From 2019-2020, a higher percentage of people moved to one Central Texas city than any other in the nation—and it wasn't the tech hub of Austin, Texas.
Instead, it was a former sleepy suburb tucked away in the nearby Hill Country. Leander, Texas, situated just north of fellow northwest Austin suburb Cedar Park, had the highest growth rate in the nation for two years in a row, swelling from just 26,000 residents in 2010 to nearly 60,000 in the latest U.S. Census.
Some may start to scratch their heads at those who choose to move to the lesser-known suburb when "boomtown" Austin is just around the corner. But while the Texas capital has priced or crowded out many prospective buyers and renters, Leander offers relatively cheaper real estate alongside a small-town feel.
The result has been explosive growth—something Thrive realtor and former Leander City Council Member Shanan Shepard has seen firsthand.
"I'm very well aware of what (growth) felt like all the way back to probably 2012," Shepherd said. "The city has wanted to grow, (and) over time, there's been a strong effort by the city to encourage development here."
Once a town of fewer than 10,000, Leander now boasts two of the fastest-growing residential neighborhoods in the Austin metro, and its county, Williamson County, saw 32.3% growth in home sales in February (Austin, meanwhile, saw home sales increase 2.5%). Swaths of new businesses and developments, including a $715 million, mixed-use shopping and dining "town center" development, have planted roots in the hilly countryside, and a new Cap Metro rail line is in the works to help bring commuters into Austin's city hub.
Shepherd, who formerly worked on the city's Economic Development Committee, said this is no accident.
"(It's) wanted to see development, wanted restaurants and retail and just commercial opportunities for two reasons: to diversify the tax base so that all of the tax burden didn't fall on homeowners... (and) for people to live here, to go to dinner or go shop and get your car washed," Shepherd said. "There's a higher education level generally and more disposable income in households, so all those things make it attractive for commercial development."
Leander's not alone: Austin suburbs from Round Rock to Buda have been eyed as some of the fastest-growing suburbs in recent years, thanks in part to rising Austin prices, new tech jobs and the desire for quieter lives amid the pandemic. But Shepherd said a few things still set Leander atop the list.
"I don't know that it's exclusive anymore," Shepherd said. "It used to be, and a lot of it was just affordability that it's pretty. There are a lot of trees and rolling hills and some of those other areas don't have as much of that. So it was a combination of those things, and 183 makes it an easy commute into Austin."
But even those far north Austin suburbs aren't immune to Austin's new housing prices. Williamson County's median home price is inching up to Travis County's at $479,000 in February, up 32.7% from the year before.
That's reflected in Shepherd's customer base, which increasingly includes investors and may indicate a new kind of growth coming to the area.
"We don't see a whole lot of young buyers anymore because, frankly, they've been priced out," Shepherd said. "Most of the people here are actually investors. There's a lot of people looking to invest here because of the growth."
- The top five hottest rental markets in Austin right now - austonia ›
- Geometric Leander Airbnb named one of the 'coolest' in the U.S. ... ›
- Leander City Council will decide tonight whether to hold an election ... ›
- Mixed-use community coming between Austin and San Antonio - austonia ›
- Audit report finds city making slow progress on website accessibility, usability - austonia ›
The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call an emergency special legislative session to consider a variety of gun restrictions and safety measures in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead this week.
In a letter released Saturday morning, all 13 Senate Democrats demanded lawmakers pass legislation that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 years old. The Uvalde gunman was 18 and had purchased two AR-style rifles which he used in the attack.
The caucus is also calling for universal background checks for all firearm sales, “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people who are considered an imminent threat to themselves or others, a “cooling off period” for the purchase of a firearm and regulations on high capacity magazines for citizens.
“Texas has suffered more mass shootings over the past decade than any other state. In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School outside Houston, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa,” the letter reads. “After each of these mass killings, you have held press conferences and roundtables promising things would change. After the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, those broken promises have never rung more hollow. The time to take real action is now.”
Such laws are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has a track record of favoring legislation that loosens gun restrictions. Only the governor has the power to call lawmakers back into a special session for emergency work.
Asked about a special session at a Friday press conference in Uvalde, Abbott said “all options are on the table” adding that he believed laws would ultimately be passed to address this week’s horrors. However, he suggested laws would be more tailored toward addressing mental health, rather than gun control.
“You can expect robust discussion and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state,” he said, “That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and do nothing about it.”
He resisted the idea of increasing the age to purchase a firearm, saying that since Texas became a state, 18-year-olds have been able to buy a gun.
He also dismissed universal background checks saying existing background check policies did not prevent the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings, which both happened while he has been in office.
“If everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and say that’s the golden strategy right there, look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting,” he said. “A background check had no relevance because the shooter took the gun from his parents…Anyone who suggests we should focus on background checks as opposed to mental health, I suggest is mistaken.”
Since the massacre at Robb Elementary School, the governor’s comments about potential solutions have centered around increasing mental health services, rather than restricting access to firearms.
This story has been edited for length.
- Help for Uvalde: Aid for families after the school shooting - austonia ›
- Manor, Georgetown, Round Rock schools face threats following ... ›
- Uvalde Shooting - austonia ›
- PHOTOS: Community mourns Uvalde shooting victims in vigil at ... ›
- Beto O'Rourke confronts Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at Uvalde press ... ›
- 14 elementary school students, 1 teacher killed in Uvalde shooting ... ›
- Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey calls for action following ... ›
- Police charge 15 year old in 6th Street mass shooting - austonia ›
Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
- Austin faces rocky road in hiking taxes for Project Connect - austonia ›
- City launches $65M in Project Connect anti-displacement plan ... ›
- CapMetro CEO switches to role in D.C. as Project Connect moves ... ›
- Project Connect doubles cost of Orange, Blue lines - austonia ›
- With Project Connect in the works, what place do EVs serve ... ›
- 5 ways Project Connect is moving forward in Austin - austonia ›
- Federal Transit Administration awards $750K for Project Connect ... ›
- Project Connect begins scoping phase, officially hitting the road ... ›
- Austonia answers: How feasible is the $7.1B Project Connect price ... ›
- The pros and cons of Austin's $7.1B transit plan Project Connect ›