Search for the Best Use
As Austin and Cedar Park began to rapidly expand towards Leander, it became clear in the 1990’s that the small town of Leander would soon experience explosive growth. (They were right! From 1990 to 2015, the city’s population multiplied over 10 times from 3,398 residents to 37,889.) Over 2300 acres from FM 2243 to High Gabriel East was the largest area of undeveloped land in the northeast corner of the city, and both the city planners and land owners were seeking the best possible use for the land.
In 2003, the city of Leander partnered with Capital Metro, the Austin area transit provider, to undertake an economic analysis to compare the current growth patterns with a more urban design. It was determined that urban planning would double the value of the property located in the area from $1 to $2 billion of development.
Six landowners funded a half-million dollar study and plan. In September 2005, the City Council unanimously approved the master plan and code for the Transit Oriented Development District (TOD) which would ultimately include 2300 acres with growth projected to be over 30,000 people, and many of the minute transit and infrastructure details.
Engineers and planners were excited by the possibility of encouraging the best use of the land and avoiding the most common design mistakes that plague so many cities. They carefully considered policy issues such as: keeping homes affordable; how to encourage green building; how to maintain a diverse architectural style that maintains its class and character; how to encourage developers and landowners to cooperate on product types and projects; how to partner with the State of Texas on roads and water issues; how to partner with Williamson County on roads, courts, indigent health care, and drainage issues; how to assure the existing residents of Old Town Leander the vision and development of the TOD will benefit their needs and desires sooner rather than later; how to incorporate important civic opportunities for churches, performance centers, activity centers, and many other critical city services.
Planning from the Past for the Future
Before World War II, cities and towns created places where the residents could live within close walking distance of their essential needs including retail stores, schools, parks and open space, transit stops and for some, even their workplace. The TOD creates a compact urban downtown environment with the train station, retail stores, and commercial space surrounded by a ring of mixed use neighborhoods, and then more residential space followed by a rural space. A distinct neighborhood that allows each family to choose their environment while still being safe to walk or ride a bike to school or work.