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Growing Pains Ahead For Collin County As It Enters Era Of Explosive Growth

As one of the fastest-growing regions nationwide, Collin County is at a pivotal point in its metamorphosis, with older cities running out of room for new development and once-rural communities bustling with change. 

But with rapid expansion comes bureaucratic growing pains, and developers working in the area are feeling the pinch. How each community handles its next era of growth will dictate its success in the long run, panelists said during a Bisnow event Tuesday at the Sheraton McKinney Hotel. 

“Cities must at some point make a decision: When they grow up, what will they be?” said Michael Kowski, president and CEO of the McKinney Economic Development Corp. “We are all at that point now.”

Craig International's David Craig, Billingsley Co.'s Lucy Billingsley and JPI's Scott Turner

The number of residents living in Collin County increased by 132%, or nearly 660,000 people, over the last 20 years, and its population is expected to double by 2060. Ensuring there is enough housing for new and existing residents is one of the most critical pieces of ushering in growth, Gensler principal Barry Hand said. 

“The single-family neighborhood in North Texas is alive and well and will be for a long time,” he said. “Sometimes in our communities, those single-family mindsets are inaccurately perceived as threatened. To build the density in a livable way that we have to do to support the growth, we are going to have to change our mindset toward zoning.”

A groundswell of anti-density sentiment, perpetuated by antiquated zoning laws and heightened costs, has begun to stifle the region’s momentum. The DFW area already needed upward of 85,000 housing units more than it had in 2019, according to one estimate. And that was before the region added more than 200,000 new households since the beginning of the pandemic, The Texas Tribune reported.

Credit Union of Texas' Demetris Adekanmbi, JLL Capital Markets' Brian Carlton, KeyBank Real Estate Capital's Patrick McFarland, Pillar Commercial's Manny Ybarra and Transwestern's Denton Walker

“We have stripes on our back from trying to get really good-quality multifamily zoned in some of our bigger cities,” Hand said. “A larger population is coming whether we like it or not, and underneath all of that is an affordability issue. We either have affordability or we just don’t.”

In 2016, about 60% of homes were affordable to Texans earning the local median income in the state’s largest metros. Today, less than one-third of homes in DFW meet that metric.

Already, some residents are leaving established areas of Collin County in favor of those that are less mature and still considered affordable.

The best way to tackle rising costs is by reforming land use guidelines to be more accommodating of diverse housing types, said Frank Su, vice president of land acquisitions for Meritage Homes.

“Not everyone can afford a 60-foot lot,” he said. “I really am a big believer of the market addressing the affordable housing issue by having different product types.”

Kensington Vanguard National Title's Zach Sams, Hines' Dustin Davidson, city of Anna's Nate Pike, Meritage Homes' Frank Su, Ryan's Maher Maso and KWA Construction's Brian Webster

Apartments offer a steady source of property tax income for cities, but greenlighting new multifamily has become so polarizing that many elected officials refuse to even consider it, said Maher Maso, principal at Ryan and former mayor of Frisco. 

“From a city’s perspective, you’d think that’s what they want,” he said. “But from a political perspective — and it’s just the reality — the stigma out there is no more apartments. And it’s very problematic because if somebody wants to get elected or re-elected, they’re taking the stance that they’re against multifamily.”

Rather than opposing apartments, citizens should partner with developers to ensure what gets built aligns with their vision for their communities, Billingsley Co. partner Lucy Billingsley said.

“We’ve got to quit being angry about multifamily and the old-fashioned way, and demand excellence,” she said. “These paradigms are ripe for change, and I think the development community is by and large on board.”

Cities in North Texas want to maintain a standard of excellence, which is why projects that are unique and raise the bar are often the ones that get the most support, said Nate Pike, mayor of Anna.

But some cities are more amenable to growth than others, and those that are willing to partner with developers are going to come out ahead, he added.

Allen Economic Development Corp.'s Dan Bowman, McKinney Economic Development Corp.'s Michael Kowski, Gensler's Barry Hand, Craig International's David Craig, Billingsley Co.'s Lucy Billingsley and JPI's Scott Turner

“There isn’t a development in the city of Anna that doesn’t start with the economic development director … because we want to see what it is going to take to get the deal done upfront,” he said. “We want to be the most developer-friendly city in North Texas.”

Some city officials may be unsure how to proceed with office projects, but the sector’s existential crisis shouldn’t deter developers from pursuing it, Billingsley said. Rather, they should be tailoring their office plans to target the types of companies, industries and jobs the county wants to attract.

“The office represents jobs, and jobs are what this growth is all about,” she said. “Strategic thinking needs to be very alive and well.” 

Cooperation and buy-in from public partners are always crucial when planning new developments. But now more than ever, the county’s changing demographics and work patterns call for innovative thinking, said Dustin Davidson, managing director of land development with Hines

“We sometimes fall into this world where the city planners are black-and-white, by-the-book sort of folks. They have ordinances that are built for the worst offenders, and rightfully so. You’ve got to have guardrails,” he said. “But let’s allow developers to be a little creative and bring in some different product types.”

Collin County is at a crossroads, said Scott Turner, chief visionary officer for JPI and former member of the Texas House of Representatives. Private developers and public servants will have separate roles to play in the years to come, but synergy between the two groups is necessary to ensure the region reaches its full potential.

“It can be the fastest growing, but if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, then what?” he said. “Think outside of the box and know that your role — big or small — is important.”

CORRECTION, DEC. 7, 11:17 A.M. CT: The story has been updated to clarify the county's rate of growth.