Dripping Springs suspends new development for 90 days to plan for growth
Builders and developers looking to innovate in Dripping Springs will be waiting a few months now that the city has put the start of new projects on hold until at least February.
Dripping Springs, which lies several miles west of Austin in northern Hays County, has grown significantly over the past decade, slowly straining resources and adding more traffic to its already highways very busy.
A series of meetings with residents led city leaders to declare a temporary moratorium on development in November that will affect permits for new developments, including subdivisions, site planning and construction within the boundaries of the city and extraterritorial jurisdiction for residential and commercial projects.
As the city has grown, so have the use of resources and roads, and the city will take the next few months to figure out how to meet the needs of residents and create a sustainable way forward, a said Mayor Bill Foulds.
Data from the US Census Bureau shows that the size of Drippings Springs has more than doubled over the past decade, from 1,943 people in 2010 to 4,119 people in 2019, an increase of 112%.
The solution is twofold: increase wastewater capacity and change the overall plan, a document that determines the city’s development goals, Foulds said.
With thousands of homes slated for construction and over the next several years, city leaders have said that a sustainable way forward means being proactive in providing adequate water and sanitation services.
The city’s wastewater treatment capacity serves 2,250 residential and commercial connections. But Foulds said the city is working to increase capacity to an additional 1,800 licensed connections, which is required by state law. The increased capacity could carry the city over the next 15 years.
But this authorization encountered roadblocks.
State regulators from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in February 2019 allowed the city to begin expansion of its wastewater treatment plant.
But after the environmental activist group Save our Springs Alliance filed a lawsuit against the TCEQ, claiming the permit allows the city to dump more than 800,000 gallons of treated sewage into Onion Creek every day, causing damage to a clear, pristine waterway in the area, a state district court in October 2020 canceled the permit, stopping the project.
Dripping Springs is appealing the decision, and the case is scheduled to be heard in an El Paso courtroom in January, Foulds said.
“We cannot start building the plant at this time as our permit is still in dispute and will have to change design,” he said. “But we are still moving forward with other parts of the project. We are laying out the outline to serve it so that (we are ready) when we can build.
Bill Bunch, executive director of the SOS Alliance, said that while the technology enables high levels of wastewater treatment, elements remain in the discharged water that is harmful to waterways and native species.
“Our goal is to keep treated wastewater out of Onion Creek and Edwards Aquifer, and out of all of our crystal clear Hill Country waterways,” said Bunch.
He said the group had pushed cities to use irrigation and reuse permits, which allow cities to use treated water to irrigate parks, medians and golf courses. It may be a better option for humans and aquatic life, Bunch said.
Foulds said the city has started doing so and is committed to preventing any discharge from the streams.
Meanwhile, Foulds said the city has not reached capacity. But, with several thousand more homes and more businesses on the horizon, it could put a strain on the system.
“We have room to grow now, but the problem is, so many houses have been approved, and they will use that capacity quickly,” Foulds said. “We have started to plan and we see the need for demand. ”
Foulds said he hoped the moratorium would give the permit litigation time to unfold.
Responsible growth also means taking into account the effects of rapid growth on density and transportation – and updating the city’s comprehensive plan can help address that, Foulds said.
The plan determines where low and high density developments, as well as commercial districts, are to be placed. The last time the city updated its full plan was in 2016, when Dripping Springs’ population was just over 2,400.
“In 2016, we never envisioned this kind of growth,” Foulds said. “This time around, we’re going to broaden the scope and include more areas within (extraterritorial jurisdiction), so that we can better identify the different areas and what the needs are.”
Until February, and possibly beyond, the city plans to hold several public meetings with residents and business owners to work out what this updated plan will look like to handle traffic on US 290, RM 150 and RM 12.
Residents said traffic during pick-up and return-to-school hours, and after work, can create delays of 30 to 40 minutes, sometimes longer, even if people only drive a few miles. Some doctors’ offices and other professional services have had their business affected by traffic because patients miss their appointments or refuse to come during those hours.
Foulds said the city also plans to work with the Dripping Springs School District, which knows where new schools will need to be built to keep up with the growth.
The next 90 days
Some projects will continue to move forward. In areas such as Arrowhead Ranch, Caliterra, and Big Sky Ranch, construction will be able to continue as the sewage needed for these homes has been factored into current capacity.
Facilities that will be autonomous in water and septic tanks will also be exempt from the moratorium.
Residents can also ask questions and learn more about the moratorium during a virtual open doors from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.