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In Lago Vista, big dreams for $68 million ranch property

Posted: Sat, 14 May 2016 02:34 PM - 7,423 Readers

By: Shonda Novak


In Lago Vista, there are big dreams for a prime piece of ranch property.

Sunset Ranch, a prime 2,282-acre property that includes waterfront land on Lake Travis’ north shore, is on the sales block. It is being marketed as a potential site for a “world-class adventure resort and conference center” — a vision being touted by Jill Rowe, an Austin-based commercial real estate broker who has the listing along with Jack Carter of Better Homes & Gardens.

With an asking price of $68.3million — $29,950 per acre — Rowe said the ranch consists of two parcels that combined are the largest privately owned site in Travis County on the lake, with significant deep waterfront and access to city utilities, a highway and an airport.

On the north side of FM 1431, the ranch consists of 1,924 acres surrounded by the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The tract has expansive views across the lake, and views of the refuge as well.

A smaller tract, 358 acres, is south of FM 1431. It has more than a mile of waterfront and the lake at that depth (below 590 feet) has never gone dry in a drought, owner Tom Penn says. The tract is across from Pace Bend Park and adjacent to Tessera on Lake Travis, a 2,000-home subdivision on 875 acres that Houston-based Hines is developing.


Home to wildlife, rivers and springs, and originally spanning more than 20,000 acres, the 2,282-acre Sunset Ranch has expansive views across Lake Travis. CREDIT: Courtesy of Tom Penn

The ideal buyer, Rowe said, would be a conservation-minded developer in the growing ecotourism and destination-resort business who “is committed to blending the protection of the wildlife and the land with a resort that opens enjoyment to others, and who will see the wildlife refuge as a collaborative ally.”

Her vision includes wildlife trails, educational walks, hiking, biking, parasailing, sailing, paddle-boarding, rollerblading, ropes courses, rock climbing, swimming, scuba diving and airport-based sports.

Other potential uses could include a winery, brewery, special-events space for weddings and family reunions and even music, film or art studios.


Tom Penn said he and his siblings have been good stewards of the ranch that has been in the family for 105 years. CREDIT: Courtesy of Tom Penn

To Rowe, the property is in the bullseye of “the hottest recreational intersection on the lake” — Lake Travis, Pace Bend Park, FM 1431 and Lago Vista.

“While much of Lake Travis takes long, winding roads to access, this area is a unique direct route and close to highways on both ends,” Rowe said.

In 2011, Tom Penn and his family celebrated the centennial of Sunset Ranch, which originally spanned more than 20,000 acres. Almost half of the original ranchland is now part of the Balcones wildlife refuge.


Home to wildlife, rivers and springs, and originally spanning more than 20,000 acres, the 2,282-acre Sunset Ranch has expansive views across Lake Travis. CREDIT: Courtesy of Tom Penn

Although they are marketing the entire property, Penn and his four siblings plans to keep a portion on the northern tract. That land has a three-bedroom ranch house where Penn, two brothers and a sister-in-law currently live.

“We’re just going to see who makes a run at us and see what happens,” Penn told the American-Statesman. “If Jill can land a big developer to do this dream — and I don’t think it’s pie-in-the-sky — then my family makes a lot more money, Lago Vista becomes a lot healthier, and things progress in a much better way. It’s a win for everybody.”

Penn said the family members have been “very serious stewards” of the land, where they have ranched cattle for three generations and, in the 1990s, raised organic chili peppers and specialty tomatoes.


Home to wildlife, rivers and springs, the 2,282-acre Sunset Ranch has expansive views across Lake Travis. CREDIT: Courtesy of Tom Penn

“I’ve got a real spiritual attachment with this property. My whole family does,” Penn said. “From my back porch, you can see the lake, parts of the refuge and up to 49 miles in some directions.”

Deer, bobcats, raccoons, possums and the occasional mountain lion roam the land, which is dotted with ash juniper, live oak, black walnut, black cherry, Spanish oak and Mexican persimmon trees.

Penn said a resort could be built on the portion that has been cleared for decades for cattle ranching, while the treed areas could become nature and recreational areas. Penn has planted food plots and created ponds for decades, enhancing the existing wildlife.


The brokers marketing the ranch say its proximity to Lake Travis and the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge make it ideally suited for a resort development. They envision wildlife trails, educational walks, hiking, biking and water sports. CREDIT: Courtesy of Tom Penn

Rowe said her vision for the land stems from a childhood where she often camped at national and regional parks. She sees the lack of resort space near national parks and wildlife refuges as a limiting factor for others to develop “a deep passion for nature.”

“The more you experience these places, the more you love and want to support them,” Rowe said. “Many have never experienced open water swimming, or large unspoiled areas of nature. Those that have know the difference it makes to integrate nature in your travel or event.”

David Harrell, director of development services for the city of Lago Vista, said the city has been working with Rowe and the Penn family to see that the property get the proper zoning designation needed for eventual annexation.


The brokers marketing the ranch say its proximity to Lake Travis and the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge make it ideally suited for a resort development. They envision wildlife trails, educational walks, hiking, biking and water sports. CREDIT: Courtesy of Tom Penn

Harrell said the city likes the concept of an environmentally friendly resort, which he said could complement the surrounding wildlife refuge.

An eco-friendly resort, he said, “could be unique for the city of Lago Vista as well the Austin metro, and could benefit the state itself” if it were to become a regional — and even national — destination, he said.

“I think it’s a great concept for what we’re thinking of for the area,” Harrell said. “We’re excited that something like this could come to fruition that could benefit so many outside the city.”

Lago Vista is growing fast and builders are snapping up lots, Harrell and Rowe said.

At Hines’ Tessera project, about 60 homes are on the ground, currently priced from the upper $200,000s, said Darlene Louk, Hines’ director in Austin. Attributes include Tessera’s location, along with access to employment areas and desirable schools, she said.

“We think growth in this area will continue,” Louk said.

Penn said that with he and his four siblings nearing retirement age, they are ready to sell most of the ranch.

Rowe’s vision, he said, is “a chance to go for the brass ring,” potentially opening the door for “countless future visitors…to experience the land that my family and I so dearly love.”

“With its plants and animals, rivers and springs, nature lovers and birders, water-lovers and hikers, flying enthusiasts and sailors will all have access to this bounty,” Penn said. “This is not a shot in the dark, but an exciting vision that is within reach. We have a chance to manifest a higher intention than just another housing development for the enjoyment of a few.”


*  Story Contributed by: Shonda Novak



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