A New York land development firm called Coventry Development has just announced grand plans to establish a giant eco-friendly, mixed-use development modeled heavily on the ecological principles first demonstrated decades ago by The Woodlands — on an 1,800-acre site just south of that community. It’s now a pine forest near the intersections of I-45 North, the Hardy Toll Road, and the projected path of the Grand Parkway, about 30 miles north of Downtown Houston. Some portions of that forest will remain: Plans call for a 150-acre nature preserve along one section of the community’s northern reaches, which stretch to Spring Creek. South of that, and along the northern border of the Grand Parkway, the developers are planning a town center with the hallmarks of major mixed-use employment centers: office space and retail, a medical district, townhouses and apartments, and single-family homes. But they’ve gone ahead and given the place a formula-tested suburban-housing name: Springwoods Village.
Springwoods Realty Company has owned most of this land since the 1960s. Why develop it now? Because it’s now pretty clear that the Grand Parkway will actually be built right at the property’s southern border, the developers say. Plus, there’s development on all sides now.
Speaking of Katy schools: The power lines in the photo on the left, a couple miles southwest of Katy Mills mall, flag the dividing line between Jefferson Development’s Firethorne subdivision, zoned to Katy ISD, and the just-announced Firethorne West addition in Fulshear the company just announced — which will be served by the Lamar Consolidated ISD. The new Katy ISD elementary school site waiting for November’s bond vote and proudly featured in the center of Firethorne’s master plan will not be serving the 1,400 planned homes in Firethorne West, even though they’ll be only 2 blocks away. The kids in Firethorne West will likely be attending Huggins Elementary, which is more than five miles to the southwest. And until new roads are built they’d actually get to drive past that “Future Katy ISD” elementary school every school day to get there:
SCHOOL-DISTRICT MANIFEST DESTINY Cinco Ranch — recently named the fastest-growing residential community in the country by a real-estate consulting firm — will keep expanding west.Newland Communities just purchased 492 acres west of neighboring Pine Mill Ranch, way out near Firethorne between FM 1463 and Katy-Flewellen Road; the company plans to have new Cinco Ranch-branded homesites available there within a couple of years. Further west, there’s even more land available for cheap: the 742-acre Tamarron Lakes subdivision was foreclosed on in April. Kirk Laguarta of Land Advisors Organization, who’s marketing that property for $19K an acre, tells the Houston Business Journal that the property that Newland just bought is considered more valuable that that, in part because it’s zoned to Katy ISD. But Newland may not be interested in expanding Cinco Ranch into Tamarron Lakes — that development belongs to the Lamar Consolidated ISD. [Houston Business Journal]
Working from a remote and undisclosed location, the now-expatriate Houston engineer known as Keep Houston Houston puts together a rough diagram identifying the city’s “traditional” walkable neighborhoods, and comments:
Houston has no shortage of gridded, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. Thing is, they’re all kind of squished together. And with a couple of exceptions, they were all platted out before 1935. What’s there is there. We’re not adding to it.
Developer conservatism plays a role, but is ethereal, subject to evaporate as soon as *someone* steps up and proves that suburban [Traditional Neighborhood Development] is sufficiently profitable. But several city standards and rules are standing in the way.
Are Houston’s development rules really the obstacle?
Keep Houston Houston scans through the city’s development ordinance, then throws together a quick design for a residential neighborhood following the basic requirements. What does that end up looking like?
HEY, HEY, STAY OUTTA OUR CHICK-FIL-A A brief excerpt from that satirical article in the Cinco Ranch High School newspaper that sparked protests from students of neighboring schools at the LaCenterra Shopping Center last Friday: “You can’t help but be a little bit angry when you’re stuck in the Whataburger drive-thru behind an unimaginably large caravan of Katy cars, each sporting at least 12 stickers reminding you of their accomplishments. If they’re so great why can’t they go to their own Whataburger? There’s this feeling in our little corner of the world that just says: This is Cinco. Some believe there is a sense of ownership to the neighboring businesses and restaurants… Cinco’s Mission Burrito. Cinco’s Target. Cinco’s Taco Bell, Whataburger, Sonic. Seeing anything but maroon clad students and parents roaming the aisles seems odd to some. Don’t they have their own places to go? ” [Fort Bend Now]
General Growth Properties owns Baybrook Mall, Deerbrook Mall, First Colony Mall, Willowbrook Mall, The Woodlands Mall, and half of The Woodlands. And it’s holding onto all of those properties for now. But Jennifer Dawson reports in the Houston Business Journal that General Growth is trying to unload one of its specific growths: a portion of Bridgeland, the company’s 11,400-acre residential spread out in Cypress.
