How Much More Can The Woodlands Keep Growing?

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It's no surprise to the 108,000 people who live there already, but The Woodlands is growing ... and keeps growing. For some purists who love to see the wildflowers grow there in the spring, all those new arrivals might be taking some of the charm out of the master-planned community built in the 1970s.

Last week the consumer finance and investing website Nerdwallet.com crunched the numbers on 2009 to 2012 Census data on Texas and named The Woodlands the top city on the rise (Houston ranked in the 90 out of 127 cities). How come? Because of its 9 percent median income growth, 3.6 percent job growth and the fact ExxonMobil will be bringing some 10,000 or so people to nearby Springwoods Village next year.

But that's not the only reason, since the township already hosts 60 companies with nearly 30,000 employees, according to the study. And officials in The Woodlands (note, the capital "T" in the) say the vision for the area was always to grow and attract big business. Even if infrastructure needs to catch up a bit. (Sit in traffic passing through there? There's a reason for that.)

"People move faster than infrastructure," Maggy Clark, author of the nerdwallet study said. "If we look at other cities that have grown up pretty quickly one of the things you see a lot is infrastructure gets stretched pretty thin. A lot of demand on the roads."

Three construction projects are going on at the same time, according to Bruce Tough, chairman of The Woodlands Township board of directors. There's the 242 flyover construction, Woodlands Parkway expansion. The San Jacinto River Authority has also been digging up the ground preparing the area for a surface water conversion so the growing population can get its water from Lake Conroe. "It's creating a lot of traffic, mobility issues," Tough, who's role is that of a mayor, said. "But you'll have better accessibility, at least we're getting something done."

Tough who recently lost the Republican nomination for state representative for District 15, said the area has been putting its own dollars into road projects because state and federal funding has been so hard to come by.

Still, The Woodlands is just following through on the idea co-created by Tough's father, Coulson, during the community's inception. "We've always known we were going to be a city of 130,000 people," Tough said.

Nick Wolda, the director of community relations for The Woodlands says the simultaneous construction is all part of that anticipated growth and attraction to the area, which he points out still has a low property tax rate under 30 cents.

It's a city in the middle of a forest. The population of people who work in town grew by 61 percent in three years. The working age population (16 and older) was 28,540 in 2009 and jumped to 46,785 in 2012. "It's telling us that there are a lot of adults moving to town," Clark said.

And that growth has been keeping real estate agents on their toes.

"We're closing more houses," Dany Merlo, a local real estate agent said. "From one year to another we have an increment of almost 12-percent growth. For us it was like a turbo charge that so many clients became interested in the area. "

Merlo's agency, Tamborrel Properties focuses mainly on the Mexican market, helping bridge the bicultural gap with people looking for homes in the area. Still he said the inventory of homes is shrinking. "This is a small place, we're 30,000 homes with more than 100,000 people," Merlo said. He said issues of parking and traffic are inevitable with this rate of growth.

"The prices have accelerated so much," Tough said. "With home values going up so much it's pricing people out of the market. There's no housing inventory. As soon as a house is built it's sold," he said.

And if The Woodlands lovefest continues, what about the future? Well, just like any city, the downtown will grow.

"The rest of the population will grow in the town center," Wolda said. The planning could include higher density residential towers overlooking the idyllic waterway cutting through the downtown.

Watch out, Houston.

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