Development in Bastrop has been temporarily put on hold.
The Bastrop City Council voted unanimously last week to put a 90-day moratorium on development permits. The city wants to use this time to update its land-development rules to try to prevent flooding, an effort it’s calling Building Bastrop. The council also approved an emergency ordinance related to drainage.
Bastrop Mayor Connie Schroeder has stressed that the city is “pro-development” and says the pause will give the city a chance to “create a roadmap for responsible development” amid rapid population growth.
“Our land-use regulations have been outdated,” she said. “We had tried over the years to make Band-Aid fixes to it, but there comes a point that, sometimes, you can’t change the tire on the car when it’s moving. You have to stop the car, and that’s what we’ve done with the moratorium.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency declared four disasters in Bastrop in the past three years. Now, the city has new data and updated floodplain maps to work from.
Schroeder says she doesn’t expect this moratorium to have any negative economic impact. The ordinance has exceptions built in for projects that won’t adversely affect drainage and projects that are already underway.
“We have two apartment complexes that are under construction,” Schroeder says. “We have several new homes that are being built behind Wal-Mart in a new subdivision called Pecan Park – all of that construction is continuing.”
The Bastrop City Council is holding its first meeting Thursday night to look at projects that could be exempted from the moratorium. City staff have also blocked off time Thursdays during the moratorium to meet with people who have questions. The city will hold an open house about Building Bastrop Sept. 18 at the Bastrop Convention Center.
Though the announcement came as a surprise for many, the moratorium has gained the support of local business leaders.
“Our council’s being very proactive in developing, and we want to have smart development,” Becki Womble, president of the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce, said. “We know [development is] coming. It’s grown out all around Austin, and we know it’s coming down [State Highway] 71, and I think this is just a very proactive step to take care of our community and have smart growth.”
Both Womble and Schroeder say they have not heard any pushback from residents about the moratorium. Womble says residents and business owners seem to support efforts to prevent the disastrous flooding of recent years.
Across Central Texas, some developers were unprepared for the news.
“It did catch us all off guard,” said David Glenn, director of government relations and policy the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin. "We’re being bombarded with questions. We don’t have the answers because we hadn’t had that communication with the city leading into it.”
When the news broke, the association put out a statement saying Bastrop could update its development regulations without pausing development, as other cities have done. Glenn says he is heartened by the exceptions, but any delays in permitting will ultimately result in more expensive home prices.
He also questions whether the city will be able to update its land-development rules in just three months.
“Our biggest concern right now is making sure that they meet their 90-day goal,” Glenn said. “There is a lot of interest in Bastrop right now. It’s definitely not our largest city in Central Texas, but there are a lot of builders who are looking [in] that direction ... and the longer that we wait, the less viable those projects are.”
Schroeder says there is a chance the moratorium could be extended if the city needs more time to rewrite its land-development code. One of the first steps in the process will be mapping what is on the ground now and what kind of development is working for Bastrop.
Matt Lewis worked on CodeNEXT, the now-defunct effort to rewrite Austin’s land-development code, before resigning in 2016. He’s now president of Austin-based Simple City Design, which was hired by the City of Bastrop to help rewrite its land-development rules.
With plenty of undeveloped land in Bastrop, he says, there’s an opportunity to guide new development in a way that fits with the natural environment. The analysis by Simple City Design will help the city decide how it should manage flood risk in the future.
“The geography of Bastrop is very unique,” Lewis said. “You’ve got blackland prairies in the Hill Country, East Texas piney woods. ... The Colorado River goes through there, but the area that it’s built in is kind of a low spot, and so area flooding is a real issue.”