Counties feel effects of rapid growth

The growth in the Austin metro area cited Thursday by U.S. Census Bureau data doesn’t only mean more opportunities and challenges for the city of Austin and Travis County. Here are some insights into the changes that population growth is bringing about in nearby counties.

Bastrop County, +8.34%

2010: 74,329

2015: 80,527

Among the many people who have ventured to Bastrop County are Deidra Ciriello, 46, and Lowell Rothschild, 47, a husband and wife who both had long careers as government attorneys in Washington, D.C., before choosing a slower-paced life in Central Texas, where Ciriello grew up.

The pair moved to Bastrop’s historic downtown last summer and are restoring a 20th century building on Main Street. They came to Bastrop to escape from Austin’s traffic and congestion and stayed for the city’s character and community.

Living through the gentrification and development of northern Virginia and Washington, Rothschild said they have seen cities plan for growth well, and they have seen things go wrong when governments fail to plan ahead.

For Bastrop, they are hoping for the best.

“Our hope is that as Bastrop grows — and it will, there’s no other way for Austin to go — that it grows in a smart way that continues to respect that history, because it’s special,” Ciriello said.

— Jillian Beck

Williamson County, +19.23%

2010: 426,488

2015: 508,514

Williamson County saw an almost 4 percent increase in population from 2014 to 2015, which made it sixth in the country for growth over the past five years.

Sun City, a retirement community in Georgetown, continues to attract residents from all over the country. It has about 13,000 residents, including 77-year-old Charlotte French, who moved there in September 2015 from northern Virginia.

She came to live near one of her daughters and two of her grandchildren, she said, and loves the “whole vibe” of Texas. “The people of Texas are very, very friendly and very open and supportive,” French said.

She said she doesn’t miss the “wicked winters” in Virginia and plans to start selling some of her embroidery at a consignment shop in Georgetown

Sun City is planning for plenty of new residents. Pulte Homes, which developed the retirement community, started building 1,700 homes in the summer of 2015 on 770 acres called the Somerset tract near Ronald Reagan Boulevard and County Road 245.

In 2017, Pulte will break ground on the Queens tract — 365 acres at Texas 195 and Sun City Boulevard — where it plans to build 750 homes.

Claire Osborn

Hays County, +23.04

2010: 158,275

2015: 194,739

Hays County was the fastest-growing county in the nation for counties with 100,000 or more people and had a growth of 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015.

All that growth has hit its school district hard and forced it to grapple with difficult decisions. The county’s two high schools have hundreds more students than they can hold, and officials are looking for a location for a third school to relieve overcrowding. But agreeing on a location has proven difficult.

A committee narrowed the search to two sites: one in the northwestern part of the district, in the heart of Buda along RM 967, and the second in an undeveloped part of Travis County. The multijurisdictional location is only accessible by a narrow, two-lane road.

For a high school to be feasible in the Travis County location, Main Street from Buda would need to be extended. That would require Travis County voters to approve a transportation bond in an election in 2018, not soon enough for a 2019 school opening.

There is no guarantee Travis County voters would support the project, which would primarily serve Hays residents, said Tim Savoy, a Hays school district spokesman.

Concerns about the other location are also rooted in growth problems. While the infrastructure there supports the construction of a high school, residents are concerned about traffic along RM 967 and FM 1626.

The school board is expected to take a final vote on the location March 28. A bond election in May 2017 could garner as much as $230 million – enough to build the high school, as well as perhaps three middle schools and an elementary.

— Mary Huber

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