Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

TOP STORY>> Austin gets ready for boom

IN SHORT: Town sees 25 percent population growth, could see much more as developers hope to build 850 new homes and 40 duplexes.

By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer

Austin, which lies between Ward and Cabot and has for years been threatened with annexation by its neighbors, is on the verge of growing large enough to put an end to all that talk.

Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain estimates the city’s population at 800, up about 200 from the 2000 census. But now, developers have moved in with plans to build more than 850 houses and 40 duplexes. When they are all completed and sold, Austin’s population could theoretically grow from 800 to more than 2,500, three times its current size.

“I knew Austin would grow, but I never thought it would grow this fast,” said Chamberlain, who admits the city has growing pains. The city’s water and sewer systems are too small to accommodate some of the subdivisions, but those problems are being addressed now.

The city will need more police officers, she said. A fire station is being planned for across the freeway and the city has applied for a grant for a new fire truck.

The land where Carriage Court and Weathering Heights subdivisions are to be built was already inside the city, off Ed Haymes Road. But three subdivisions, Quapaw, Shadow Creek and Orchard Estates, were annexed into the city this week.

Those three could just have easily gone to Cabot, which builds about 500 new homes a year. But developers chose Austin after a disagreement with Cabot over how much they should pay for sewer improvements.

Those annexations effectively ended Cabot’s growth on High-way 38, because the two cities are now adjacent.

Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh has said he doesn’t necessarily see the loss of the subdivisions as a negative for Cabot. Instead, he says the people who move there without adequate fire protection should be worried.

Chamberlain says it is simply time for Austin to grow. Cabot is running out of room, she said. And while Cabot’s fire rating is better, making insurance rates lower, property tax is lower in Austin, she said.

Chamberlain said any talk of being swallowed up by Ward and Cabot is just talk as far as she is concerned. But some of the older people take it seriously, and they don’t like it.
“Austin has been here too long to be taken over,” she said. “The people here have stayed because they wanted to live in Austin. You don’t want to lose a town like that.”