As development picks up, lack of oversight challenges Cy-Fair

From large corporations to smaller locally owned ventures, a variety of businesses open in Cy-Fair every year. However, with no organized government determining who can and cannot develop in the area, the future of Cy-Fair is largely being shaped by the developers and business owners themselves.

As development occurs across the last few undeveloped tracts in Cypress—including along Fry Road, Hwy. 290 and the Grand Parkway—developers said they are trying to bring in businesses to cater to individuals and families who would otherwise have to travel for health care, beauty and general retail needs. As a result, some residents said they feel certain business types have become oversaturated in the area.

“I think we can all agree we need less strip [centers] that have a dentist, nail salon, child care and a doughnut shop,” said Lauren Rhodes, a stay-at-home mom and Cy-Fair resident for seven years. “But they keep cropping up everywhere.”

However, experts with the North Harris County Regional Center for Economic Development said many of the businesses that seem to be oversaturated are in fact necessary for a fast-growing bedroom community like Cy-Fair. The NHCRED is run by the Lone Star College System, which also operates several community colleges in the area.

“To watch what’s happened [over the last] 23 years—what used to be a rural commute from Cy-Fair to Houston, you don’t even notice now,” said Amos McDonald, LSCS vice chancellor of external affairs.

Meanwhile, several developers in the area said they are trying to take resident desires into account as they work on major retail and mixed-use projects. In master-planned communities such as Bridgeland and Towne Lake, developers have made a concerted effort to bring in more engaging tenants as well as more opportunities for jobs.

“We want to make it convenient for our residents to not have to travel outside of the community to service all their needs,” said Heath Melton, vice president of residential development with the Howard Hughes Corporation.

Economic development resources

Unlike other communities nearby— including Sugar Land, Katy and Tomball—Cy-Fair lacks a traditional economic development corporation, or EDC.

EDCs encourage businesses to settle in communities and facilitate their incorporation into the local area, said Kelly Violette, executive director of Tomball’s EDC. Although EDCs do not hand-pick businesses, they can influence them to come, she said.

Although the Cy-Fair area does not have its own EDC, its role is partially filled by several other organizations, including the NHCRED, the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Houston Partnership.

The GHP helps its members with tasks such as applying for incentives, selecting a site and getting through the permitting process. Meanwhile, the chamber hosts networking opportunities and informational talks for its members while also promoting Cy-Fair to both people and businesses looking to move to the area.

The NHCRED helps businesses in the same way a traditional EDC would, interim Director Elizabeth Balderrama, said. She said the center helps businesses with development and planning.

“When you have an unincorporated community, you have the disadvantage of not being able to provide incentives unless they are tiny incentives or state incentives,” she said. “Lone Star College has [had] a partnership with [the Cy-Fair chamber] to try to provide economic development services that fill the gap between unincorporated communities in the north Houston area since 1993.”

Harris County also plays a role in attracting businesses by providing property tax abatements. When Amazon was looking to open a new 855,000-square-foot warehouse in north Harris County last summer, the company requested a reduction in property tax. County commissioners approved a request that will save Amazon an estimated $179,000 annually for the next 10 years, according to a county report.

The Tomball EDC is aided largely by funding from the city’s sales tax, Violette said. This helps them attract businesses by offering incentives to come to Tomball and providing grants for utilities and infrastructure.

Cy-Fair, as an unincorporated area, does not have access to city sales tax revenue. Instead, private business owners would have to invest in creating an EDC themselves, said Leslie Martone, president of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce.

In 2001, the Cy-Fair chamber worked with the state Legislature to pass a bill creating a managing district called the Cy-Fair Community Improvement District. However, the bill also called for a vote from the public to confirm the entity and assess taxes.

Darcy Mingoia, the chamber president at the time, said the bill would have raised sales taxes by a penny and used the revenue to fund the project. It failed to pass, only garnering 48 percent of voter approval.

“The community wanted us to have an organization; they just didn’t want us to have the money,” Mingoia said.

Efforts since then to create an EDC with the help of private investors have never found footing, Mingoia said.

Addressing resident desires

When Cy-Fair was developed in the early 1990s, it was designed as a bedroom community, meaning residents live in Cy-Fair and commute to work rather than work in the community, said Augustus Campbell, president and CEO of the West Houston Association.

“The major employment centers are obviously outside of the area, so there’s a lot of driving to the city of Houston for jobs,” he said.

As a result, development to this point has focused mainly on providing retail and services to support homes, Campbell said.

In an unofficial survey conducted by Community Impact Newspaper in June, residents of Cy-Fair were asked for businesses and services they would like to open in the area. Many residents called for more job opportunities in Cy-Fair outside of the retail and food service industries. Others pointed out certain businesses they felt were oversaturated in Cy-Fair, including nail salons, dry cleaners and storage facilities.

McDonald said the service businesses that seem to be too abundant fit the structure of the Cy-Fair community. He said if residents want to provide input, they should get involved with the NHCRED or Cy-Fair chamber and voice their concerns.

“My recommendation for anyone who wants to see a Trader Joe’s come is to be an active part of the business community so they can get their voices heard,” he said. “I also encourage them in recognizing the hard work and dedication and passion of each one of those small business owners and the livelihood that they are trying to achieve.”

Developers aim high

Developers with major projects in Cy-Fair—including The Howard Hughes Corporation and Caldwell Companies, which are developing Bridgeland and Towne Lake, respectively—are aiming to create an effective community for their homes by recruiting businesses and services. Their processes also mirror what EDCs seek to accomplish.

Howard Hughes has the long-term goal of creating at least one job per home within Bridgeland, which would ultimately mean creating around 19,000 jobs over the next decade.

Melton said goals of the effort include providing services that residents want in each area.

“We work with a lot of consulting firms to help gauge the current trends from a commercial and retail standpoint, so we are attracting the right tenants for our local retail,” he said.

Meanwhile, Caldwell Companies introduced the Boardwalk at Towne Lake in 2016, a mixed-use development with retail, office and medical space as well as recreation and entertainment opportunities.

Another mixed-use project—Cypress Crossing, located at the northeast corner of Hwy. 290 and FM 1960—is set to open in early 2018. Plans involve bringing in office, retail, multifamily and hotel. tenants.


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