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Wildhorse development still kicking—for now

Planned community for Northeast Austin moves forward a bit at county, but city could put kibosh on funding mechanism

A long-planned, mixed -use Northeast Austin development that has been in the planning stages for decades show signs of like Tuesday, when the Travis County Commissioners Court approved a funding mechanism for the project, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday.

The county approved setting the boundaries of a public improvement district for Wildhorse Ranch, a 1,450-acre residential and commercial development near Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park, according to the paper.

The unusual funding mechanism would allow the project’s developers to issue bonds through Travis County to pay for public amenities, such as roads and drainage improvements. The Statesman added that it is the first arrangement of its kind to go through the court, and that it is not clear if Austin officials will back up the court in allowing it.

Under the arrangement, developers would charge property owners who buy into the development $800 to $1,000 per year to pay off approximately $65 million in bonds for streets, parks, landscaping drainage, and other features, the Statesman story added.

County commissioners were not unanimous in their vote; some, such as Brigid Shea, and Margaret Gomez abstained, citing a lack detail in the plan.

City of Austin Council members are also involved, as the city is being asked to partner on road construction for the project, the story noted; Wildhorse has already received $6 million in city-funded water and sewer improvements.

Because the improvement district is inside Austin city limits, the Statesman pointed out, council members have 30 days to overturn it altogether. City staffers Tuesday noted concerns they have with public improvement districts, and council members expressed uncertainty about what such a district would mean to the city.

While County Judge Sarah Eckhardt tried to assure city officials that they would be included in every step of the project, Place One Council Member Ora Houston asserted that she had received no specific information about the improvement, despite the fact that it’s in her district.

Though Shea opposed the process, the county had earlier set rules for the hearing that would allow decision-making to go forward before some of the details are ironed out, as a “show of good faith” to the developers, the Statesman reported.

Travis County approves Wildhorse Ranch improvement district [AAS]