REVITALIZING BUSINESS 249: Tomball envisions corridor's future in comprehensive plan update

An update to the city of Tomballu2019s comprehensive plan, a long-range guide for the cityu2019s future, proposes incentivizing private landowners to redevelop Business 249 into a walkable, mixed-use area. The plan is set to be adopted by council this fall.

An update to the city of Tomballu2019s comprehensive plan, a long-range guide for the cityu2019s future, proposes incentivizing private landowners to redevelop Business 249 into a walkable, mixed-use area. The plan is set to be adopted by council this fall.

Image description
Counting cars
Image description
What is a Comprehensive Plan?
Image description
Reinvesting in Business 249
Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series about an update to the city of Tomball’s comprehensive plan. Council members approved the comprehensive plan update during an Oct. 8 meeting, which was after press time for the Oct. 8 Tomball-Magnolia edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

Before Hwy. 249 frontage roads were extended through Tomball, Business 249 was the main north-south route through the city. In the decade since, traffic counts on Business 249 have fallen almost 60%, according to data from the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Today, [Business 249 is] kind of almost secluded off of the Tomball Tollway area. You have to be proactively trying to get there,” Halff Associates representative Matt Buccin said during an Aug. 19 joint City Council meeting with the Tomball Planning and Zoning Commission.

Halff Associates Inc. prepared an update to the city’s Vision 2030 comprehensive plan, which proposes revitalizing the Business 249 corridor—colloquially known as Tomball Parkway—by creating a walkable district where residents can live, work and be entertained. The plan proposes fewer driving lanes, multistory buildings, and a mix of multifamily, retail and office spaces, according to the draft plan.

The frontage roads of the Tomball Tollway—the tolled portion of Hwy. 249—opened in Tomball around 2008, Community Development Director Craig Meyers said, driving traffic around the city instead of through the business corridor. In April 2015, the Tomball Tollway opened to drivers.

“When we look at where development is happening, much of it is happening outside of the [Business] 249 corridor, and that’s where this [proposal] really is an opportunity to kind of focus on a space where there’s a real opportunity to draw people there, to bring people off the tollway, to give them a reason to not go over Tomball but to come through Tomball,” City Manager Rob Hauck said. “Or, maybe give them other options so they can live in Tomball.”

The city of Tomball first adopted its comprehensive plan in 2009 and began updating the plan in early 2018. The comprehensive plan embodies the community’s vision for the city’s future, Hauck said.

The updated plan was approved by Tomball City Council in the first of two votes Sept. 16, and city staff anticipates implementing the plan after a second vote in October. Council members approved the comprehensive plan update during an Oct. 8 meeting.

“It’s just a vision. It’s just a plan. It’s not set in concrete, but it does give us some guidance, especially in terms of future land use,” Council Member John Ford said.

A changing corridor


The city of Tomball’s Business 249 corridor welcomed about 55,000 vehicles on average each day south of
FM 2920 in 2008 with 48,000 vehicles passing through north of FM 2920, according to TxDOT information. In 2018, those numbers had dropped to 22,261 vehicles and 14,362 vehicles, respectively. Traffic counts grew 134.5% on Hwy. 249 north of the Business 249 split from 2010-18, the only years for which data is available.

“I wouldn’t say [Business 249 is] dying—there’s still new development going on and redevelopment going on—but it’s not the main corridor through Tomball anymore,” Meyers said.

Between Jan. 1, 2012, and Sept. 1, 2019, the city issued 83 commercial permits for new construction, remodels, additions and build-outs along Business 249, according to data from a Community Impact Newspaper public information request. The 10 new construction permits issued include Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, the latest developments coming to Business 249 according to company representatives.

“This Cane’s location on Business 249 will drive Tomball customers to this lower-traffic area of Tomball,” said John Segura, market leader of marketing for Raising Cane’s.

Raising Cane’s is slated to open Oct. 29, Segura said. Freddy’s  could not provide an opening date.

Despite new development, the comprehensive plan anticipates further disinvestment in Business 249 in the coming years based on an uptick in development along FM 2920 and the ongoing extension of Hwy. 249 through Montgomery County, the plan reads.