The name of the offered section is Lakeland Village, and it’s Bridgeland’s first, 2,370-acre phase.
A few months after abruptly shutting down operations in the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen-based homebuilder Obra Homes appears to have quietly abandoned its Houston-area business as well, leaving one Rosenberg subdivision littered with empty slabs.
So where the heck is Obra Homes anyway? A model home here at this subdivision is empty and closed, and the company’s attorney tells us no more Obra homes will be built here at the Trails at Seabourne Park subdivision. . . .
The company’s huge showroom on 290 looks like a ghost town. And according to a sign on the window, Obra Homes was locked out for failing to pay rent.
This office building on 290 says “Obra Homes” in big letters. but go inside and there’s no mention of the company.
The homebuilder’s attorney tells Fox 26 reporter Randy Wallace that there is no Obra Homes office. But there is a phone number!
Nancy Sarnoff’s short interview with the woman responsible for naming new streets in The Woodlands is just too rich:
We use a lot of words that are just appealing, pretty images, like Peaceful Canyon. That neighborhood sold really well and I think it’s because of the name. We even did radio commercials that played off the name and it really helped market the area. Others are Racing Cloud, Amber Glow and Destiny Cove. We even have ones from Star Wars. That day I was really desperate. Nothing was popping into my head. We have lots of nautical names around Lake Woodlands like Outrigger’s Run.
Woodlands Operating Co. marketing director Susan Vreeland-Wendt confirms every cliché about the origins of subdivision street names, from the historical revisionism (“One of our presidents is Alex Sutton, and we have a street named Sutton Mill”) to the what-I-drank-for-dinner-last-night story (“I’ve been known to pore over wine bottles looking for inspiration”) — except the one about suburban names coming from geographical features that were demolished or removed so the place could be built. Fortunately, The Woodlands does carry on the proud Houston tradition of naming places after imaginary or wished-for amenities:
A reader who lives in the neighborhood points us to drawings and information from New Urbanist planners Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. about the firm’s designs for the former MDI Superfund site in the Fifth Ward. DPZ, of course, is most famous for the enormous small-town-sized stage-set the company designed for the 1998 Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, which became so popular that it was kept on and is now used as a Florida Panhandle resort named Seaside.
InTown Homes and Lovett Homes owner Frank Liu bought the MDI site — a former metal foundry and spent-catalyst “recycling” facility famously polluted with lead and several thousand chemistry sets’ worth of other toxic substances — from the EPA late last year, with promises that he’ll spend a couple of years and $6.7 million remediating the property before letting Houstonians live there. Still, 36+ acres of inner-loop land at $5 a square foot doesn’t sound like too bad a deal.
After the jump: a look at DPZ’s MDI plans, plus large grains of salt.
Why do we need the Grand Parkway? To connect all those new green-living communities spreading way out into the Texas prairie!
An Arizona development company is master-planning a master-planned community for a tiny 4,000-plus-acre plot in Alvin, linking the Grand Parkway, FM 1462, and highway 288. Yes, that’s bigger than Shadow Creek Ranch.
It’s called Inspiration at Alvin, if you believe the mayor, or Inspiration @ Chocolate Bayou if you believe the Aperion Communities website.
Alvin mayor Gary Appelt announced that the expected population when the project is built out — in 30 years — is 25,000 people. That’s just over six people per acre. No wonder they’re calling it green!
Inspiration is the first lifestyle enhanced sustainable community model ever created. It’s where Aperion’s programs for energy, health, business and transportation are connected directly to your home.
The company website lists the development at a just-slightly larger 5,500 acres, which means residents will have even more room to spread their windmills. Aperion is also threatening a 6,000-acre development called Inspiration @ Lake Houston. All in all, there are five Inspiration communities proposed for Texas and two for New Mexico. That’s more than 36,434 acres of currently wasted farms and ranchland transformed into sustainable, productive living spaces. Go green!