Austin is spending $30 million of bond money to buy more than 3,000 acres of land to preserve open space for a 34-mile hiking trail and to protect the Barton Springs recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

The deal for the land in neighboring Hays County includes some of the most sought-after sites for housing and related development in Austin’s fast-growing southern suburbs. Hays County is also considering a $9 million conservation land deal in the area. The Austin City Council approved the purchase in December and closed on the transaction last week.

While the sale is considered the priciest conservation deal in the state, Mayor Will Wynn pointed out that the price would only have gone up if the city had waited. The money came from $50 million of bond money approved by Austin voters in 2006.

Regulations on half of the land will restrict development to 15 home sites and a clubhouse instead of the 2,700 homes that were once planned. Asphalt and rooftops can cover no more than 1.7% of the 1,558 acres under the rules.

The Nature Conservancy of Texas brokered the deal between the city and Austin investor John Gorman’s real estate partnership. The land is vulnerable to pollution because it has numerous caves, sinkholes, and limestone formations that send runoff directly into the aquifer. Barton Springs on Barton Creek is a natural spring that feeds a crystal clear natural swimming pool in Austin’s Zilker Park on the banks of Texas’ Colorado River.

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