Peacock Politics in Western Travis County
Handful of holdout ranchers expected to sell their family spreads in name of what some see as suburban sprawl
Development can no longer be denied out along Hamilton Pool Road, where a handful of the remaining ranchers are expected to finally sell out their large family spreads in the name of what some see as suburban sprawl.
Opponents such as the Save Our Springs Alliance and Hill Country Alliance fight new development vigorously on two fronts: water and roads. Both are necessary for new development and are in short supply in far west Travis Co. Last week at a town-hall meeting in the village at Bee Cave, the topic was Reimers-Peacock Road, a 3.5-mile two-lane road that would cross what is now the rather roadless stretches of farmland between State Highway 71 on the north and Hamilton Pool Road on the south.
Christy Muse, who leads the Hill Country Alliance, argued that Reimers-Peacock Road would not relieve congestion or solve existing traffic problems. It's a road that goes from nowhere to nowhere, one that will simply add more congestion and provide a convenient avenue for the development of rural Travis Co. west of the village at Bee Cave. "The county closed this road to through traffic at the request of landowners back in the early Nineties," Muse said. "Now a few landowners want it opened back up so they can develop their property, and they would like taxpayers to pay for it."
To the county, however, Reimers-Peacock Road is an acknowledgment of the impending development expected in the area. Ranchers in this area are ready to sell. All the county can do is get ahead of the curve to anticipate the changes, says Joe Gieselman, executive director for Travis County's Transportation and Natural Resources department. In the next decade, or possibly in the next five years, most of the ranchland in western Travis County will disappear.
With a number of subdivisions like Sweetwater on an imminent horizon, Travis Co. feels it can no longer ignore the need for a substantial north-south arterial through the area. Right now, getting from one end of the proposed road to the other, for instance, requires a circuitous round-trip nine miles east on Hamilton Pool Road, then six miles back west on Highway 71. The Reimers-Peacock Road connection turns that into a 3.5-mile trip. That makes a difference to the local emergency-service districts and Lake Travis Independent School District, which expects to add 1,700 students in the next 10 years. Lake Travis school officials predict they eventually have to build schools on both Highway 71 and Hamilton Pool Road if the route can't be shortened.
The proposal by county contractor C Faulkner Engineering is to create a two-lane Hill Country roadway, with a slightly new alignment, on the existing Five Gates Road a onetime ranch road between properties, a length of caliche, asphalt, and concrete that was controlled by a series of five gates. The road could line up with Bob Wire Road, RO Drive, or complete a new alignment that will eventually take out a mobile-home park on the north side of Highway 71. While aligning the road with Bob Wire Road would cause less local disruption, it also is significantly worse in terms of visibility on the road.
Gieselman and the county would like to see landowners donate a large portion of the right-of-way for the two-lane road, which will also include bike lanes. The cost of the road project is estimated at around $8 million, which has yet to be funded.
Consultant Joe Lessard said county officials are doing everything in their power to try to meet the goals of the Southwest Travis County Growth Dialog Process (www.co.travis.tx.us/tnr/swtcgrowth/default.asp), which includes the preservation of 6,000 acres of land in western Travis Co. about 10% of the total acreage in the area as parks or conservation easements. Open space gathered, to date, is about 2,000 acres, which includes the portion of Reimers Ranch Park that the county recently purchased after the last bond issue. The county has no zoning authority, but Southwest Growth Dialog also suggests specific "nodes" for development in the area along Highway 71 and other major arterials. A town center would be located on Highway 71 at Paleface Ranch. Local commercial centers would be located closer to 71 and RO Drive and off Ranch Road 12. And neighborhood service areas would be located on 71 near the Sweetwater/Lazy Nine Ranch MUD and on FM 3238 at Crumley Ranch Road. Meanwhile, the Southwest Growth Dialog suggests other specific "modes" for development in the area.