Higher-end homes coming to Baytown
The latest sign of a renaissance in Baytown is the type of residential community that has long been a staple in westward suburbs like Katy, Sugar Land and Spring.
A local developer said Monday that he plans to build Baytown’s first master-planned community in decades. The project, called Trinity Oaks, will begin with 384 homes priced in the $250,000 price range on a 189-acre plot bordered by the Grand Parkway and FM 2354.
“We’re looking to attract those working in Baytown who have grown tired of the drive to Clear Lake, Kingwood and other parts of town,” said Matt Wells of Houston-based Wells Holdings, which is
heading the project. “Our goal is to keep Baytown’s workforce in Baytown.”
The industrial community east of Houston has historically been slow to develop compared to its neighbors to the west. Perceptions of living beside petrochemical plants have kept high-dollar development out of town. The median home price in this region has been on the rise, but it was still only $145,000 in 2015, and highend developments remain rare.
In recent years, though, refineries and chemical plants in the Baytown area have become flush with cheap natural gas and oil — feedstock for plastics and other products they make — and a burst of new jobs has been the result. Developers, in turn, are building houses, apartments and retail outlets for the first time in years.
Trinity Oaks is a project that can take housing development in the area to a new level, said Tiffany Foster, director of planning and development services at the city of Baytown.
“We are now seeing an upswing for brand-new neighborhoods,” she said.
Baytown is anchored by the petrochemical plants, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron Phillips, that can be seen billowing smoke through the main artery on Interstate 10. Large swaths of the town are either industrial or are undeveloped. An old downtown Main Street has been slowly redeveloping with new local coffee shops that host local artists, mom-and-pop stores and eateries that host popular crawfish boils. Modest subdivisions and mobile home parks have provided more affordable options in the region for decades.
The 189 acres where the new master-planned community will break ground are made up of piney woods. The construction of the Grand Parkway, which promises more growth, is underway nearby.
“We’ve definitely seen an increased interest by residential developers in Baytown and the (Interstate 10) east corridor,” said Lawrence Dean, Metrostudy’s regional director in Houston. “The area has jumped onto the radar in the Houston area.”
Until recent years, Baytown’s lack of retail made it a tough sell for homebuilders, Dean said, but this has changed in recent years. There’s room for prices to rise, but not too far. For instance, houses priced $400,000 and up would be potentially problematic, he said.
“Baytown is a blue-collar community. Those blue-collar families make a good living,” Dean said. “The folks that work in the plants have more significant incomes than you might initially think. The household incomes in the blue collar are on par with white collar on the west side of town.”
Retail picking up steam
In the past five years, Baytown has seen a 36 percent increase in home sales and a 50 percent spike in the median sales price, according to the Houston Association of Realtors. There have been 468 new apartment units opened in the last two years, and there are an estimated 2,264 in development.
Meanwhile, sales tax collections are increasing here while the rest of the region lags. Retail development is picking up in almost every retail category, from fast-casual restaurants to big discounters and grocery stores.
In the past, the east side has historically lost homeowners to other parts of the region, thanks to its reputation as a petrochemical town, despite being a major employer, according to the Baytown West Chambers County Economic Development Foundation. A study from CDS Market Research found that roughly 20,000 people who work in Baytown choose to live in another part of the region. The market study conducted in 2010 found that there was a demand for higher-end homes in Baytown. Nearly half of those surveyed made more than $100,000 a year, and many noted living outside of the city because of quality-of-life issues.
The price of $250,000 and up for the Trinity Oaks homes would be appealing to buyers now considering Kingwood, Katy or Clear Lake, said B.J. Simon of the economic development foundation.
“Now, there’s a general trend toward the east,” Simon said. “The eastward focus for developers started a couple years ago and continued because of the petrochemical expansion.”
Appealing to plant workers
The Trinity Oaks project will be marketing toward the high salaries of plant workers and attempt to offer a product not currently available in Baytown.
“There isn’t a master-planned community of new homes at our price point this close to Baytown employers,” Wells said. “One turn off the Grand Parkway, and you are home.”
The community will have deed restrictions, architectural controls and a unified sense of place, Wells said, making it a true master-planned community with residential, commercial and retail development.
The property has had only three owners through three centuries. The first recorded owner was a personal friend of Sam Houston, Ashbel Smith, a physician who arrived in Texas in 1837. Smith, who ultimately became surgeon general of the Texas Army, purchased the land in 1848. He deeded the property to his heirs, who held it until the mid-1990s when they sold it to a Baytown family. Wells began purchasing the property from them in 2011, and he plans to break ground in 2017.
“We are just trying to keep up with the demand in the market,” Wells said.
Perceptions of living near petrochemical plants often have kept those who work in Baytown from also calling it home. But new jobs at the plants are spurring residential and retail development.