Developers OK'd for 242-acre neighborhood northwest of Austin after compromise

A small cheer erupted in the Lago Vista City Council chambers late into a meeting on Sept. 21.

It was the natural reaction to the informal conclusion of the debate over a plan to build a residential subdivision in the lakeside city northwest of Austin called Turnback Ranch. The Council’s decision was made 14 months after Las Vegas-based Turnback Development LLC first brought it to the city.

Now, after a number of compromises — everything from reducing the number of homes, increasing setbacks and lowering maximum building heights to be more congruous with nearby homes, and developers committing to funding improvements to roads and a 34-acre public park — the City Council last month unanimously approved a number of agreements that effectively clear the way for the 242-acre project along Farm to Market Road 1431.

“We’re thrilled to accomplish what we have over the last two years and move on to the next stage,” said Ventana Capital Inc.’s Andrew Trietley, who represents the Turnback Ranch owners. “Our development company has a long track record of working on challenging projects, either because of technical factors, or political and community challenges, or market challenges, and in each case, we have a set of goals and a vision and stay persistent to accomplishing those. This is another example of that.”

Turnback Ranch Lago Vista

A long-anticipated project in Lago Vista is getting closer to coming to fruition.

Ventana Capital Inc.

The Council decisions essentially solidify plans for one of the biggest undeveloped lakeside parcels in the region. It was purchased by the current owners in 2008, one year after Dallas-based developers planned a resort-style community with 700 homes, a dry-stack marina with concierge service, a restaurant and a small general store. That was tied to a planned development district approved by Lago Vista City Council in 2003.

Trietley and his team first publicly proposed updates to the plan last summer. They have maintained that it could be built based on the original planned development district, though executives hoped to replace it with a more economically viable vision. But that plan garnered pushback from neighbors and city officials alike.

After working with the city, neighbors and others, developers eventually scaled down the plan to include a maximum of 349 homes — down from 700 — with larger setbacks and lower maximum building heights. The plans also call for a 34-acre public park that would be the city’s first, and developers have pledged $1 million toward park improvements. They also plan to fund improvements to road and other infrastructure near the site.

The updated proposal also includes only single-family homes and no commercial space, and developers would be required to obtain a final plat within three years to ensure it gets built. The development team indicated it would add 96 homes per year — below the contractually proposed maximum of 144 per year — with the first homes available in 2026 and full buildout in 2029. Developers declined to disclose any homebuilders at this time.

The Lago Vista City Council on Sept. 7 voted 5-1 in favor of the development agreement. They then unanimously voted on Sept. 21 in favor of amending the city’s official zoning map regarding the PDD and Sept. 28 to establish a public improvement district to help finance improvements to the site. That cleared supermajority vote thresholds required due to the amount of opposition.

Turnback Ranch

An aerial view of the proposed Turnback Ranch project in Lago Vista, west of Austin.

Ventana Capital Inc.

“It’s been 14 months I think since the application since the application was originally filed if I’m not mistaken –14 months,” Councilman Paul Roberts said during the Sept. 21 meeting. “The City Council several months ago had a work session on the DA and said these are the things we would like to see in the DA. Everything we asked for the in the DA – everything – came from input from citizens and I think we even went a little further. This developer agreed to every single thing.”

Lago Vista Mayor Ed Tidwell previously called the moves “proof that we can actually work together and come up with something that we believe is in the best interest of everybody.”

Officials have estimated the development would generate $7.4 million in annual property taxes, including $1.4 million in city property taxes. It would also result in $1 million of sales taxes annually from new residents spending money at local businesses.

“We’re confident this is going to be a beautiful community and contribute a lot of value to the fabric of Lago Vista and the north shore,” Trietley said.

The agreement was also celebrated by neighbors, who have organized and voiced opposition to the project over the last year, bearing signs in their yard and wearing t-shirts that said “Save Lago Vista” or “Say No To Turnback.” The big concerns were about the density of the site and the height and proximity to their homes, along with strains on resources and increased traffic as the city continues to grow.

Lago Vista 0108

Lago Vista

Arnold Wells / ABJ

But many residents already expressed confidence in the changes approved at earlier meetings. The Lago Vista Property Owners’ Association, a neighborhood association that predates the city itself, withdrew their formal opposition to the project.

Russell Barnes and Lisa Shaw, who were among the holdouts after the development agreement, said they were happy with changes made during the last two Council meetings, expressing confidence in changes made to zoning at the park and developers pledging to make updates to a storm culvert crossing they nicknamed “Russell’s Bridge.” They said their only remaining concern was the building heights.

Regardless, Trietley said he was thrilled that the entitlement process is almost done. He estimated they’ve spent thousands of hours on the project.

“As the developer we had certain goals and a vision for the project from the beginning, and we managed to meet and exceed those while making compromises with the adjacent neighbors, city staff and City Council that accomplished most of the needs and wants of those stakeholders,” he said. “The combination of rezoning, development agreement and new district are a great example of collaboration between a developer, city, local businesses and residents.”

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