You may have already heard the news around Hudson Bend, but there are some big changes going on around these parts.
With so much expansion happening in the Lake Travis area, several neighborhoods are experiencing growing pains that come along with it. As more and more businesses seek to call the area home, people and families come with them from all parts of Texas and the country.
Everyone has their idea of what life in Lake Travis should be like, and how it should continue for years to come. It would be a mistake to let go of the unique and cherished Texas history that permeates the area — that is why it’s so important to protect the special essence that thrives out here on the lake.
So many passionate Texans live out on the Bend, as they call it around here, and it’s no wonder that discussions get heated when questions arise about the future of the coveted cove.
A History of Incorporation Efforts
We wouldn’t be in Texas without some good, old fashioned land disputes. And you don’t even have to go back that far in time before the lay of Austin’s city limits looked completely different and was way smaller in size. Hudson Bend, a 4-square mile piece of land just on the edge of Lake Travis, has always seemed like the quiet country compared to big city Austin, which is why there may be so much fear about Austin taking over the Bend.
Starting in the 60s and going forward, every decade has seen Austin increase in size as it annexed land North and South, such as South 1st, North Burnet Rd. and even the Riverplace neighborhood near Lake Travis.
Seeing this occur from afar, some neighborhoods that exist within the county and as Austin’s ETJ (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) have opted to take matters into their own hands and incorporate first, putting an end to the chance that Austin would annex them. We need to look no further than our neighbors to the South, Bee Cave, or across the lake at Volente to see the varying sums of incorporation.
Hudson Bend has had some experience in the incorporation game when they attempted to become their own town more than 10 years ago. The idea never came to be, and since then the area has swelled to house around 1,200 homes and even more people, in addition to the thousands of renters and vacationers who stay on the coves every year. Now the issue has come up again, with a whole new set of circumstances and people spearheading the issue of incorporation.
“To preserve our way of life …”
Contrary to many articles that have come out recently covering the talk of incorporation, not all support is unanimous. In fact, talk around Hudson Bend is quite heated at the moment. A simple discussion about what you’re going to do this weekend can quickly devolve into a stormy talk about what life is going to be like on Hudson Bend in the future. Clearly, people are impassioned when conversing about topics of taxation, code enforcement, annexation and the immediate future.
But what I heard in between the conversations was basically the same thing — everyone wanted to preserve life here the way it is.
We are concerned with similar problems, namely growth and the changes that come with it. Some neighbors are interested in having code enforcement problems dealt with. Others are concerned with what taxes would be collected if Austin ever annexes Hudson Bend, and are completely opposed to the idea.
To find the pro-incorporation camp, look no further than Hudson Bend Incorporation Committee head Alton Moore. To this group of homeowners, Austin annexing the Bend would be a worst case scenario, right from the start.
“Austin’s politics and actions seem fairly socialist to me. Many people moved here from Austin to escape from Austin’s influences. Now we must protect ourselves from them once again, lest we become just another historical marker by the side of the road.
Austin cannot, legally, institute different zoning here than they have anywhere else, and so, subject (or more likely not, if history is any indication) to deed restrictions, this area will, without local zoning ordinances, evolve (we prefer to say “devolve”) into a multitude of apartments, condos, and other high-density properties which will fundamentally change the character of this area from single-family residential to basically another urban tax base.”
Alton began these incorporation meetings as informal neighborhood get-togethers in April and May of this year to talk about the issues surrounding Hudson Bend, like crime in the area and a new mosque that was proposed to be built, with incorporation being an item on the agenda. From that meeting the movement grew, at one point drawing dozens of residents interested in discussing the pros and cons of the issue.
Another group of people, we can call the Incorporation Pushback party at this point, is interested in asking the right questions before big changes are put into effect.
If the threat of annexation is real and imminent, then we can discuss the options that lay before us. But based on an interview conducted by the Hudson Bend Incorporation Committee with Senior Austin City Planner Virginia Collier, Hudson Bend is not within Austin’s 5-year plan, or even 10-year plan for annexation. In fact, it was estimated that Hudson Bend would not be incorporated within the next 30-40 years, a fact that HBIC-hired municipal attorney Monte Akers reiterates in an interview with Community Impact.
“Hudson Bend is not contiguous to Austin’s city limits,” Akers said. “Austin can unilaterally annex the property between the city of Austin and Hudson Bend, but that is one more set of challenges.”
These major differences in geographic location and current infrastructure can make or break Austin’s decision to annex Hudson Bend, in addition to the new costs the city would have to annex as well if Hudson Bend is taken under its wing.
“[Annexation] is a big decision [for Austin],” Akers continues. “They have a comprehensive plan and know what areas they want to move toward annexing. [Incorporation] throws a monkey wrench into things.”
A Community in the Dark
One roadblock in the discussion is the fact that a majority of homeowners had no idea that the concept of incorporation was back on the table in the first place.
A lot of the conversation happens over Facebook and Nextdoor, sites which many people are not members of.
For others, their houses on Hudson Bend are second homes or vacation rentals, making for a difficult time wrangling everyone for a centralized meeting. Therefore it’s difficult to know the true numbers of people for and against incorporation at this time, which is why the push back may have started.
Hudson Bend resident Allan Chiulli sums his attitude about the issue when he says, “Incorporation is an invitation to raise taxes and/or become Lakeway or Austin. Yes, there are things about Hudson Bend that I would be in favor of changing, especially removing some dilapidated building and cleaning up some eyesore areas, but the flip side is that I see the freedom that the residents of Austin and Lakeway forfeit and I am not willing to pay that price (in freedom, taxes and interference in everyday life) to clean up a few minor issues.”
35-year resident Mickey Decker-Mitchell states, “One thing that sets [Hudson Bend] apart is that it is a fairly large area, it has many different subdivisions within — meaning different rules, housing range from junky mobile homes and older homes to multi-million dollar homes … people are very diversified and care about different things, some would have the money for higher taxes, some will not; people who intend to live in their existing homes for a long time want to keep their tax values ‘down’, those who want to sell want to see their tax value ‘rise’.”
Pro-incorporation resident Kay Smith-Wenzel mentions, “I am in favor of incorporating because I believe that the community of Hudson Bend would be much better served and managed by folks who live and own property here as opposed to folks who know little or nothing about our specific area and it’s [sic] traits or history.”
For now, Hudson Bend residents have a lot of questions to ask and to be answered. The unique way of life and pace of things sets it apart from other stories of incorporation. Even the early settlers and farmers of the area would be astonished to see just how much the land has changed since the formation of the Highland Lakes and Lake Travis.
With each new resident the face of Hudson Bend changes slightly, making for an ever-dynamic neighborhood with Texas roots as deep as a Live Oak trees.
How to Preserve Life on The Bend
One thing is for sure and was echoed across the board on both sides of the debate — we need to increase our knowledge base and education about the facts surrounding annexation, incorporation or keeping with the status quo before the next big step is taken. Support and communication must come from a majority of homeowners before formal decisions are made on behalf of the community, a step which has been overlooked thus far.