Stories to follow in 2019: Development stirs on FM 1488 with overpass finished

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Magnolia-area residents will see development in the city of Magnolia’s eastern FM 1488 corridor begin to take shape this year, said Tana Ross, the city’s economic development coordinator and planning technician.

With the completion in November of the Texas Department of Transportation’s $28.9 million railroad overpass at FM 1488 and FM 149, developers are set to break ground this year on residential and commercial projects along the city’s eastern span of FM 1488, she said.

“The developers have been waiting on that overpass because the backup of the traffic was so intense that it really would have been discouraging to any motorists to get off and come back on,” Ross said. “The roadway simply gives [drivers]the route [to coming development].”

The overpass provides drivers a direct route over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad at the intersection of FM 149 and FM 1488, relieving congestion and making travel smoother, Ross said. Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley said the overpass was one of the most-needed projects locally in the last 20 years.

“[The overpass] relieves so much congestion there. It’s probably 10 years too late, but it sure has made a huge difference [in]this part of the world,” Riley said. “That’s all [developers]were waiting on because they were not going to go out and build something to make the gridlock worse.”

With overpass construction complete residential and commercial properties—such as Texas-based grocer H-E-B and residential communities Audubon Magnolia, Mill Creek Estates and Reynolds Reserve—will begin taking shape along FM 1488 in 2019, City Administrator Paul Mendes said.

Anticipated developments

H-E-B is scheduled to start construction this summer on a store in the Golden Triangle area—the triangle of land between FM 1488, FM 149 and Spur 149—after delaying the project until the completion of the overpass, Mendes said. H-E-B targets a late summer 2020 opening, he said

“The last thing [developers]want to do is open a new store that you have to drive through a construction site to get to, so they pushed it back,” Mendes said. “Now they’re looking at the [developers]starting to build [homes], and [H-E-B] want[s]to be on the ground when people are moving in.”

H-E-B is part of a larger mixed-use development by development company Stratus Properties Inc. Stratus Properties CEO Beau Armstrong said he could not provide a timeline for the grocer’s construction, but construction is moving forward. H-E-B did not respond to requests for comment before press time Dec. 21.

Stratus representative Chessie Zimmerman said the company is working on a site plan for the 165-acre mixed-use development between FM 149 and Spur 149, which should be ready by the end of the first quarter of 2019. Zimmerman confirmed a movie theater, home improvement store, additional retail sites and townhomes are proposed.

“Magnolia is a wonderful, growing community with very compelling demographics. We have enjoyed working with and have been very impressed with Magnolia’s city leaders,” Armstrong said in an email.

Additionally, Audubon Magnolia—a 3,300-acre master-planned community slated for FM 1488 west of FM 149—is set to bring 5,000 homes as well as commercial sites at build-out, Ross said. Construction of Audubon Magnolia, under development by Sam Yager Inc., began in late 2018, and the first homes are expected to be move-in ready by the end of 2019, Mendes said.

A mobility plan, which would connect the development to FM 149, FM 1774, FM 1488, Hwy. 249 and the proposed FM 1488 bypass, is also in the works, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. Sam Yager, executive vice president of Sam Yager Inc., presented to Montgomery County Commissioners Court on Nov. 13 regarding the mobility plan to help with traffic flow to and from the development. Yager did not respond to requests for comment before press time Dec. 21.

Also in Magnolia, Reynolds Reserve is under development by Barbecue Development and will break ground on the east side of Spur 149 in 2019, Mendes said. Although he said home construction is dependent on the completion of the multi-agency Hwy. 249 extension, the community is expected to bring 240 homes to Magnolia.

At the northwest corner of FM 1488 and FM 149, Mill Creek Estates broke ground in late 2018 with the first homes set to be completed later this year, Ross said. The community proposes 500 homes at completion and is under development by Forestar Group Inc.

Despite the ongoing projects, some residents question whether more development is needed.

