Houston Chronicle

Higher-end homes coming to Baytown

- By Erin Mulvaney

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.

Petrochemi­cal town

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.

 ?? Houston Chronicle file ?? 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.
Houston Chronicle file 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.

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