San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 28th, 2008
Slower Kyle growth makes planning a puzzle

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

KYLE – Changing market conditions have changed the tune on the largest issue facing Kyle. Instead of merely being concerned with growth, Kyle officials must now puzzle over the speed of growth.

A dramatic slowdown in building during the last two years is one reason the city implemented a new spending freeze last week. The city now can expect the associated fees from about half of the single-family building permits it has realized for most of this decade. The city is projecting only 464 such permits this year, which is half of the 925 issued in 2006.

A year-end projected total of 464 building permits for single-family homes would represent the lowest such figure in Kyle since 1999, when it issued 323 such permits. Since 1999, the city has grown about five-fold, up to an estimated 27,310, according to report on growth trends City Manager Tom Mattis presented to the city council last week.

From 2002 through 2006, the city issued an average of 979 building permits for single-family homes, peaking at 1,220 in 2004. In 2007, that number dropped to 561, putting it at 1,025 for 2007 and 2008 combined. The present two-year number is more in line with the city’s housing growth in 2000-2001, when it issued a total of 1,059 single-family building permits (576 in 2000 and 483 in 2001).

The rapidly declining speed of Kyle’s growth, tied by almost every account to a national housing slow-down, turns virtually every element of long-range planning into a moving target. All the city really knows is that it has approved 13,222 living unit equivalents (LUEs) that are yet to be constructed.

If all those should be built out, the city’s population could grow to as much as 76,958 at a high average of 3.57 residents per water account. Or, it could grow to as low as 59,926 at the lower average of 2.78 residents per account. Either scenario raises the possibility that Kyle would become the largest city in Hays County.

In his presentation to the city council, Mattis also pointed to 27,310 as the most likely count of the city’s present population. The city declared itself past 25,000 more than a year ago and has taken to discussing its affairs in terms of a city with 30,000, but he said the more detailed information in the growth report suggests the middle number.

Cities often use the number of residential water accounts times a multiplier to estimate population. At 2.78, which is a fairly standard multiplier for that purpose, the city’s population would be 23,360. At an even 3.00, it would be 25,209. At 3.25, Mattis arrived at the 27,310 on which he based the present population claim. To be at 30,000, Kyle would have to average 3.57 people per residential water account.

Mattis said his sense of the number of people living in Kyle houses, both from observation and anecdotally, leads him to believe that average is on the higher end.

That aside, the question now becomes how fast the city can expect to grow. If it grows at the average growth rate of the last two years, which is 1,667 residents annually, it will reach 43,983 in 2018. If it grows at the rapid rate of 2002-2006, which is 3,182 residents annually, the city reaches 59,128 residents in 2018, If it grows at a rate in between, such as 2,369 annually from 2005-2008, it comes to 51,003 in 2018.

“Part of our challenge is understanding how fast we’re going to grow,” Mattis said. “Are we growing the way we grew when we had the high growth rate, or are we going to grow the way we have the last two years?”

In addition to budgetary considerations, the question also bears on the city’s infrastructural development, especially as it concerns water. Slower growth buys the city time to address the issues, but at the cost of reduced fee revenues from construction.

For example, 2,332 approved LUEs that have yet to be built are outside the city’s water service area. That’s more than 10 percent of the city’s full build out, which comes to 21,509 LUEs.

In total, nearly 10,000 approved LUEs that will require city water service are yet to be constructed. A majority of those are in Plum Creek, where 85 percent of the approved LUEs have yet to be built. The development, which figures to be complete in about 15 years, has built only 1,366 out of 8,799 living units. Outside of Plum Creek, though, more than 71 percent of the approved living units within the city’s water service area are complete.

The city identified 28 residential subdivisions, counting the original core of town, along with three apartment complexes. Of those, only 10 are at least 90 percent built out, and those do not include the most active developments in the city. From 2005 to now, Hometown Kyle leads the way with 468 homes built, followed by Plum Creek (350) and Kensington Trails (348).

Plum Creek remains the most populated part of the city, containing 16 percent of the homes built in Kyle. The original part of town ranks second at 10 percent, followed by Steeplechase (seven percent), Hometown Kyle (six percent), Amberwood (six percent) and Spring Branch (six percent).

According to the city’s figures, Kyle more than doubled from 5,714 residents in 2000 to 13,075 in 2003, then barely more than doubled again to 26,179 in 2007.

If the city were to double again in the next five years, it would reach past 52,000 residents in 2012. But in today’s slow housing market and tight lending environment, that’s a prediction no one is making.

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