane connector roads to MoPac, as well as an FM 150 connector to southwest Austin -- which Hays County residents fear will become an alternative to I-35.
The Hays County document also will be used as official input for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization 2025 plan, which is scheduled for completion early next year.
Members of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership (HCCP) object to the plan because they say many of the new roads are being built to accommodate large-scale development in northern Hays County. Some residents also complain that consulting engineers helping draft the plan also work for developers with projects underway in the county and call the dual work a conflict of interest.
As a result of the citizens' requests for more time to review the plan, county commissioners held four public hearings. The Commissioners Court could still vote on the plan as early as Oct. 19. Officials have also posted several components of the plan on the county Web site, at http://www.co.hays.tx.us.
Who's Planning for Growth?
The Hays County Water Planning Partnership (HCWPP), a nonprofit group headed by Erin Foster and Jim Camp, formed in July after residents heard of a proposal for a 14,000-home development near FM 1826. The project -- what HCWPP saw as a new city the size of San Marcos -- died after the developer abandoned his option to buy the land. But the HCWPP continues to be active in monitoring growth issues.
However, the group was excluded from membership on a new planning Oversight Committee formed by County Judge Jim Powers to study growth issues and the impact of the planned LCRA water pipeline. The committee includes members of governing bodies for Hays County, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, LCRA, city of Dripping Springs, Travis County, and other groups.
Foster says that all the committee members have come down in favor of the pipeline without studying its need or possible impacts first. (The pipeline construction is set to begin in January, at the same time that the committee is scheduled to begin meeting.)
LCRA officials say the Oversight Committee -- formed with $100,000 in LCRA funds given to Hays County -- is designed to include elected officials and policy makers and that residents and the HCWPP can provide input to those officials. They also say the committee's purpose is to plan for growth and for how new development and existing homes could best be served by the pipeline.