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Welcome home: Whisper Valley is a sustainable version of a 'throwback' neighborhood

Whisper Valley has already completed phase one of its master-planned community. (Whisper Valley)

Nestled far east between Austin and Manor, Whisper Valley is a quiet, tight-knit community that is united through sustainability, neighborly values and a firm commitment to camaraderie.

Whisper Valley has created a new type of community—one that actually saves energy during the winter storm and "driven by the inspiration to do the right thing." Though it may be a little far from the city center, Whisper Valley developers predict the 2,067-acre will be well-known for its unconventional method in the coming years.

Driving through the community, you're bound to notice the array or solar panels on every home and the quiet ambiance. What you won't see is the underground geothermal system that keeps the community running up to 70% more efficiently and uses a small fraction of the energy that a similar development would.

"The large difference is the ground source heat pump is transferring heat back and forth to the ground through water," EcoSmart Solutions Community Relations Manager David Currie said. "An air source heat pump is rejecting heat to the outdoor air."

Most homes are cooled and heated with air, which is "really terrible" at transferring heat according to Currie. Instead, the company uses water as its medium—underneath each home is a borehole and eco-friendly PEX-A or HDPE piping, which EcoSmart uses to circulate water throughout the entire development with its geogrid.

Currie often compares the system to the human body—people sweat because water is more effective at transferring heat away on a hot summer's day.

When Texas' momentous winter storm hit in February, the electricity grid collapsed due to peak demand from homes across the state all at once. That problem doesn't happen with Whisper Valley homes; the Sunday before the storm hit, Currie said his small Austin apartment used 100-kilowatt hours of energy while EcoSmart Solution's home-turned-office only used 44 kWh.

They even offer seeds at the community center. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

But sustainability is only what brings homeowners to the development—it's the robust community that keeps them there.

Take it from residents Jennifer Abbamonte and Melissa Walker, who said they moved from the Washington D.C. area in March. When the pair first arrived in Austin they were planning on buying a condo downtown and originally toured Whisper Valley to rule it out. They put in an offer just days later.

"We had no thoughts of living out here and didn't realize the open house that we were coming to tour was in Whisper Valley," Abbamonte said. "It was a pretty quick decision once we saw the community and met some of the folks that were already a part of it."

The amenities that come with Whisper Valley are also highly relationship-focused: residents teach yoga classes by the pool, give away homegrown vegetables from the community garden and there's even a Slack group chat dedicated to the neighborhood.

Abbamonte and Walker are frequent block party hosts, where they said up to 50 of their neighbors gather for drinks, games, barbecues and just having an old-fashioned good time. They said they've made some great friends since living in Whisper Valley.

"It's more of the old, throwback neighborhood feel," Walker said. "We've lent tools out, people have lent us their tools. People are happy to come over and help you move a piece of furniture if you can't. People want to give things away or exchange things and there's an ongoing conversation."

Additionally, Whisper Valley has a commitment to affordable housing, with new homes starting in the $300,000's. If you're not ready to buy, the development is in the process of building apartments, duplexes and homes to rent, so the technology is at least more accessible to the masses. Buying a sustainable home also offers the advantage of federal tax credits, which come in at 26% at the moment.

With phase one complete, phases two, three and four of the development are underway and though there isn't much to see yet, there will be anywhere from 800-1,000 dwellings.

The homes will be joined by plans for restaurants, shopping centers, schools and more in the coming years, which Currie says also have the possibility to connect to the geogrid. Plus, another EcoSmart and Millican Reserve development is in the works in College Station, so the technology is scalable.

"We're taking this as a template and then dropping it elsewhere, working with developers, making sure that we work with the city that everybody understands the concept," Currie said. "At the end of the day, everybody comes home a winner because we're doing things right by the environment, saving people money, and we're doing something a little bit different to try and force a positive change."


‘Like speed dating of cats’ at Purr-fecto Cat Lounge
Purr-fecto Cat Lounge

Lina Martinez with her newly adopted cat, Emmanuel, who she renamed Sullivan.

Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.

As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.

“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”

Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.

“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”

Actually, a purr-fect idea.

Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.

At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”

Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.

“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”

Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.

“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”

Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.

“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”

Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.

“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”

And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.

“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”

Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.

“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”

Austin's 7 Best Indian Restaurants

We all have those cravings for an amazing butter chicken or some authentic dosas with coconut chutney, but when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to satisfy my taste buds I realized that my list of great Indian food around Austin was surprisingly short. After doing some research and asking around, here is your list of the best Indian restaurants around town.

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