Lyle Nelson inherits challenges of ‘dramatic growth’ as newly elected mayor of Bastrop

In 2019, Mayor Connie Schroeder presented a proclamation on Air Quality Awareness Week in Bastrop to Mayor Pro Tem Lyle Nelson, who was the city's representative on the Capital Area Council of Government and the Air Quality Board. Nelson is now succeeding Schroeder as Bastrop mayor.
In 2019, Mayor Connie Schroeder presented a proclamation on Air Quality Awareness Week in Bastrop to Mayor Pro Tem Lyle Nelson, who was the city's representative on the Capital Area Council of Government and the Air Quality Board. Nelson is now succeeding Schroeder as Bastrop mayor.

When Lyle Nelson first heard about the arrival of Elon Musk’s Tesla gigafactory on the southeastern edge of Austin, he saw the potential positive economic effects that could flow into neighboring Bastrop County.

“I was excited because of the economic growth it was going to engender,” Nelson said.

Nelson, 69, was elected mayor of Bastrop on June 10 on a platform to improve roads and bring what he calls “positive development” to the city. Nelson must now find a delicate balance between managing new growth while attempting to preserve the city’s small-town feel and making sure its infrastructure is up to the challenge of accommodating new industries.

More: Lyle Nelson elected Bastrop mayor in runoff

Nelson describes himself as a Christian, a family man and a person who “takes his job very seriously but doesn’t take himself very seriously.” He is proud of the six years he spent serving in the military, calling it a “great learning experience.”

Thinking about the arrival of Tesla and the economic opportunities that have come with the additional developments inside Bastrop County, such as SpaceX and the Boring Company, Nelson said, “it’s something that creates a positive attitude within the community, but there is that downside. Does your infrastructure maintain at such a level that it's going to be able to absorb the growth? And that’s a continued question.”

Nelson edged out a victory against Dock Jackson by 46 votes, earning 567 votes to Jackson's 521, for 52.1% of the total in the city of Bastrop’s runoff election. In the May election, Nelson and Jackson, both former City Council members, received the most votes but did not surpass the 50% threshold, resulting in a runoff. Nelson will replace Connie Schroeder, Bastrop’s first female mayor who has served since 2017 and was unable to run again due to term limits.

Schroeder presided over a boom period throughout the region that brought its own challenges to the city, and varied reactions among its residents.

Lyle Nelson
Lyle Nelson

With regard to the impact of Musk’s various enterprises entering Bastrop County, Schroeder said “how people respond” is “directly proportional to how it impacts them.”

“There are folks that are thrilled that he’s come and they can’t wait to go to work there and it’s gonna be great, and then there’s other people that are not appreciating the traffic on (FM) 969,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder, who has been around Bastrop since the late 1990’s and officially moved to the city in 2003, said the 2011 fire in Bastrop County that destroyed more than 1,600 structures was a “major impact milestone” for the city, as well as the wider community.

Following the fire, “there was a pretty positive upward trend. Businesses were being opened. Apartment complexes were being built. Subdivisions came online,” Schroeder said. “That type of growth had not been seen for decades.”

The growth has been gradually increasing since 2011, and Schroeder said that “with the introduction of Mr. Musk to the equation, that slope has become quite a bit more exponential.”

More: Bastrop voters to select between Jackson, Nelson in mayoral runoff election

Bastrop, which grew in population by about 34% from 2010 to 2020, is already estimated to have grown an additional 15% from 2020 to 2022, according to data from the U.S. Census.

With the increased population in and around Bastrop comes increased traffic, an issue that supporters of both candidates agreed has been getting worse.

Ruth Todd, a Jackson supporter who moved to Bastrop just over a year ago, said “traffic flow is getting pretty heavy” with many people like herself moving to the city.

James Richard, who is retired from Bastrop County sheriff's office lives outside the city limits but volunteered waving a sign for Nelson on election day, said traffic is so bad that he will “come into town as little as possible.”

Nelson moved to Bastrop with his wife in 2009 and has seen “dramatic growth” firsthand. Back then, he said, it took 25 to 30 minutes to get to downtown Austin, but now it takes 45 minutes to an hour. Regionally, Nelson said he will “pursue conversations" with the Texas Department of Transportation to improve “access into and through Bastrop.” Meanwhile, he said, one of his top priorities will be fixing roads within the city limits.

“We need to be very, very aggressive in fixing our street problems. It’s something that our citizens have demanded,” Nelson said.

In addition to public infrastructure such as roads, Nelson wants to make sure it is easy for people to get involved with what’s going on at City Hall. There are a number of boards and commissions that are open to the public to serve, and Nelson wants a “well-rounded perspective” from each of them.

Both Nelson and Jackson were on the City Council and voted to approve sweeping changes to building and zoning rules, known as B3 codes, in 2019. The rollout of the codes has been strained, with many residents and business owners finding the process overly slow and cumbersome. On these types of issues, Nelson sees a need for “two-way dialogue” and making sure the city processes are “citizen-oriented.”

“I think anything that anybody says is worth listening to,” Nelson said.

Outgoing Mayor Schroeder said her piece of advice to Nelson is to “recognize that you are representing everybody who voted no matter who they voted for, and more importantly, everyone who lives inside the city limits, even if they didn’t vote.”

Nelson will be sworn in at 6 p.m. on June 20 at City Hall. He hopes that in the future, residents of Bastrop can look back at the mid-2020’s and say city officials gave them “good bones to build off of” and created a “positive atmosphere” for development that benefits quality of life in the city.

“You can look back and say that they set the structure in such a way that we can improve on it bit by bit. We don’t have to rebuild. All we have to do is enhance what’s already in place.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Lyle Nelson inherits challenges of growth as Bastrop's new mayor