First in an occasional series
By BRAD ROLLINS
UHLAND — When Niederwald and Uhland residents get together next week for the first joint meeting in the two cities’ history, citizens of the (temporarily) tiny towns on the eastern edge of Hays County will have plenty to talk about.
The road that forms their backbone, Texas 21, in recent years has become a secondary Interstate 35, bearing a steady stream of passenger vehicles and freight trucks looking for an eastern route around Austin congestion.
Between 1995 and 2005, daily traffic on the highway’s stretch between FM 150 and FM 2001 more than doubled from 3,700 to 7,800, according to Texas Department of Transportation counts. That means the two-lane road without shoulders is carrying a full tenth of what traverses the parallel segment of six-lane Interstate 35 every day.
And when the latest segment of Texas 130 opens later this year, it will funnel tens of thousands of cars onto U.S. 183 just down the road from its intersection with Texas 21. It is not hard to see what is about to happen.
“We are individual cities with our own individual challenges but we share alot of challenges too,” said Diana Woods, the Uhland city administrator. “..This whole area is changing so fast and we’re both right in the middle of it.”
For one, Uhland’s 2000 population of 330 and Niederwald’s 584 are together still less than the population of any number of moderately sized subdivision that are popping up along 21, especially in the increasingly populous interface between Buda and Kyle and Niederwald and Uhland. That the state transportation department now says Texas 21 may be expanded as a toll road just seems to underscore the costs of growth.
In a quandary faced by communities up and down Texas 130’s eventual 93-mile sweep from the interstate south of San Antonio to the interstate north of Austin, Niederwald and Uhland are facing the prospect of soon not existing, at least not as we know them, and they know themselves.
For both towns, its the realization of a longtime fear going back to the mid-1980s when residents of both towns feared Austin was annexing its way down U.S. 183 en route to gobbling them up. Uhland’s incorporation in 1985 and Niederwald’s in 1986 were motivated primarily by residents’ desire to have more of a stake in their future.
“The towns had a rural identity and a community identity and the citizens didn’t want to kind of melt into other incorporated areas that didn’t know much about the people here. They wanted to be self-governing,” Woods said.
Said Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, “One one side you have Austin and the other side you have San Marcos and the [charter citizens of Niederwald and Uhland were concerned about maintaining their own character.”
But the municipalities have functioned essentially hands-off since then. Neither own public utilities or have police departments or zoning laws largely leaving them unequipped for accomplishing their goals of self-preservation. Uhland didn’t even levy a property tax until this year. Now the cities crowding their boundaries are former small towns themselves in the throes of growth: San Marcos, Kyle and Buda.
This summer, Uhland won a round of chess with Kyle when property owners west of Texas 21 at its intersection with Farm-to-Market Road 150 voluntarily joined Uhland’s ETJ to pre-empt an anticipated expansion by Kyle when it annexes the planned Pecan Woods residential subdivision. A few months earlier, it was Kyle and Buda fighting over another valuable eastside intersection, Farm-to-Market Road 1626 and Farm-to-Market Road 2770. In both cases, Kyle ended up with half the intersection.
Further south, where the next Texas 130 segment will connect U.S. 183 and U.S. 123 at Martindale before continuing on to Interstate 10.
In July, San Marcos declared its population to be 50,000, giving it the right to expanded its territorial jurisdiction by a mile and a half when it declared the city’s population to be more than 50,000. Reaching this threshold expands from two to three and a half miles the area where city land subdivision and some land use rules apply in anticipation of future annexation. On the same night San Marcos leaders met, the Martindale city council held an emergency meeting a few miles away to expand their own ETJ to include Turner Crest Village, a 3,000-home subdivision that is planned for
Texas 142 just outside Martindale.
With little more than a thousand residents, Martindale cannot annex surrounding property until it reaches 5,000. If the subdivision is built, it 3,000 homes at least two people per home gets them to that threshold.
Impending growth has dominated discussion in recent city elections as the sleepy river community’s residents brace for what they expect to soon be far more newcomers that old-timers.
“It feels like there is an attempt for the bigger cities to get as much property along 130 in their ETJ as possible so it can be annexed later. That is where a lot of business is going to pop up and everyone wants to be in place to take advantage of it,” Martindale Mayor Patricia Petersen said in July. “San Marcos is about to blow right by us on both sides and there will be big impacts for us. They’re a lot bigger and stronger than us but we’re going to put our best foot forward.”
In March, the Kyle city council certified their city’s population as 25,000 which expanded their ETJ from one mile to two. A month later, New Braunfels officials declared their population 50,000 giving them similar wiggle room to stretch eastward toward Texas 130.
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