The New York Times published an interesting analysis of the development pressures on the hill country surrounding Austin. The hill country is one of Austin’s greatest assets and has historically been protected from development by the difficulty of providing a reliable water supply across the rural region. Recently, however, new water infrastructure has changed the equation, adding to development pressures in the hill country.
Thousands of new people will come to Austin this year. One of the nice benefits of downtown development is that it takes pressure off development west of the city. A single large downtown building can provide enough housing to displace a 400 acre suburban development. Plus, as downtown residents either work downtown or drive in a reverse commute, they reduce the traffic pressure on highly congested roads.
Here is a quote from the article:
The Hill Country, an area that extends about 150 miles west of Austin, is quickly becoming suburban. With its rolling hills, lakes and rivers, it is attracting Texans eager to escape city life, and out-of-state buyers who can buy more acreage for less, real estate agents say, than they might pay in other states.“People want to live out in the country,” said Charles Gilliland, a research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University in College Station.Water, once so difficult to find, is, at least for now, not a problem because of new water lines. Thousands of new homes are planned, and last year the Real Estate Center reported that land prices had reached as high as $25,000 an acre. In certain areas, the prices have ballooned even further.Ranchers and farmers, enticed by multimillion-dollar payouts, retirement or the lack of heirs, are selling thousands of acres of their large properties to developers eager to put up homes and strip malls. Other landowners, threatened with rising property taxes, see no option but to sell some of the land they have held in their families for many decades.The beauty of the Hill Country may also be its undoing. The crush of new people is likely to put more cars on county roads, pollute creeks and streams and eventually drain underground water supplies, according to the Save Our Springs Alliance in Austin.In an environmentally sensitive area like the Hill Country, which sends water downstream to Austin, the stakes are particularly high. And the concerns have led to efforts — like those of the Lowenthals’ group — to curb development.