Country in the Texas Hill Country

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Regular readers of our humble blog remember that I purchased 2 acres of land outside of Austin, near lots several other members of my family also purchased. (See here for some details, and here for some photos). Apparently, we got a good deal, though we don't yet have water lines, the county is suggesting that shall occur sooner rather than later. Also, I don't think any residents of The Land of Many Names is planning to build a McMansion: a few green, eco-friendly cottages perhaps, but nothing ostentatious. Perhaps we could invite Mr. Nelson to come to a camp-out, and bring his guitar?

Wildflowers at Yurt-i-stan

Battling to Keep the Country in the Texas Hill Country - New York Times:
... 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.

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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.

Locals have had some success, most notably with West Cypress Hills, a subdivision planned on 1,000 acres near Bee Cave. Three years ago, nearby residents sued the developer, accusing it of sending runoff into a nearby creek. In December, the developer agreed to clean up the creek, follow strict environmental rules and reduce the number of homes built. The fight prompted the county to put together stronger development rules.

Many Hill Country developers say they are trying to do what they can to preserve the region’s rural feel, by setting aside land as open space and putting homes on large lots.

The singer Willie Nelson, who is carving off 65 acres of his 688-acre ranch for upscale homes on large lots overlooking the Pedernales River in Spicewood, Tex., says he plans to leave most of his land untouched.

In the first phase of Mr. Nelson’s project, Tierra Vista, 41 lots will range in size from one to two acres and cost an average of $175,000. Work on roads and utilities is expected to start this month.

At Belvedere, an upscale subdivision in Bee Cave, more than a quarter of the 443 acres will be used for a nature preserve. Homes will sit on one- to three-acre lots and range in price from $850,000 to $1.5 million. About 30 houses are under construction. The few that have been completed have sold quickly, said its developer, Joel Robuck, because buyers want a “little more land, vistas and trees nearby.”

A population explosion in Austin and in nearby San Antonio is also helping to rework the face of the Hill Country. In the 1990s, Austin’s population jumped 33 percent, to more than 656,500, while San Antonio’s grew by 15 percent, to 1.1 million, according to the 2000 census. In the last seven years, Austin’s population has grown by an additional 12 percent and San Antonio’s by 15 percent.

I first arrived in Austin in the summer of 1981, and we moved the next year. Hard to imagine how quaint the city was, but that era will never return. At least there is some who want to preserve the natural beauty of the area. Water is always the key, as it is in so many areas of the U.S. that were once uninhabitable (Phoenix, Southern California, etc.).

Although growth had nibbled at the edge of the Hill Country for years, it never got far because there was never enough water. What little water there was could be found in creeks and underground aquifers, making people dependent on the weather and wells.

“Water is as important as land,” said James Kerby, owner of Kerby Development in Austin, who is planning a 500-acre development next to the Lowenthals’ home.

But in the last five years, the Lower Colorado River Authority, which controls regional water supplies, has made it possible to put up thousands of new homes. The utility, at the behest of developers and some residents, has been laying new pipelines across the Hill Country that carry lake water to outlying areas. But in the process, it has run into protests.

“The L.C.R.A.’s willingness to bankroll developers is destroying the Hill Country,” said Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance.

The utility, meanwhile, contends it has to sell water to anyone who wants it. There is plenty of water in nearby lakes, it says, and the utility can ease the strain on the aquifer by installing pipelines. “If we have the water, then legally we have to provide the water,” said Joseph J. Beal, the authority’s general manager.

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A good divining rod should do the trick for water, isn't that the way people do? It does look lovely, unkept lovely instead of manicured garden. Good luck. Only you would make me be commenting at this time of day.:P))

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on July 8, 2007 1:18 PM.

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