Sprawl development at its finest

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It looks like the Estancia Hill Country project is finally coming to fruition. If you’ve never heard of the project (I hadn’t), here’s a primer from the Statesman five years ago:

Slated for 599 acres in all, the mixed-use Estancia development will be one of the largest projects along the South Interstate 35 corridor. The land, part of the former Heep Ranch, is at I-35 and the Texas 45 Southeast toll road, in a growing part of the region.

…The master plan for Estancia calls for nearly 8 million square feet of development, including up to 2 million square feet of corporate space; a hospital; a hotel; nearly 1,600 apartments and townhomes; and about 400,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. About 130 acres will be set aside for parks, open space and trails.

To facilitate the development, City Council voted to annex the land, bringing it into Austin’s “limited purpose” jurisdiction. The city then set up a Public Improvement District to finance road, water and sewage infrastructure for the development. The way PIDs work, the city issues bonds and then levies a special assessment on property owners in the district to pay for the infrastructure. In 2013 the city issued $12.6 million in bonds and it’s gearing up to issue another $12.6 million this year, according to a city document.

There’s a very good chance that the plans for the development have changed since 2013. Here’s how city documents describe the two principal developments:

Improvement Area #1 consists of approximately 214.9 contiguous acres … is expected to contain approximately 370 single family units as well as approximately 92.2 acres of multifamily and approximately 16 acres of commercial.

Improvement Area #2 consists of approximately 131.0 contiguous acres … is expected to contain approximately 161 single family units as well as approximately 51.3 acres of multifamily and approximately 16.3 acres of commercial.

It appears the amount of multifamily housing planned has substantially increased since 2013. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this massive document, you’ll see on page 114 that the land use assumption for the first phase of the project includes 1,906 apartment units. For phase two (page 111), there are 1,050 apartment units. That is A LOT of apartments.

There’s also this:

The hike and bike trail system will be located parallel to Old San Antonio Road and Onion Creek and will connect the parks and trail system within Improvement Area #1 together. The trails will consist of a mixture of improved pathways with several ancillary improvements (benches, playscapes, points of interest, etc.) along or near the pathways.

This is obviously better than traditional sprawl in that it integrates commercial and residential uses, making the work/live/play experience available to some future residents. Most, however, will likely live far away from their place of work and favorite recreation spots and will have no way to get there but by car. It’s about 3.5 miles south of Southpark Meadows on Slaughter Lane, the nearest access point for frequent bus service.

One part of the development is already up and running: The Enclave at Estancia, a gated community of two-car garage single-family homes, is about as anti-urbanist as you can get. It’s telling that nearly all of the landmarks hyped on the Enclave’s website are at least 10 miles from the development itself: the Capitol, Butler Shores, SoCo, the downtown skyline and the Zilker Botanical Gardens.

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The Enclave, via Google Maps, as of September 2015.

Similar to the Goodnight Ranch, another master-planned community that is taking shape at the end of E. Slaughter Lane, just south of Onion Creek Park, Estancia hopefully will offer people living way out yonder the chance to walk and bike to get groceries, have a drink or, in some cases, even work. That’s good. But it’s very hard to serve these new communities with mass transit. That’s very bad.

4 thoughts on “Sprawl development at its finest

  1. ” It’s about 3.5 miles south of Southpark Meadows on Slaughter Lane, the nearest access point for frequent bus service.”

    The advantage of buses is their versatility. If this new development is sufficiently urban in form*, service or even frequent service _could_ be run here. This development is about as far from downtown as Tech Ridge is, and there’s frequent service there.

    *Which it may or may not be. 3000 apartments clustered together are a lot easier to serve than 3000 apartments evenly distributed in 600 acres.

    If CapMetro’s I35 highway BRT project ever happens, it would probably be relatively easy to serve this with good (if not great) transit. I believe one of the proposed stations was I35 and 45, so an E/W (or NW) feeder from there would be pretty cheap to implement.

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    1. Proximity to downtown is not necessarily the best measure of transit appropriateness. There is actually stuff near tech ridge … the bus wouldn’t have to travel for miles past empty fields, as it would for Estancia.

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      1. Honestly, there’s a lot of almost nothing on the journey to tech ridge as well. There’s a reason there’s a _4_ mile gap between 801 stations there.
        And it’s not like those fields near Estancia will remain empty.

        To be clear, I’d much rather live closer in (and I do). But not everyone has that option, and it’s increasingly looking like we (Austin) are not going to do very much if anything to make that an option for more. Given that, people _will_ be forced to live this far out. When they do so, it will be probably (again, depending on the actual building density) be reasonably easy to serve them with good (not great) transit.

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