by Laurel Robertson
To begin a New Year, let’s take a sweeping, generalized and always-changing look at the staggering amount of growth/development occurring just over the Travis county line in Dripping Springs and its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
The small town (population 1,788) oversees a large ETJ (population approximately 30,000) and those numbers are guaranteed to climb precipitously over the next few years. Coming up with a firm number of planned homes is as futile as trying to predict human behavior – but I’ll try to give a general estimation of growth expected in the next five years. Suffice it to say, Dripping Springs won’t be the same small town at that point.
To begin with the closest and most obvious: Belterra and its surrounding developments (Ledgestone, Highpointe, and Saratoga Hills). The original subdivision has been under development for years now, with about 1500 of the 2000 homes already completed. Just across Hwy 290, Ledgestone’s 242 homesites have been under construction almost as long. Add in the new Belterra Springs Apartments and Ledgestone Senior Apartments, facing each other across Hwy 290, and we’re up by 150 and 160 units, respectively. To the south, Highpointe adds 1029 home sites, many homes already built; to the north, Saratoga Hills is constructing 156 more homesites.
Jump south, to FMs 1826 and 967, and three “R” subdivisions are presently raising dust: Rim Rock (675 homesites), Rutherford Ranch (291 homesites) and Reunion Ranch (524 homesites). Just across 1826 from Rim Rock, Parten Ranch Development recently reached a development agreement with Dripping Springs City Council for 575 homesites on 532 acres of the (former) Parten Ranch.
The story of the Parten Ranch is representative of the changing times and landscape around Dripping Springs. The Parten family recently decided they can no longer operate a ranch wedged in the middle of subdivisions. Stray dogs, trespassing neighbors, nearby houses and higher taxes limit their livestock options, render hunting impractical and make turning a profit nearly impossible. After owning and caring for that land for generations, the family has decided to sell and move farther west.
Nearby, Salt Lick owner Scott Roberts is building what could be called a small town. His Driftwood Economic Development Municipal Management District will bring 150 homes, a winery and restaurant, plus retail and hotel space to the 453 acres surrounding his iconic barbeque restaurant and event center. Infrastructure for the development is currently under construction.
Jump closer to Dripping Springs proper and two sleeping giants – Headwaters at Barton Creek and Anarene Development – dominate the development map. Headwaters, along Hwy 290, has recently broken ground on infrastructure for its planned 1503 homes on 1000 acres. Anarene, even larger with 1600 homes planned for 1693 acres off RR12, has an approved development agreement with the city and is currently working on site plans. Just west, Harrison Hills (near the entrance to Dripping Springs Ranch Park) has several of its anticipated 100 homes on 156 acres finished or under construction.
South on 12, near Dripping Springs’ town center, smaller but denser developments are underway. Founders Ridge is building 204 housesites on 107 acres; Legacy Trails Phase III will have 54 sites on 58 acres. Merritt Hill Senior Apartments has received city variances to put 80 units for retirees on less that seven acres. Meritage (also known as Public Development District #4) is in final consideration for 130 units on 28 acres near RR 12 and Hwy 290.
Filling in the gaping 185-acre doughnut hole in the center of town with hundreds (maybe more than a thousand?) city-sized lots will be a real game-changer for Dripping Springs. Heritage subdivision is still working out a development plan for the large Davidson and Baird tracts – but initial talk has been about a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with sidewalks, parks, retail space and other urban amenities.
Tucked into the crook of Heritage’s arm, the Burrows tract is already bringing city-like density to the town center with 76 units on less than 16 acres. A little farther out Hwy 290, 26 Doors will build 13 duplexes and one single-family residence on six-and-a-half acres.
South of Hwy 290, four big subdivisions (already under construction) have larger lots and an overall larger footprint. To the west, Arrowhead Ranch will build 375 homesites on 364 acres. Caliterra, south on RR 12, is prominently building 600 homes on 563 acres behind and surrounding the old Phillips Cemetery. On the east side of RR 12, Counts Ranch brings another 100 homes on 152 acres, while Howard Ranch, to the south, adds 150 homesites on 229 acres. The Gardens of Howard Ranch have been approved as a condo development and will offer 35 units on eight-and-a-half acres.
That’s more or less what’s on the drawing board at the moment – although this is real estate we’re talking about: plans and owners change, some plans fall through, and more are always on the horizon.
Needless to say, issues over water supply and discharge, increased traffic, light pollution, and preserving the small-town look and feel of Dripping Springs are a constant at city meetings: Transportation Committee, Historic Preservation Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, and City Council. Within the city limits, city government leverages a fair amount of control through zoning and other regulations. Outside the city limits, in the ETJ, is another story. By state law, the city can control only signage, site development, water quality, parkland dedication and subdivision of land in its ETJ – often to the chagrin of neighbors bordering the new developments, who often want the city to enforce deed restrictions or establish zoning (which it can’t do). The city’s development department (with a director and a code enforcement manager, assisted by other staff) works overtime overseeing the whole soiree.
For those who appreciate a good political tango, Dripping Springs city meetings are a reliable source of entertainment, intrigue and occasional infuriation. For more information, a clear look at the map above, a calendar of future meetings, and minutes of past meetings, visit the city’s website: www.cityofdrippingsprings.com. The development dance gets ever faster and more heated.