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'It's a great community still': Booming growth in Dripping Springs causes both excitement and challenges

City leaders and business owners in Dripping Springs are balancing exponential growth, while also trying to keep the small town charm that has existed for decades.

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — Just 24 miles “west of weird,” a small town is seeing big changes.

The charm of the small town community with like the growth and expansion that's happening here, it’s kind of lovely,” said Becky Atkins, one of the owners of Summer Revival Wine Company.

The City of Dripping Springs has history on every corner of Mercer Street. There are also signs of growth all throughout the city.

Ian and Becky Atkins moved back to their home state to make wine in Fredericksburg and sell it in Dripping Springs.

“We are winemakers from Portland, Oregon, originally from Texas,” said Becky Atkins.

Their tasting room, Summer Revival Wine Company, which is just off Mercer Street, is one of the newest businesses in the city. They just opened about eight weeks ago. The Atkins hope to add to what makes Dripping Springs so special and support others doing the same. That is why their tasting room carries all sorts of food and goods from other local businesses in the area.

Becky and Ian originally thought they would primarily serve tourists, but quickly realized that wasn’t the top priority for their new city.

“There was really a bigger need than we realized in this community of like somewhere that felt more local to come and stay and like meet people or meet up with people in your community,” said Becky Atkins.

Like many people, the Atkins moved their family here. This is why more houses continue to go up, and the prices are going up too. 

“It went from being able to see the Hill Country to seeing the houses that are being built around you,” said Becky Atkins. “And these are all things that we knew we knew were going to happen. So that wasn't surprising. “

The Austin Board of Realtors released a report for May showing that the median home price in Dripping Springs is $954,000. That’s 27% higher than just last May. If you are looking for something under $500,00, you are going to have to look hard, because that accounts for only 3.6% of homes.

Credit: KVUE

Dripping Springs Mayor Bill Foulds said all these new houses are going up because the population is going up. This is especially true when you look at the entire extra-territorial jurisdiction. Although the City of Dripping Springs is only 9.5 square miles, its ETJ is 110 square miles.

“There are over 40,000 people in our ETJ,” said Foulds. “Our city limits on the new census is probably going to be about 5,600.”

He said the growth can be great, but there are some growing pains.

It's just exploded exponentially for the last 20 years,” said Foulds. “But the last couple of years, it's really taken off and the building is not stopping and the roads are getting almost unbearable.”

He said traffic is the biggest problem, and expansion of U.S. Highway 290 is needed, but that would cause problems in itself.

RELATED: Dripping Springs remains under a building moratorium amid booming growth

When you fix 290, they're going to want to widen it,” said Foulds. “And there are so many businesses located right next to the road, you could lose businesses and that's never a good thing. So, it's a fine line, but we have to fix 290.”

It used to be much easier.

“There was not a traffic light between here and Austin 25 years ago at all,” Foulds recalled.

The growth has also led to issues with wastewater needs. The city has been under a development moratorium for more than eight months, for some new builds, while they figure out adequate wastewater infrastructure, which is further complicated by a lawsuit over the matter. But even with the moratorium, the city is overwhelmed with permits for new builds.

“They're still processing permits as quickly as they can,” shared Foulds. “They've got about a two-week backlog.”

Although the city has these growing pains and has seen a lot of change, Foulds said he is proud to call this city home.

It's a great community still,” said Foulds. “I moved out here with my family 25 years ago. We moved out here for the schools and for the country.

Based on numbers, it seems a lot of people are coming to the city for the schools. According to Drippings Springs ISD, the number of elementary school students in the district saw a 16% increase in just one year.

Terry Garnett, a native of Dripping Springs and long-time business owner, said back when he was in school, all the grades were in one building and his graduating class was hundreds of kids smaller than how it is now.

“My graduating class was 52,” smiled Garnett.

Garnett owned Terry Garnett’s Propane on Mercer Street for 40 years, but he’s known the building even longer. His great grandfather and grandfather built the building and his family has run businesses in the building ever since then.

“This was originally a gas station, a blacksmith shop, and it passed down through the family over the years,” shared Garnett.

Although Garnett now lives in Westlake, he still works in Dripping Springs and has his roots here. He even served as Mayor in the 1990s and has seen the change firsthand.

RELATED: Dripping Springs officials announce urban planning initiative to address growth

“I would say the majority, I mean so much in the last five years to seven years, it's just been a boom, you know,” said Garnett. “And it's getting faster and faster and faster right now. I mean, it's blowing up.”

He said he enjoys the growth as long as it is quality and controlled, which he feels it has been. He said the growth has created more retail options for locals, but he is glad Mercer Street is protected from commercialization as a historic district.

The businesses that occupy these buildings have changed, and the number of people who call Dripping Springs home is changing too.

“We don't know what’s going to happen, except it looks like it's gonna keep growing pretty fast. That's why we're talking today, right,” laughed Garnett.

So as this small town gets bigger, the goal of both new and long-time residents is to keep the charm big as well.

“This limestone runs in our veins, you know,” said Garnett. “I mean, we've been here forever and I'm so grateful that I've been able to be a part of this.”

“I'm really hoping that Dripping Springs can stay a little smaller and that we don't just become another set of strip centers on the way out from Austin, and we can kind of retain some of these standalone buildings and the small town charm that made it unique in the first place,” said Ian Atkins.

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