Higher-end homes com­ing to Bay­town

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - 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.

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