“As an almost lifelong resident of the area, I have seen Magnolia go from a quaint little town to a regular suburb of Houston. [We’ve gone] from one or two mom-and-pop stores and restaurants to multiple franchise-type stores and restaurants,” Magnolia resident Billie Kennedy said. “Is even more growth necessary? That is the question we are all struggling with—preserving what country life we have left, or [adding]even more convenience and creating a more flowing suburban lifestyle.”

Improving mobility

In addition to the completed overpass, an FM 1488 relief route and the extension of Hwy. 249 are expected to relieve traffic congestion and draw development to the FM 1488 corridor, Mendes said.

The proposed $51 million relief route project, funded by TxDOT and Precinct 2, will create a four-lane highway north of Magnolia city limits between the ongoing Hwy. 249 extension and existing FM 1488 on the western side of the city, Mendes said. Construction is slated to begin in the fourth quarter of 2020, he said.

“The property owners told me years ago, ‘When Magnolia has the roads that can take people from their beautiful home to their good jobs in Houston, we’ll develop.’ All of a sudden that’s happening,” Mendes said. “They’re getting the high-speed routes, and the people who are buying [homes]out here are not going to mind riding on a toll road if they can get to work in an hour.”

A multi-agency extension of Hwy. 249 is also ongoing from Tomball to Navasota, providing drivers a new route through Magnolia. Segment 1A of TxDOT’s Hwy. 249 toll road extension, which crosses FM 1488, began construction in early 2018 and is anticipated to open in 2021, according to TxDOT.

Sandy Barton, president of the Greater Magnolia Parkway Chamber of Commerce, said she believes these mobility projects make Magnolia a more attractive place for residents—both current and future—as well as developers.

“With these mobility projects, everything is wide open again, and we are competitive with other communities that are already on those transportation corridors,” Barton said. “In the past, we’ve been at somewhat of a disadvantage because we haven’t had direct access to those transportation corridors that would make it attractive and cost-effective for manufacturers to get their product to consumer markets.”

Economic boost

Barton said she believes the proposed developments and mobility projects will give local businesses an economic boost.

“Mobility is everything when it comes to economic growth … if people can’t get to you, or manufacturers can’t get their product to market in a reasonable amount of time, it’s kind of difficult to attract the right kind of employers,” she said. “All of those mobility projects make Magnolia a very attractive crossroads because of the availability of land.”

New roadways and developments are also expected to spur economic growth in the city, Ross said.

Sales tax revenue is a major portion of all cities’ revenue, Ross said, but for small cities—such as Magnolia—it is particularly important. Commercial developments proposed along FM 1488 are expected conservatively to double sales tax revenue for the city, she said.

Emergency Services District No. 10, which contracts with the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department, collects sales tax from within the district as well, which includes the Golden Triangle area. Voters approved a 1-cent sales tax in a May 2014 election, MVFD Chief Gary Vincent said.

He said the 1-cent sales tax has allowed the department to expand by 50 percent, adding three new fire stations and providing services to areas that previously had no stations. It also increased the number of firefighters on duty, Vincent said, including the addition of MVFD’s first full-time firefighters. The sales tax revenue provides approximately 40 percent of the department’s operating budget, he said. Vincent said ESD 10 will likely benefit from additional sales tax revenue from development along FM 1488.

“Without the sales tax we certainly would not be able to keep up with the increased demand for service,” he said. “As the new roads open, and new residents and businesses move into the area, the sales tax revenue will be the source of meeting the increased requests for service that comes with increased population density.”

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Kara McIntyre
Kara started with Community Impact Newspaper as the summer intern for the south Houston office in June 2018 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in mass communication from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. She became the Tomball/Magnolia reporter in September 2018. Prior to CI, Kara served as the editor-in-chief of The Wichitan—Midwestern State University's student-run campus newspaper—and interned with both the Wichita Adult Literacy Council and VeepWorks.
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