A $150 million project is expected to bring thousands of new rooftops and other development to the Spicewood area over the next 15 to 20 years — one of the largest master-planned communities proposed in recent years for a growing part of Central Texas.
The 2,200-acre Thomas Ranch development is planned for 2,200 acres off Texas 71 and Paleface Ranch Road, on property that straddles parts of western Travis and eastern Burnet counties. The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved plans for developing the community. The project will also require approvals from Burnet County.
The project will surround extensive shoreline along the Pedernales River and will have access to Lake Travis and nearby creeks and streams, said Tom D’Alesandro of Illinois-based Blakefield LLC, the project’s lead developer.
“This is not going to be another subdivision with a sea of residential rooftops,” D’Alesandro said. “We have assembled a team of visionary leaders in their fields to ensure that Thomas Ranch preserves the natural beauty of the Texas Hill Country while creating a unique Central Texas community.”
Over time, Thomas Ranch will include about 3,000 homes and 300 apartments, plus shops, entertainment venues, restaurants, a resort hotel and spa, a town square and community gardens. A network of trails for walking, jogging and hiking will connect the areas, D’Alesandro said.
The project will offer various housing types, from 1,500 square-foot cottages to custom homes of 4,000 to 5,000 square feet on multi-acre lots.
D’Alesandro has a history developing master-planned communities, including high-profile projects like The Woodlands near Houston and The Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio.
D’Alesandro said the Thomas Ranch development team this year will begin working on a plat — a map drawn to scale showing the proposed construction — to be submitted to the county for approval. Work on roads, utilities and other infrastructure is expected to begin in 2018, and construction on the houses is anticipated to start in 2019, he said.
Plans call for building three villages, with each constructed in four to five phases.
“We expect that the community will develop on a 15- to 20-year timetable,” D’Alesandro said. “We plan to begin construction in 2019 on two villages – one that borders the Pedernales River and another that rises 400 feet above the river with panoramic views of the Hill Country.”
A third village, to be built next to Texas 71 and starting in four to five years, would include homes as well as the mixed-use part of the community, he said.
He said “a modest amount of retail” is expected in the early phases of development, with the bulk coming three to four years after the first homes become available.
In developing Thomas Ranch, D’Alesandro said Blakefield is committed to building a sustainable community that respects the environment.
“Thomas Ranch is committed to maintaining the beauty of the area’s natural landscape,” D’Alesando said, which includes preserving native trees, respecting the land’s topography and using low-level lighting to preserve views of the sky.
Hart Howerton, a team of planners, architects, landscape architects and interior designers, prepared the master plan for Thomas Ranch, with an aim to integrate the natural environment into the development, D’Alesandro said.
“We took a ‘design with nature’ approach to laying out the community” — a land-planning approach that starts with the preservation of the most sensitive land and which he said was used in developing The Woodlands.
“In our master development plan, we started with the preservation of the most important open spaces on the property, and designed the community around these spaces,” D’Alesandro said. “We also have an agreement with LCRA to restrict water to be used for irrigation within the community.
Vaike O’Grady, a local housing market consultant, said that like the rest of Austin, demand for housing has grown in western Travis County, although most of the growth has been in the established Lake Travis area. A challenge has been affordability — the average base price for a new home in the area was $493,378 at the end of 2016, she said.
“Thomas Ranch appears to be positioning itself as a destination, with not only multiple product — and presumably price — offerings, but also a significant investment in creating community and providing needed services,” said O’Grady, Austin regional director for Metrostudy, which tracks the housing market. “Staying true to that vision will be important to its success.”