What was once a highway corridor lined with farmland and cattle pastures will transform dramatically over the next two years. About 500 acres of rural landscape is for sale along Hwy. 249 between Spring Cypress Road and Brown Road and is expected to be replaced with retail and commercial developments.
“I can remember traveling to and from Tomball along [Hwy.] 249 and seeing nothing but pastures and cows, but you are beginning to see less of that, and the growth has been especially noticeable in the last couple of months,” said Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce. “The most prominent growth along [Hwy.] 249 will take place in the next two to five years, and for the next 10 years we will see growth like we have never seen before. It’s a good sign for the prosperity of the region and from here on out, it looks like we are in for quite a good ride for a long time.”
As the influx of nearby oil and gas corporations, the ongoing population boom in Harris County and new roadway projects begin to alter the landscape throughout the Hwy. 249 corridor, developers are purchasing every last available parcel of land. Rising traffic counts paired with the location of the available land parcels, many of which have direct frontage to the major roadways, contribute to the popularity of the area, according to local developers and officials.
Much of the new and coming development in the Hwy. 249 corridor is concentrated between Spring Cypress Road and Brown Road, where Phase I of the Tomball Tollway will run once completed. There are about 90 plats of vacant land up for sale or lease along this corridor, according to a report from the CoStar Group, a real estate information company in Houston. Many of the parcels of vacant land range from less than one acre to 30 acres and are targeted for retail, mixed-use or commercial uses. There are a few parcels of land that exceed 30 acres as well.
“The basis for the future development of the corridor and all the for sale signs popping up is a result of the population growth that is happening,” said Kelly Violette, executive director for the Tomball Economic Development Corporation. “The number of employees moving to the area as a result of the area’s transformation to the northwest energy corridor is spurring the need for additional retail and commercial services.”
Violette said growth and development in retail and commercial properties is occurring throughout the city of Tomball and Harris County, but there has been significantly more interest as of late in the Hwy. 249 corridor from developers.
“The Hwy. 249 corridor is definitely the hot spot right now as there are a number of factors that present much less risk to developers such as the traffic that travels the road, the access it provides to the north and south and visibility along the corridor,” she said.
Pete Terpstra, president of Terpstra & Associates, a local commercial real estate brokerage service, said he has seven parcels of vacant land along the Hwy. 249 corridor that are under 20 acres and will be sold for retail and commercial purposes. Terpstra said he envisions there will be major development activity at all the major intersections along Hwy. 249 starting at Northpointe Boulevard in the future. The corridor, he said, will be lined with retail centers, office and business parks as well as individual retailers, much like Hwy. 249 south of Spring Cypress Road toward Beltway 8.
Terpstra said there are very few available parcels of land left along the Hwy. 249 corridor. The demand for these tracts is so high that prices have quadrupled in the last 18 months—a reason much of the vacant land is now for sale by developers looking to capitalize on the demand.
Of the available tracts of vacant land for sale along the corridor, few can handle any large residential developments, he said. The reason most of the parcels will be used for retail or commercial purposes—other than the size of the parcels—is because of the high cost of the land, demand for services in the region and the direct frontage to major roadways, he said.
“The prices of these parcels of land are going to be too high for residential developments other than for high-density, multifamily units,” he said. “The land prices are going to dictate retail and commercial uses.”
Although the future evolution of the Hwy. 249 corridor will bring more businesses and services for residents and employees along the roadway, the development brings concerns such as traffic congestion and aesthetic appeal.
“With growth, and especially rapid growth of this kind, there is always a concern with traffic congestion,” Violette said. “It is the No. 1 negative aspect that comes with growth and development, and it is a major concern for us.”
The Grand Parkway and Tomball Tollway are expected to alleviate some traffic congestion in the area. However, Violette said there will still be spillover onto local streets especially in the city of Tomball.
She said the city and the TEDC have been proactive in anticipation of increased traffic and have pushed forward a number of road projects such as the extension of Medical Complex Drive and improvements to other corridors such as FM 2920 to help free up mobility in the area and provide other corridors of travel.
Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, said the county has also worked diligently to make a number of road projects a top priority to increase mobility in the region to accommodate the coming growth and development. Road projects such as the Boudreaux Road reroute, the widening of Hufsmith-Kohrville Road and the construction of a direct connector on Hwy. 249 south to Beltway 8 west are all projects designed to minimize traffic congestion, he said.
“The county is doing its best to help enhance and develop the most sufficient infrastructure possible in the region,” Cagle said.
The aesthetics of development along this portion of Hwy. 249 may also be a concern as the section from Spring Cypress Road to Holderrieth Road lies in unincorporated Harris County and outside any zoning restrictions. Although developers must meet certain standards, the county cannot dictate what can and cannot be built by developers, Harris County officials said.
Despite the lack of zoning restrictions in unincorporated Harris County, Cagle said the existing high-quality development in the area will help guide the aesthetics of future development.
“We are in a better place in this area because the local autonomy that exists and the economic pressure in the region will help drive and force these new developments to maintain the high quality that surround it,” he said.
When selling or acquiring a piece of property to be developed, developers often look for the highest quality and best use of the land, said Jim Black, senior vice president of commercial property services with Caldwell Companies, a development firm in Houston with two parcels for sale along the Hwy. 249 corridor.
Black said when deciding what to develop on a specific property, developers will follow the trends in a given market such as what services are in demand and the aesthetics of the market.
The city of Houston has strict billboard regulations that extend into its extraterritorial jurisdiction and prohibit new billboards and billboard relocation, Scenic Houston President Anne Culver said.
Areas designated as scenic districts by Harris County, such as the Hwy. 249 corridor from Beltway 8 up to the Harris County line, also include strict sign control, Culver said.
Tomball is regulated by zoning restrictions and any development along Hwy. 249 within city limits must adhere to those standards, Violette said. However, in Tomball’s ETJ the city can only regulate platting and signage.
“Aesthetics is always a concern and a lot of the development that has happened along the Hwy. 249 corridor to the south has really set the bar high and will help guide the look of future development, but it still can’t be controlled,” she said.