Buda council will decide next steps

By Brittany Anderson

BUDA — The development agreement for a hotly-debated mixed-use development was denied  – but that does not necessarily stop it from being built.  

During the Planning and Zoning meeting on July 26, the commission voted 5-0 to deny the MileStone Community Builders development agreement for the proposed Persimmon development, which would be located off FM 967 on the Bailey and Armbruster tracts of land. Chair Jeffrey Cottrill and commissioner Matthew Wright were not present at the meeting. 

The decision to deny the agreement received cheers and applause from the audience, as the development has been met with criticism from the community: Increased traffic in already congested areas, removal of trees and wildlife, and potential impacts to the Edwards Aquifer transition zone the land sits on top of, name a few. Many feel it will threaten the livelihood of Buda’s residents and environment.

Persimmon totals 775 acres, with 349 acres being in the Bailey tract and 426 acres being in the Armbruster tract. There are 471 acres within the City of Buda ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction) and 302 acres within the City of Austin ETJ.

Along with 2,800 single family homes, the development boasts an extensive connective trail network and other outdoor amenities, plus a minimum of 10 acres for retail. MileStone CEO Garrett Martin estimates that home prices will range from the $400s to the low millions, and maintains that 75% of signature trees and 85% of heritage trees would be preserved. 

Persimmon has been in the works for around five years, since MileStone bought the land through a private acquisition, but was delayed due to transportation-related issues, which they were asked to find solutions. Martin said that the backbone of the proposed $41 million transportation solution is a connection from 967 to 1626, something they have worked on over the last two years. 

“We expanded dramatically [with]the land ownership,” Martin said. “We bought the Armbruster tract and added that into the development in order to facilitate and enable a transportation solution for the region.” 

Martin said that because phases 1 and 2 of the project would help fund the initial parts of phase 3, which includes the connector, completing phase 3 before 1 and 2 is not possible. Upwards of 325 homes could be built before the connector is completed, marking one of the biggest concerns for residents. 

The July 26 meeting saw over a dozen residents speak during the public hearing portion on the item. This sort of public response isn’t new: many have come forward during both planning and zoning and city council meetings to express their disapproval of the project. 

“In looking at the presentation, it’s evident that they have addressed greatly the quality of life for the people who will be living in there,” resident Robert Hesselbrock said. “My question is, at what cost to the quality of life of the adjacent communities?” 

P&Z Vice Chairman Emily Jones, who has 25 years of experience in the construction development industry, said that this is one of the largest residential developments that Buda has seen and must be approached with “great care and attention.” 

Courtesy of MileStone/City of Buda An overview of Persimmon, divided into the Armbruster Tract (left side) and Bailey Tract (right side). The development is also in different extraterritorial jurisdictions (Buda/Austin) and counties (Hays/Travis).

Jones said that this version of the agreement was submitted on July 20, giving development services staff about four to five working days to review the agreement before the meeting if they spent “every hour working on it.” 

“My personal and professional opinion…is to put together a package that minimizes questions and objections as much as humanly possible,” Jones said. “A complete package should be hard to poke holes in, should be easy for everyone to follow the bouncing ball, and creates a sense of confidence in everybody that’s looking at it. This is not that scenario…There are parts that are incomplete, and it feels very pushed.”

Jones also noted that staff’s feedback said some parts of the agreement were not clear or incomplete, and that many were left with questions that required more time to review and be answered. 

Martin, however, said that this project brings “unequivocally more benefits than any other subdivision could be required to bring,” saying that it is a result of great give and take that’s taken place over the years. MileStone says they are proactively going “much further than they are required” to ensure a project that benefits both the broader community and future residents. 

“It’s a cornerstone of everything that’s asked for in the code from Buda and beyond,” Martin said. “A lot of the things you’ve heard tonight that are concerns have actually already been addressed, but because of that information flow issue — and there are a lot of moving parts — it’s a living project where we are responding to the requests we’ve been receiving to make the project better. Unfortunately, it’s happened over five years. There’s only a few of us who have seen the movie from start to finish.” 

MileStone has grown restless, asking that commissioners approve the agreement so they can take it to council and present it in its entirety instead of going back and forth and delaying construction. Many in the community have questioned this sense of urgency, but to Martin, it’s a “simple economic equation.”

“We’ve been at it for five years. I think we’ve all become aware of the need for housing supply to try and keep housing prices more reasonable,” Martin said. “We’re doing our very best to bring supply to the marketplace to meet that demand. Five years is not a reasonable time frame. I think the vast majority of people would agree, especially people looking for a house. … If the vote is, ‘we can’t support this project,’ that’s ok. We would prefer that over continually being stuck in this quagmire of information that’s hodgepodge-y where we’re not actually dealing with the facts.” 

While MileStone sought the commission’s approval of the agreement during the meeting, the commissioners ultimately were not ready to do so, and unanimously made the recommendation to deny it. This recommendation will next go to Buda City Council, which acts as the final authority. 

Buda Planning Director Melissa McCollum said that the council has a variety of actions it could take, such as recommending to approve the agreement as is or with conditions, recommend to deny or table the agreement or recommend to send it back to P&Z. 

But those against the development shouldn’t celebrate just yet. MileStone representatives have made it clear that regardless of where the city stands, Persimmon is going to get built. If the development agreement is denied by the Buda City Council, MileStone representatives have stated they will start to operate under Hays County rules and regulations, which differ greatly from the city of Buda. 

In Texas, property owners have the right to develop their property under county standards without required consent from the city. Counties are required to approve projects under very broad standards. 

Martin said that if the agreement is denied, all of the commitments MileStone made in the original agreement would go away. As such, a 1626 connector is “not likely,” and more connections through the Coves of Cimarron are possible instead; only the Garlic Creek Parkway connection up to the future SH 45 will be required. Apartments are also plausible, and the minimum amount of commercial space would look different. 

Regarding the 75% signature tree and 85% heritage tree preservation and the over 100-year-old dairy barn that is set to be repurposed, Martin said these will ultimately be up to their [MileStone’s] discretion, since these commitments would also go away. 

Many Buda residents have voiced that they are not anti-development. Though Hays County is exploding with growth, there is still a sense of small-town camaraderie among the community, as residents think about the city’s future, looking at a development like Persimmon as something that will change the fabric of their home quickly and drastically. 

“I’m not anti-development, but I am against development that’s short-sighted, poorly planned and leaves current residents to deal with the mess left behind long after the developers are gone,” resident Robin Perry said. 

Council is expected to discuss the development agreement at its Sept. 6 meeting. MileStone will also hold an information session on Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Garlic Creek Community Center in Buda.

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