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June 5th, 2005:

Far out!

There’s some good conversation going on around suburbia versus inner-urbia and the nature of mixed-use development – see Atrios, Kevin Drum, and Jim Henley. Taking the point closer to home, at least in some sense, is Ginger, who writes about this Chron article on the farther and farther reaches of Houston’s outer limits. She’s hit all the main points, so I’ll just add in a few short takes.

One of the next outposts of suburbia is west of Houston near Fulshear. Jefferson Development has just started work there on Firethorne, a 1,400-acre master-planned community about a mile south of Interstate 10 between Fulshear and Katy, about 30 miles from downtown.

The project, which promises “Hill Country atmosphere,” is expected to have 3,500 houses when completed in 10 to 12 years.

That would be “Hill Country atmosphere” without all those annoying and inconvenient hills. Oh, there’s a bit of a roll to the landscape – certainly anyone living in Houston, even in The Heights, should think twice about mocking anyone else’s hills – but go and spend a weekend in Fredericksburg, or San Marcos, or Austin for that matter, and then compare it to the Katy prairie. You’ll see what I mean.

“Houston is growing by leaps and bounds. And it’s growing in all directions,” said Mike Manners, president of Houston-based Elan Development.

At what point, if any, will we cease to think of this sort of development as being part of “Houston”, for some value of that term? These developments aren’t just 30 to 50 miles or more from downtown, they’re in other counties – Fort Bend, Waller, Montgomery, Liberty, Brazoria, even Galveston. More to the point, as Henley talked about, a lot of these places depend heavily on the older, “classic” suburbs for their amenities. If you live in one of these new west-of-Katy or north-of-the Woodlands developments, you don’t have to drive too far to shop or eat. That wouldn’t have been the case a few years ago, as the cited example of Fairfield out on 290 shows.

My question is will we ever see these developments as being suburbs of Sugar Land or Kingwood or whatever? And if we do, is that good, bad, or indifferent for Houston?

Developers pick sites along the routes of big highway projects. Firethorne is north of the town of Fulshear, just south of the Katy line. What was once a farming town is in an area being transformed by three road projects: the Grand Parkway, Houston’s outermost traffic loop, which is still under construction; Interstate 10, which is being reconstructed and vastly expanded; and the Westpark Tollway, expected to reach the Grand Parkway later this year.

Ginger’s already talked about this, I just wanted to highlight it. The land speculation and buddy-system politics that has given rise to the Grand Parkway really ought to be a scandal, but it isn’t.

Mark Wimberly, a commercial real estate broker who works in the Kingwood and Atascocita areas, said so much of the land on the west side of Lake Houston has been purchased that the next logical place for development is across the lake in areas near Crosby and Huffman, about 30 miles from downtown.

“When you jump the lake, there’s a ton of farmland that could easily go for residential development,” he said.

Wimberly expects residential developers will soon start buying parcels along FM 2100 just east of the lake.

Wimberly has a message for the area’s residents who live in an almost countrylike setting: “They need to enjoy it because it’s not going to last.”


So far, the projects planned around Fulshear haven’t changed the country feel of the place, according to Tammy Canton, who recently moved from Sugar Land to a new house on 10 acres. She and her husband, John, wanted a place where their son could go to a small school. She gets the impression people like the two-gas-station town the way it is.

“They don’t want it to grow too much. I think they like it how it is now. You have to drive a little bit farther out to go the grocery store, but that’s OK.”

Enjoy it while it lasts, Ms. Canton. And don’t come crying to me when you decide that Fulshear is no longer the idyllic small country town it was when you bought into it.

On trading Roger Clemens

I think Richard Justice is very likely correct in saying that Roger Clemens is not going to get traded – apparently, he feels so strongly about this that he’s said it twice. I think the main reason why Clemens isn’t going anywhere, other than the psychological reasons for Drayton McLane, is that I don’t think any of the named contenders for his services have the kind of minor-league talent that the Stros would need to get in return. For sure the Yankees don’t, and I’m pretty confident the Red Sox don’t, either.

Teams that I think might have the talent to give up and which almost surely will find themselves wanting to acquire a frontline starting pitcher later this season are Baltimore, San Diego, and the White Sox. I don’t think Roger Clemens would agree to a trade to any of those teams, however, unless McLane and Tim Purpura came to him on bended knee and said that the return package would set the Stros up for long-term contention beginning in the near future.

Let’s also not forget that Clemens has a one-year contract. That means that he won’t be a financial burden when the Astros begin the rebuilding project. They don’t have to consider unloading him in order to have the cash to shop around for next season. Of course, by the same token that makes the prospect of acquiring Clemens more attractive to the smaller market contenders, since they wouldn’t be on the hook for any length of time.

So as things stand now, I think a Clemens deal is at best a longshot. What I want to know is when the speculation will begin about Andy Pettite getting shopped around. Pettite is, in my mind, the most tradeable commodity the Astros have. He’s a lefty with extensive postseason experience, and when healthy is at least a #2 starter. Certainly, he’s someone you could roll out against a Tim Hudson or Curt Schilling and feel you’ve got an even shot at winning. He’s also got two more years on his contract, which ought to incentivize Houston to look for a suitor. His health is of course a big risk, but the market looks to be pretty barren overall for starting hurlers, so you’ve got to figure someone will find that risk to be within his threshhold. The only question is when.