Leander City Council

A decade later, Leander finally begins Pioneer House preservation planning


More than a decade later, the City of Leander is finally moving to take possession and preserve the Bryson Homestead, commonly known as the Pioneer House.

Back in 2008, while Highway 183A was in the process of being built, it was discovered the Pioneer House was part of the national historic registry and had been missed in the planning for the highway. As a result, city, state and federal authorities had to scramble at the time to figure out a solution to keep the highway construction going without violation laws by impacting the historic site.

The CTRMA issued the City of Leander $1 million in ESCROW to developing adaptive use solutions, conducting studies and carrying out tasks relating to the rehabilitation and preservation of the Bryson Homestead. The agreement dictates that any unused monies would be returned to CTRMA.

The city began work on a Master Plan for the site at the time but the previous city council halted further development in 2013 and no further progress has since occurred.

The Leander City Council voted Oct. 17 to have the City of Leander  accept a deed with Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) and a Memorandum of Association (MOA) for the site and its associated land. The city officially taking possession of the site and associated land now allows the city to fully use those escrow funds to design and develop the site.

Within the deed and agreement was a Preservation Master Plan for the Bryson Homestead to guide the structural rehabilitation of the historic buildings and the related cultural landscape of the six-acre landscape, which would include a maintenance plan, tools to mitigate adverse impacts from future, private developments as well as a finalized filing of subdivision of the property surrounding the historic property. 

City staff also noted the City of Leander previously spent $300,000 of the escrow funds in August 2012 to construct sidewalks along Mel Mathis Roadway (CR 273) at the property. 

Council members expressed shock that such a significant sum of the money had been used on a project only tangentially related to the site, raising questions about how it was legally allowed and whether the loss of those funds could impact the site's development.

"I'm shocked $300,000 was used on sidewalks," said Council member Marci Cannon. "The way I read from the memorandum of agreement, it doesn't permit for that."

Leander Finance Director Robert Powers said he would have to defer to now retired city staff about how the determination to use the funds was made but recalled being told it could be allowed because the project could be incorporated into the final design. 

In an interview at the time, former Leander Urban Design Officer Pix Howell said the city was putting the sidewalks in at that time to save money so the city wouldn't have to add them later at higher cost.

Powers said the city council at the time approved the usage of the funds to help ensure the city met the state requirement of a $1 million matching fund contribution from the city in order to qualify for a $6 million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to build Mel Mathis Roadway. He said the city's finances at the time made it difficult for the city to raise those funds, so the city's contribution also drew from a variety of sources ranging from the city's General Fund to the TIRZ board to contributions by local developers. 

Local residents spoke in favor of proceeding with the the city accepting the site at the Oct. 17 meeting.

Citizen Karen Thompson commented on the prior expenditure and the city's responsibility to preserve and rehabilitate the homestead, prior to the city's acceptance of the agreement.

"The ball was dropped here with the sidewalks," Thompson said. "We have got to stand up and say, 'We have a farmstead and a history that is going by the wayside.'"

Thompson said $700,000 is more than enough to accomplish the task at hand. 

"There is no way I could take $1 million or $700,000 now and not turn that into something really good," Thompson said. "We have a chance here. This is absolutely a no-brainer for Leander."