October 09, 2008
Look out, Fulshear, here we come

I found this Chron article about the coming encroachment of Houston onto the little (real little - population 719) town of Fulshear to be fascinating. It's interesting, and commendable, that the town's honchos have been planning for this eventuality. (Planning! OMG! What would Randal O'Toole think?). And I liked the comment to the effect that some people long for small-town living until they realize there aren't any grocery stores nearby.

Of course, from Fulshear, there's lots of stuff that isn't nearby. But people will be moving there anyway, once all the new houses are built.

Six housing developments, totaling more than 14,000 homes, are planned or under way in Fulshear or its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Assuming an average of three people per household -- a figure recommended by Texas State Demographer Karl Eschbach that accounts for likely vacancies -- these projects alone would add 42,000 people to Fulshear's population by 2020, when all are scheduled to be completed.

Mayor James W. Roberts predicted even higher levels of growth, saying Fulshear could surpass Sugar Land as the county's largest city in 20 to 25 years.

The town's government will be challenged to provide services to all the new residents as its population takes a "quantum leap," said Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert.

In some ways, Fulshear is well-positioned for this growth. The town is close to the Energy Corridor, a burgeoning job center where expanding oil and gas companies and commercial developers are adding more than 3 million square feet of office space.

The Westpark Tollway, which stops just a few miles east of Fulshear, provides access to the Galleria area and other destinations in Houston.

Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering if recent events - say, the mortgage meltdown and the higher price of gas - might perhaps have an effect on all this? It isn't discussed in the story, so I'm not sure if this isn't something they're worried about, or just something they'd rather not talk about. I figured someone ought to bring it up.

The line about Fulshear being well-positioned for this growth because it's "close" to the Energy Corridor and not-too-inconvenient for the Galleria, brought me up short. It sure didn't look close from the map provided in the print edition, but let's not rely on that. Let's get some driving directions from Google Maps and see what it tells us. I chose as my starting point a place that was implicitly mentioned in the story, Dozier's Barbecue, at 8222 Farm-to-Market 359, which is conveniently located right at the intersection of FM1093, which in turn runs into the Westpark Toll Road. Here's how you get from Dozier's to the Adam's Mark Hotel, just inside Beltway 8 at Westheimer. Google Maps tells me it's 3.8 miles to the Westpark Tollway, about 18 miles to Beltway 8, and a little more than 19 miles to my destination, or 26 driving minutes. Not too bad, though not really my idea of "close".

How about the Galleria? Google Maps says "25.7 miles - about 36 minutes (up to 50 minutes in traffic)". That's rather an understatement, wouldn't you say? But hey, when you gotta shop, you gotta shop, and this is closer to you than it would be from The Woodlands.

Bear in mind, of course, that all of this is a best-case scenario. These are the easiest parts of Houston to reach from the Westpark Toll Road - imagine continuing on to downtown or the Medical Center instead - and it's using the most convenient location as a starting point. Once all those developments get built, with their cul-de-sacs and one-way-in, one-way-out accesses, all of the other suburban traffic issues will apply, which could add fifteen minutes or more to any real commute. Taking the Westpark this distance every day also means paying $5.70 a day in tolls at current rates. And don't expect any mass transit options any time soon. You want to move to Fulshear some day, be prepared to spend a lot of time and money in your car. Greg has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 09, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

Fulshear is not close to anything! It's 45 minutes away from me in Copperfield!

Posted by: Peter Wang on October 9, 2008 2:28 PM

" ... imagine continuing on to downtown or the Medical Center instead"

It's 10 miles from the Katy Mill Mall and ~15 miles from the Energy Corridor. Increasingly, places like this aren't developed for people looking to drive into town. They're developed around alternate population centers. Bottom line, the people moving here will be more likely to drive to Sugar Land or Katy to work than they will downtown Houston.

If you look at McKinney, Allen, or Frisco in the DFW area, they might not make sense on the basis of the old central city model. But with major employers moving to the suburbs and exurbs, fewer and fewer people are making the same commute decision.

The development east of Fulshear makes a lot more sense in satellite view of those Google Maps. You have massive amounts of flood plain around the Energy Corridor that precludes any development there. Then you've got Katy or very expensive parts of West Houston to develop in. It makes far more sense to develop south of Katy and end up with something like the Edge City concept of Sugar Land-to-Katy.

In the past, this type of development has been viewed skeptically as sprawl (meant in a bad way), but an increasingly clearer view of it has to be viewed as improving the way areas organize themselves. In a lot of ways, this could even be viewed as a market solution to smart growth (meant in a good way). The access situation gets taken care of over time, but you've got to have homes there first.

Lastly, the mortgage nightmares haven't seemed as much a problem locally. But the current credit crunch is a real concern for any large development. I don't doubt there'll be some pauses while this sorts itself out. It would have been nice to see some questions along those lines in this article. But it's worth noting that the area being developed is being done in an area affected quite positively by energy prices. Still, not everyone there will work for Shell. Someone's gotta run the grocery store and the Pottery Barn.

Posted by: Greg Wythe on October 9, 2008 7:11 PM

I don't think big single family homes on 1/4-1/2 acre lots can be characterized as "smart growth" no matter how you slice it.

Posted by: Mike on October 10, 2008 12:53 AM


Apparently the developers around Fulshear (and numerous other recent suburban developments) would agree.

Posted by: Greg Wythe on October 10, 2008 9:13 AM

I am having flashbacks to Loudoun County, VA from my DC days. It was once a breathtakingly beautiful slice of Virginia countryside. Now, it's exurbia, and the long time residents are not thrilled ("Don't Fairfax Loudoun," referring to the neighboring closer-to-DC country with LA-like congestion, was a common bumper sticker to see).

If people want to go live in Fulshear, hey, good luck to them. But you know that down the road we're going to hear that they HAVE to have new roads built at taxpayer expense and requiring disruption to established, closer-in areas. It's a new welfare community in the making!

Posted by: John on October 11, 2008 8:39 AM

What if they want new roads built to alleviate disruption to established, closer-in areas?

I'm also curious where you would rather populate hundreds of thousands of new people in the area if we were to build no new housing? Is there just something sacred about the planning done in the 1940s and 50s that prevents us from developing better neighborhoods today?

Posted by: Greg Wythe on October 11, 2008 3:15 PM
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