Additional traffic strain from the Grand Parkway and the ExxonMobil campus—along with a rapidly developing residential and commercial sector—has led local officials to target the Rayford Road area for major mobility improvements.
In 2010 about 55,680 people lived in the Rayford Road area—within a 3.5 mile radius of 2907 Rayford Road, according to Esri, a demographic research firm. That population has grown to about 64,350 residents in 2014 and is projected to reach 74,800 residents by 2019.
"When you look at residential growth, the majority of that has been focused on the east side of I-45," Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said. "That is really the only area in which we have the ability to further develop in the residential setting."
The rapid growth, though, has led the Rayford Road Civic Association to consider the creation of a management district, which would give a board of directors ad valorem and sales taxing capabilities, along with the ability to manage mobility improvements, community policing and development in the area, Special Purpose District Attorney Jonathan Roach said.
The district would be named the Grand Oaks Improvement District, Roach said.
Possible management district
The RRCA has already proposed the establishment of a management district in the Rayford Road area to local and state officials.
The district could encompass the current 77386 ZIP code, a portion of the 77385 ZIP code and other nearby communities. The RRCA has partnered with engineering firm Jones and Carter to establish the district's final geographical boundaries.
"[The RRCA] did a pretty extensive review of all of the different type of districts that were out there and ultimately decided on a management district because it does have the broadest range of management powers and the broadest range of financing powers," Roach said.
Roach—who represents the RRCA—said the district must first be approved by a two-thirds majority vote during the upcoming Texas legislative session, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 13, 2015. The district would then need to be approved by local voters in a separate election, which could be scheduled as early as November 2015, contingent on Legislature approval.
Representative-elect Mark Keough met with the RRCA and has agreed to introduce the legislation, Keough's Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps said.
"Creating a district in this area would allow the community and property owners who reside there to have management ability over their mobility, community policing, community growth and development," Millsaps said. "The district would only have the capabilities and taxing abilities that are granted via community approval after an election."
Possible funding partners
RRCA President Paul Cote said that if the district is established, it could become a funding partner for mobility projects in the area, much like The Woodlands Road Utility District in The Woodlands.
"My hope is that we can address [mobility] ourselves from within the community and push out to create these roads," Cote said. "It is really simple. If we have the ability to put a portion [of the funding] on the table for a major project, well then, we put up a small portion to attract the rest of it."
Meanwhile, Noack and fellow Montgomery County commissioners are compiling a prioritized list of road improvement projects—stemming from the Houston-Galveston Area Council mobility study—for a possible 2015 road bond election. Noack identified the planned $54 million expansion to Rayford Road—which would expand the road from four to six lanes—as the most needed project in south Montgomery County.
However, Noack said local taxpayers may be hesitant to support another ad valorem tax and taxing entity. He also said while a potential funding partner for planned mobility improvement projects would be welcome, the county would likely cut the amount of bond allotments to the area in exchange for the third party funding.
"If Commissioners Court felt like they were going to bond $40 [million]-$50 million or $100 million of their own money, I would see the county curtailing the bond to some extent to have [the management district] partner with that," Noack said.
The management district is also charged with providing a services plan detailing specific projects and improvements that are proposed for the area, Roach said. However, the RRCA would likely not have that list prepared until legislative committee hearings are underway, or as late as 2016, when the proposed district could be put to a vote, he said.
Noack, however, said a clear service plan is necessary before petitioning residents to create an additional tax.
"If you are far enough along in the creation of some sort of a management district, you should be able to clearly articulate exactly what it is you are going to undertake," Noack said. "I just think that if you are going to ask for tax dollars to fund something, you need to be very clear on exactly what it is and why."
Additionally, Noack questioned the methods for compiling a list of projects as Montgomery County spent about $500,000 to conduct a mobility study to identify and prioritize road improvement projects. County officials are preparing to submit their road bond proposal for voter approval possibly in May 2015.
"I am very curious to learn what projects [the RRCA] is looking at and how did they come up with needing these projects to be funded today," Noack said. "For the projects that we are funding through H-GAC, we spent a half a million dollars to determine the projects that would best improve the community right now. I would be curious to see what they are looking at."
A booming region
The Rayford Road area is seeing rapid development in part because of large developable tracts, compared to much of south Montgomery County where tracts available for puchase are harder to come by, said Jeff Beard of the J. Beard Real Estate Company.
"Desirable tracts are relatively few and far between, and only certain tracts have the infrastructure, the utilities and the roadways in place and are still within proximity to daytime office population as well as residential population," Beard said. "One of the reasons that site at Riley Fuzzel Road and Rayford Road is being so well accepted is because it has those factors."
Beard said there is opportunity for retail and commercial development because major residential subdivisions continue to be built in the area, and it is close to major employment centers as well as the Grand Parkway.
Toll Brothers, a luxury homebuilder, started to analyze the area two years ago and now owns 692 acres in the area largely because of growing area amenities and anticipation of the Grand Parkway, said Jim Jenkins, vice president of master-planned communities.
"As you go across the Sun Belt of the United States, you will find that new development tends to follow where transportation is going, whether it is rail, freeways or toll roads," Jenkins said. "We knew that the Grand Parkway was planned, but we did not know the timing. Then the announcement of the ExxonMobil campus a little to the west [was made], so it is about 400 acres of office buildings going up in the Exxon campus [area] that caused the acceleration of the construction of the Grand Parkway and other road improvements in the area."