Master-planned communities sprout in Conroe

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Construction of Grand Central Park and The Woodlands Hills—two major master-planned community developments in Conroe—is expected to bring hundreds of homes, residents and businesses to the Conroe area.

Officials with The Howard Hughes Corporation announced the first details of The Woodlands Hills on June 26. The company plans to develop 2,000 acres of land within the community in northwest Conroe and will host a grand opening celebration next spring.

Meanwhile, Johnson Development Corp. has made significant progress on Grand Central Park at the southwest intersection of South Loop 336 and I-45. The 2,046-acre community celebrated its grand opening April 22.

“I have lived in Conroe all of my life and we have always known that eventually the growth would expand north [of Houston],” Conroe Mayor Toby Powell said. “It is the vision that these [developers]have that makes Conroe the No. 1 fastest-growing city in the nation.”

Development boom

While there are numerous developments bringing new homes to the Conroe area, development at Grand Central Park and incoming development at The Woodlands Hills are expected to create a substantial population boom, Powell said.

There are 104 homes at Grand Central Park already under construction or completed within the community, and 32 residents living within its boundaries.

Johnson Development is building out its West Village, the community’s residential neighborhood, which will include 550 homes that range from about $290,000 to  $600,000. Homebuilders include Village Builders, David Weekley Homes, Perry Homes, Coventry Homes, Darling Homes, Drees Custom Homes and Jaeger Homes.

The Woodlands Hills is under development in northwest Conroe and portions of Willis by The Woodlands Development Company. Once complete, the community will feature 4,500 homes, said Heath Melton, vice president of residential development.

“This market it is not heavily populated with master-planned communities,” Melton said. “I think that is a new element that we will add to this market.”

Powell said growth from the two communities could be a large contributing factor for projected population growth. The city has already seen significant population increases in recent years, and grew from 76,362 residents in July 2015 to 82,286 residents in July 2016.

“I would say the growth of Conroe, before 2020, could be somewhere around 100,000 residents,” Powell said.

Trending amenities

Both communities feature amenities, such as hike and bike trails, parks, retail centers, recreational facilities and swimming pools, officials said.

Shannon League, marketing director for Grand Central Park, said communities with amenities that allow residents to “live, work and play” near their homes are in high demand. The first phase of the development includes construction of a large portion of the West Village residential community as well as 336 Marketplace, a retail center developed by Fidelis Realty Partners.

League said recreational amenities like the community’s hike and bike trails will also open to residents by the end of summer. The trails will give residents access to Grand Lake and will be open from dawn to dusk. Additionally, Trillium Park, a pocket park in the West Village, will open in the fall and feature a babbling brook and picnic tables.

“[The community] provides that urban experience that a lot of people are looking for within Conroe,” League said.

Similarly, The Woodlands Hills plans to open the community in spring 2018 with portions of its amenity center completed or in development, including leisure  and fitness pools, a lazy river, fitness center and event space.

Construction of the community also means significant growth is expected in Willis ISD, where children living in the community will attend school, WISD Communications Director Jamie Fails said. WISD voters approved a $109.5 million bond in 2015 that will fund construction of a new elementary school that will open in fall 2019 on MP Clark Road, north of League Line Road, near The Woodlands Hills.

“Although the district will likely have to redistrict to determine school zones at that time, the [elementary]school is definitely going to be carrying much of the growth in that area,” Fails said.

Growth trends

Although the Greater Houston area has seen a slowdown in its economy in recent years due struggling oil prices, The Woodlands Development Company is counting on the strength of the millennial generation that entered the workforce from 2011-14 that is likely preparing to start families around the time the community opens, Co-President Tim Welbes said.

“The millennials are in the time frame where they are buying homes, so that is helping to sustain the market,” he said. “The economy is projected to do well in 2018. Hopefully, our timing is spot-on.”

Montgomery County saw 2,491 new homes in 2016 overall, and 2,753 home sales. Woodforest, a community also developed by Johnson Development in the Conroe area, saw the most homes sold in the county with 349 homes sold, at an average price of $406,482, according to Metrostudy, a nationwide real estate research company.

Metrostudy Regional Director Lawrence Dean said the county is keeping pace with the rest of the Greater Houston area market, which is recovering from nearly 30 months of struggling oil prices. While the 25,800 new homes built in 2016 did not match the approximate 28,500 homes in 2015, he said the region is trending positively in 2017.

“In 2017, we are on track to see a slight increase with somewhere between 26,500 and 27,000 new homes,” Dean said.

Additionally, he said the region has worked its way through a glut of housing inventory that materialized in 2015 when homebuilders increased construction of new homes near the Exxon Mobil campus in Spring.

“The number of people moving to work at ExxonMobil never ended up being quite as large a number as we had thought as an industry,” Dean said. “In 2015 and even the first half of 2016, parts of Montgomery County had inventory sitting on the ground. That has mostly worked its way through the system.”

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