Of the 28,000 acres that make up The Woodlands, there are a little more than 1,700 acres remaining for development, according to The Woodlands Development Company. Nearly 900 acres of that are designated for residential land and a little more than 800 acres are planned for commercial development, according to the Development Company.
Residential build-out will occur in about three years, before commercial growth is finished, and The Woodlands population will fall just short of what Mitchell projected, said Bruce Tough, chairman of The Woodlands Township board.
"George Mitchell originally planned The Woodlands to be 150,000 people, and it was going to be completed in 20 years," Tough said. "The eventual build-out is going to be 130,000 people."
Development in The Woodlands has changed course as needed over the course of 40 years, said Tim Welbes, co-president of the Development Company.
"If you take a master plan and say 'You have planned everything,' in reality, with the amount of land that we have owned over the years, opportunities have presented themselves," he said.
For example, the proximity of Lone Star Community College on Hwy. 242 led to the renaming of the area as College Park, Welbes said. Meanwhile, aging Woodlands residents prompted a 55-and-over development near the college, and the Development Company then built a bridge so the residents could enjoy the college grounds.
"[Development is] planned, but a lot of that plan is opportunistic when something happens—and that's applicable to East Shore and Hughes Landing," he said. "The question we faced was 'Where was the demand?' We had a much stronger demand for residential, so we used [East Shore] for residential. Any one of those parcels could have had the opposite use."
Hughes Landing is a 66-acre development on the northeast shore of Lake Woodlands that features several office buildings, retail, a hotel and an apartment complex. Many of the projects are either now open or will open this year.
Welbes said developable land owned by the Development Company is subject to change in use with the effects of time and population growth. The Development Company had to consider at what point the population could support a shopping mall, for example, before The Woodlands Mall opened in 1994.
"Every square inch that you see was never planned, but the plan was always to re-plan as we go along with certain givens," Welbes said. "Each village has a standard axiom of development."
If the original plan to include a population of 150,000 people was followed, The Woodlands would have a higher population density with more congestion and more traffic, Tough said.
"The roadways had right of way all the way planned into it," Tough said. "All of the arteries in the roadway had been planned, and it would fit that estimated [population] amount [150,000]. It was always planned to be a denser demographic development."
Welbes said commercial development in The Woodlands will take longer to build out than residential projects.
"The build-out is market-driven as to the completion of residential and commercial [projects]," he said. "We foresee commercial to take more years than residential. With the current volume of residential, we will likely see a decline [in residential growth] in three to five years. With commercial, [the pace of development] is based on market conditions."
The Development Company has turned away multifamily home developers in favor of more commercial development, said Patricia Mancillas, community director with The Towers Woodland apartments at FM 1488 and I-45.
"[The Woodlands is] a very smart concept," Mancillas said. "[The Development Company] just does not open it up to multifamily [facilities]. They'll open it up for commercial. They have control over that."
She said the demand for housing inside The Woodlands is high, while there is a surplus of housing just outside of The Woodlands. Apartment complexes on the outskirts of The Woodlands are offering concessions, such as $500 bonuses and lower rent prices to lure prospective residents, she said.
"It's a seller's market in The Woodlands proper," Mancillas said. "It's hard to find a home inside The Woodlands. If you find it, you're going to spend 10 percent more than what it's worth just to have it. [The Development Company] is trying to limit its competition, but what happened was it drove everybody to the outskirts—as close as they could get without actually being inside The Woodlands proper."
Perception of development
Residents who are fed up with pervasive construction and widening roads might wrongly blame overdevelopment, said Ted Stanley, president of the College Park Village Association.
"I don't think the Development Company is building or selling any more than they intended to," Stanley said. "[The development] may have been revved up."
Stanley said some miscommunication could exist between real estate agents and homebuyers in regard to land development near a buyer's new home. He said communication could be better from the Development Company as well in telling residents that the company is adhering to the original standards of development, to assuage fears that development is occurring at an abnormal pace.
"I think it's up to [The Woodlands Township] and those of us in the government aspect of leadership with the township to work with the developer to stick to as true to the guidelines as possible," Stanley said. "I think that would go a long way in helping the perception and the reality as well."
Resident concerns regarding new development may occur as well when they see development in areas where The Woodlands guidelines do not apply, such as in Shenandoah, Stanley said. He said the Development Company has adhered to the standards it has defined.
"George Mitchell's vision is being upheld," Stanley said. "His vision was to develop a place where people can work, play and live. I think in that aspect that is part of the original vision. I think it's becoming more real now. I think that people forget the peripheral areas are not The Woodlands."
Disclosure maps that define the areas and type of development are available to homebuyers when they purchase a home, Welbes said. The maps show what will be built in the area surrounding a buyer's new home.
Heritage Texas Properties agent and broker Haley Garcia said real estate agents communicate to prospective homebuyers regarding zoning and platted reserves. The real estate agents also provide buyers resources to further investigate the property and nearby development, she said.
"The buyer has to be responsible for their own due diligence," she said. "Continue to dig if you're overly concerned. If we come up with something, we'll always share it with the buyer. If you're worried about X, Y and Z, we will provide all of the information that we have and help them continue to research."
Where some buyers sometimes run into problems is when a buyer's property abuts private land, she said.
"Privately owned land—you don't know because even if you speak with a private owner he could change his mind [about how to develop it]," she said. "Most of The Woodlands is pretty protected. There are very few areas that are not already zoned and platted."
"The plan for Town Center is a continuation of the mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly urban development program already well underway. "
–Alex Sutton, co-president of the Development Company
Market conditions will tell how soon The Woodlands will build out commercially, said Alex Sutton, co-president of the Development Company.
"The plan for Town Center is a continuation of the mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly urban development program already well underway," he said. "Uses include office, retail, hospitality and both rental and for-sale high-density residential product."
A new residential high-rise condominium is being built in Town Center on the Waterway next to the [under construction] Westin Hotel.
Further Creekside Park development will include residential and the completion of the Village Center, including food service establishments and retailers, said Paul Layne, executive vice president of master-planned communities for the Howard Hughes Corporation.
Layne said LSC-Tomball's Creekside Center, Tomball ISD school and an additional place of worship are also planned for Creekside Park.
"Additional growth will be driven by demand, like office build-to-suits," he said.
The Woodlands has another 1,712 acres of undeveloped land. Whether that land will be used for commercial or residential growth depends on market conditions, Welbes said. Additionally, The Development Company will consider purchasing more land for future development.
"We are vigilant in seeking acquisition opportunities," Welbes said. "We have been and will continue to do so."