FM 2978 corridor on verge of more commercial growth, lane expansion

More than 650 acres of land are for sale along FM 2978 between Spring Creek and Woodlands Parkway. However, developers and Realtors believe widespread development could still be two to three years away as much-needed infrastructure improvements catch up with land sales.



The delayed expansion of FM 2978 is hindering development. Meanwhile a lack of utilities such as water and sewer lines at some parcels, is also problematic, developers said.



"The road widening is a huge part of it," said Rob Banzhaf, managing principal of Newcor Commercial Real Estate. "It's like when construction was complete on the Kuykendahl [expansion], the market exploded."



Commercial development



There are more than 30 parcels of land for sale on FM 2978 between Spring Creek and Woodlands Parkway. Many of the parcels range between two and 20 acres and are targeted for commercial development. Among the properties that have recently been developed are The Estates Woodland apartment home development at 30685 FM 2978 and the JJ Business Park at 26232 FM 2978.



Greg Holcombe of Holcombe Properties has eight parcels of land on the market ranging from a half acre to about 14 acres. Most, if not all, will be developed as commercial property.



"This is one of our major areas," he said. "We're getting calls daily."



Ray Allison, director of commercial real estate services for Gary Greene Commercial Properties, said the FM 2978 corridor could provide needed space for independent businesses.



"In The Woodlands there is really no place for the mom-and-pop-type shops," Allison said. "If 2978 is widened, several of those places will turn into shopping centers."



Banzhaf said with so many small parcels of land for sale, it would be unlikely that large-scale development would occur in the area. If it were to happen, it would require a developer buying several smaller parcels to create a large one.



J. Beard Real Estate Company used that strategy to accumulate more than 600 acres to sell to Toll Brothers just east of FM 2978, a deal announced in September.



Susan Vreeland-Wendt, director of marketing for The Woodlands Development Company, said the Development Company owns several parcels of land along FM 2978 totaling about 45 acres.



"Those with direct frontage will most likely be retail," she said. "The parcels that do not have direct frontage could be commercial/retail, multifamily or medical/professional."



Vreeland-Wendt said two parcels at the intersection of FM 2978 and Greenmoor Drive, at the entrance of the May Valley subdivision, are being marketed as commercial and retail parcels.



"There is interest [in the land parcels], but no definite plans as of yet," she said. "[The] most likely time frame for development is three to four years."



2978 expansion



The Texas Department of Transportation has planned since 2011 to widen FM 2978 from two lanes to four lanes from just north of Spring Creek to FM 1488. The $15.2 million project is being funded by TxDOT, but it is still more than a year from construction, TxDOT spokeswoman Deidrea Samuels said.



Samuels said TxDOT is awaiting environmental clearance before putting the project out to bid.



According to TxDOT documents pertaining to the FM 2978 expansion, environmental clearance was supposed to have been completed by July 2013, but Samuels said it likely would not be complete until June 2015.



Samuels said construction could begin about four to six weeks after bid approval and take about 18 months.



"But at the moment there isn't a construction schedule for this project," she said.



Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Doyal has been an advocate for the FM 2978 for several years.



"Obviously that's a critical project for us," he said. "With the growth in Montgomery County, and in particular the FM 2978 and FM 1488 area, that has become one of the major congestion areas in that region."



Holcombe said the FM 2978 expansion is key to continued development in the area.



"[The expansion of FM 2978] is very important," Holcombe said. "It should have been done already."



Samuels said the expansion would include construction of an additional outside lane in each direction with a 5-foot shoulder. She said there would not be installation of a center turn lane in areas that do not already have a turn lane.



"No new center turn lanes will be added, so no additional right of way will be acquired," she said.



In addition to the proposed FM 2978 expansion, Doyal said the county is exploring options to extend Woodlands Parkway to Hwy. 249. The county has already purchased several land tracts for the possible extension.



"We're always looking at not only major thoroughfares but all arterial roads with continued expansion," Doyal said.



Toll Brothers Houston Division President Karl Mistry said he believed the expansion of FM 2978 was important, but that he was confident the expansion would be completed in time for the opening of his company's coming development.



In addition, Mistry said the development would feature a large entry to ease congestion.



Infrastructure problems



Banzhaf said one of the challenges preventing widespread and large-scale development along FM 2978 is the lack of infrastructure in the area. The area is not incorporated, and it does not have many public or municipal utility districts willing to serve new developments.



"The infrastructure isn't there, it's all



very hodgepodge," he said.



Banzhaf said any new developments would most likely need to construct their own water and sewer systems, contract with private utility providers or, if the project were large enough, create their own municipal utility districts. Private companies, such as Quadvest on FM 2978, provide utility services to businesses in the FM 2978 corridor.



Mistry said Toll Brothers would create its own MUD to provide services to its residents once homes start being constructed, which he said would happen later this year.



"We legislatively created our own district, so we have our own MUD," Mistry said. "We are building our infrastructure to [provide]



both water and sewage."



Mistry said Toll Brothers has typically



created its own MUDs in developing most of their other large-scale developments.



"We knew going into this one we were



going to be developing our own infrastructure,"



Mistry said.



Once the infrastructure in the area improves, development could come at a rapid pace.



"As soon as they figure out the infrastructure problem, it will grow explosively," Allison said.



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