Fred Sembera, owner of Pecos Grilling Co., which opened at the north end of Business 249 in 2004, said he saw business drop significantly after the tollway opened but has continued to see fewer customers as traffic at the intersection of FM 2920 has intensified.

“Before, everybody going north and south drove in front of the restaurant. Now, I feel like I’m on a dead-end street, because all I get is some northbound traffic,” he said. “You can get out of town, but you can’t get into Tomball going southbound unless you go through the intersections with a lot of lights.”

Unless traffic patterns change, Sembera said he believes there is little keeping his and neighboring businesses from closing.

Although most spaces are occupied, Joel English, the president of commercial real estate firm Texas CRES and a member of the comprehensive plan advisory committee, said rental rates along Business 249 indicate lower business interest. Rental rates on Business 249 are in some cases as little as half the rent at FM 2920 and Hwy. 249, he said.

“If your occupancies are low, [you] just keep cutting rent until you get it filled up,” English said.

Re-envisioning Business 249


A renewed effort to focus on the Business 249 corridor could provide the city revenue via economic development, reduce the need for increasing development elsewhere in the city and offer prospective residents a destination area to call home, according to the draft comprehensive plan.

The plan’s revitalization proposal calls for six-story buildings west of Business 249 and four-story buildings to the east featuring office, retail and multifamily projects.

“You’re plugging in all types of commercial ventures with the people right there along with it,” Ford said. “It would still be the intent of having a cozy but vibrant, attractive space that the city could do more and the citizens could do more with and have more options.”

The plan also proposes parking structures located behind buildings and regional stormwater detention areas. To provide space for walking paths, a landscaped median and benches, the number of lanes on Business 249 could be reduced, according to the draft plan.

As the road is owned by TxDOT, the city would have to either acquire the corridor or meet TxDOT’s criteria for sidewalk and beautification improvements, Meyers said. Since no discussions have taken place about acquiring Business 249, the cost of doing so is unknown, he said.

To make this vision a reality, the comprehensive plan recommends city officials prepare a study to look at how to transition a single-story corridor into a mixed-use, multistory walkable district. A new zoning district and development standards would be necessary to guide redevelopment, according to the plan.

Meyers said the city could offer redevelopment incentives to landowners, similiar to what the city has previously offered tenants in the Old Town area, but the city would not forcibly change existing properties.

“This is a real opportunity to transition between that Old Town character corridor [and] the large-box store area of town,” Hauck said.

The draft comprehensive plan outlines revitalizing Business 249 as a long-term objective, taking 10 years or more to implement. Although city officials could not give a time estimate, Hauck said he believes the project is feasible over time.

This proposal would allow denser housing and business options in a single corridor rather than pursuing higher-density development throughout the city, according to the plan.

“This allows the city greater latitude in focusing on protecting the small-town charm and feel and rural character of most of existing areas of Tomball,” the plan reads.

Saving the corridor


During a joint meeting Aug. 19 between City Council and the planning and zoning commission, Bucchin and city officials likened the Business 249 proposal to mixed-use projects elsewhere in Texas, such as Cedar Park’s proposed Bell Boulevard project, Leander’s proposed Northline project, The Domain in Austin and Sugar Land’s Town Square.

“That’s what we need for this area,” said Barbara Tague, planning and zoning commission chair, on Aug. 19. “I think it’s a good idea.”

However, efforts to revitalize the corridor would require significant private investment, Meyers said.

“It’s going to take a lot of private developers to really buy in on this. We have the vision that we think is great, but we need participation from landowners to make this happen,” Meyers said. “It starts with one, and then others will come.”

For example, HCA Houston Healthcare Tomball and NewQuest Properties plan to redesign the 150-acre hospital campus east of Business 249 to include medical office, retail, restaurant and multifamily space, NewQuest officials announced in April.

Additionally, Trammell Crow Residential has proposed luxury apartments at the northeast corner of Holderrieth Road and Business 249, Hauck said.

