As other industries slowed or stopped altogether in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, home and housing development construction kept a steady pace in Burnet County.
“Yeah, toward the last week of March, things may have plateaued a bit, but then in April, we picked back up,” said Herb Darling, director of Burnet County Development Services.
Building permits and development plats for the county’s unincorporated areas go through his office.
As of June 23, Burnet County had recorded 197 new building permits with a value of $44 million in new construction for the year. In 2019, the county recorded 404 building permits with a value of $103.7 million. In 2018, it had 401 permits valued at $78.3 million.
The word is out about Burnet County, said Darling, and more and more people are wanting to move here. He attributed the county’s continued growth over the years to a number of reasons, proximity to Austin being the biggest.
“As Austin pushes out and people can’t afford homes there, they start looking somewhere else,” Darling said.
Initially, those places were Cedar Park, Round Rock, Hutto, Georgetown, Buda, and Kyle, but the property prices went up in there as well. People looked farther out and saw Burnet County with its convenient distance from Austin and San Antonio as well as more affordable housing.
Darling pointed out that property in Burnet County isn’t “affordable” in the sense it might have been 15-20 years ago, which brings up the county’s other major selling points.
Darling often asks people who are new to the area why they chose Burnet County. The answers vary. Some like that it’s close to Austin, but not too close. Others move here to be closer to their adult children and grandchildren, who often live and work in the Austin area. And others, moving to Texas from the North or West Coast because of fewer government restrictions, fall in love with the Highland Lakes and the landscape.
“Let’s face it,” Darling said. “Burnet County, with the lakes and everything, it’s a beautiful place to live.”
And natural beauty is a big selling point.
Most of the new residential permits in the county are for developments, a number of which are in the works. These developments can be up to several thousand acres and offer large tracts.
“You know, the majority seem to be in that seven- to 20-acre lots (range),” Darling said.
With a few exceptions, Burnet County doesn’t get many high-density developments in unincorporated portions that are more common in suburban areas. Higher-density developments rely on water treatment facilities to supply residents. In lower-density developments, found predominantly across the county, properties rely more on well water.
As Darling surveys Burnet County’s four road and bridge precincts, each one is experiencing development, though maybe not at the same rate. Two of the fastest-growing areas are Precinct 1, which makes up the northwestern portion of the county, and Precinct 4, which encompasses the southern and southeastern areas.
Precinct 1 includes a large area near the Highland Lakes, which is always popular with developers and homebuyers.
“We’re seeing a lot of development and interest out CR 108 and CR 103,” Darling said.
The growth in Precinct 4 is due in large part to U.S. 71 running through it from Marble Falls to Bee Cave and Austin.
“Precinct 4 is just busy, busy, busy with the Double Horn and Spicewood areas,” Darling said.
In Precinct 2, which includes northeastern Burnet County, much of the development is along U.S. 183. The growth is coming from north Austin and the Killeen/Fort Hood area.
Darling said he’s also seeing a number of smaller developments between Bertram and the Briggs/Oakalla area offering homes in price ranges more suitable for first-time homeowners.
Precinct 3 on the eastern side of the county has some development, just not at the level seen in the other three precincts. Darling expects that to change as more people escape the north Austin/Cedar Park area down RR 1431.
Growth brings challenges, especially in keeping up with county services.
Darling said the Commissioners Court is keeping an eye on current growth and the future.
“The commissioners and Judge (James) Oakley, they are always talking about it and planning,” Darling said. “When things come through my office — new plats or development interests — I let the commissioners and judge know. That way, they know what’s coming and can plan for it.
“It’s a collaboration,” he added.
And if Darling had a crystal ball, it would likely say more growth is on the way.
But he can see that without a magical aid.
“Yeah, it’s not slowing down anytime soon,” he said.