“We have the opportunity to mold [Business 249] into something that can really be amazing for the city,” said Kelly Violette, executive director of the Tomball Economic Development Corp.
By Anna Lotz

Editor, Tomball | Magnolia & Conroe | Montgomery

Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor for the Tomball|Magnolia edition. She began covering the communities of Conroe and Montgomery as well in 2020. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.



MOST RECENT

In addition to constructing a new 43-acre campus, Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 will be buying a fleet of 40 new ambulances and hiring 150 new staff. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Executive director gives preview of ESD 11 Mobile Health Services

In addition to constructing a new 43-acre campus, Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 will be buying a fleet of 40 new ambulances and hiring 150 new staff.

Todd’s Auto Shop officially opened in its new location at 32000 Hwy. 249, Pinehurst, on April 1. (Courtesy Todd's Auto Shop)
Masones Pub & Grill opens in Northpointe, Todd's Auto Repair relocates: 4 business updates in Tomball, Magnolia

Todd’s Auto Shop officially opened in its new location at 32000 Hwy. 249, Pinehurst, on April 1.

See how some Greater Houston area school districts are planning to go back to school for the 2021-22 academic year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
See how some Greater Houston area school districts are planning to go back to school for the 2021-22 academic year

While some school districts in the Greater Houston area are doing away with face mask requirements and virtual schooling completely, others are pivoting to continue offering online learning options for students and plan to require face masks.

masks
CDC ends all mask requirements for fully vaccinated people

The guidance states fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.

Construction is underway for an expansion to the criminal justice building in Magnolia. (Screenshot via Montgomery County Precinct 2)
Sheriff's Office expansion underway in Magnolia

An expansion underway on Unity Park Drive in Magnolia will reduce the time local law enforcement agencies spend traveling to Conroe, Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley said.

Single-family home sales were up 47.4% compared to last April with 9,105 units sold versus 6,175 a year earlier. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
HAR: Houston-area home sales in April up 47% compared to last year

Single-family home sales were up 47.4% compared to April 2020.

House Bill 1024, signed into law May 12, allows restaurants and bars to permanently sell alcoholic beverages to-go. (Courtesy Pexels)
Cocktails to-go are here to stay in Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott signs change into law May 12

Supporters say the change will help restaurants continue to recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

New details could emerge soon on the potential use of underground tunnels to carry flood water in Harris County, and officials voted May 11 to dedicate an additional $3.26 million to study efforts along Buffalo Bayou. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
County commissioners expand scope of flood tunnel study as next phase nears completion

New details could emerge soon on the potential use of underground tunnels to carry flood water in Harris County, and officials voted May 11 to dedicate an additional $3.26 million to study efforts along Buffalo Bayou.

Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services provides a variety of services to assist eligible people with disabilities in preparing for, obtaining, retaining or advancing in competitive integrated employment. Similarly, Workforce Solutions Gulf Coast is a public workforce system in the 13-county Houston-Galveston region of Texas that helps employers meet their human resources needs and individuals build careers. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services to relocate from Tomball to Willowbrook

Six vocational rehabilitation staff with the Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services will move May 18 from 444 Holderrieth Blvd., Ste. 3, Tomball to the Workforce Solutions Gulf Coast office located at 17725 Hwy. 249, Houston, according to a May 11 news release.

Residents will have until May 2023 to obtain a Real ID. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
US Department of Homeland Security extends Real ID deadline until 2023

Drivers will have until May 2023 to get the Real ID, which will be required for adults boarding a U.S. commercial flight.

Construction on a three-story medical office building is underway at 3786 FM 1488, Conroe, following an April 22 groundbreaking, the development company, Egrets Group, announced in a May 10 release. (Courtesy Egrets Group)
3-story medical office building breaks ground on FM 1488

Construction is anticipated to take a year to complete for the medical office building.

The Woodforest Bank Stadium vaccine hub is set to close June 3. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County announces last day for vaccines at Woodforest Bank Stadium

The Woodforest Bank Stadium vaccine hub is set to close June 3. First doses are no longer being provided at the location.