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Small Towns, Big Growth: How Anna Became One Of The Fastest-Growing Cities In Texas

Every town has a story to tell and nowhere is that more true than in the rapidly changing and growing Dallas-Fort Worth area. This story is the first in our bimonthly limited series Small Towns, Big Growth, which will profile communities undergoing rapid expansion.

About 45 miles northeast of Dallas, as densely populated highway frontage gives way to expanses of undeveloped land, lie a peppering of signs bearing the names of developers: Risland, Bloomfield Homes, Centurion American. At 75 miles per hour, many may not realize they have crossed into Anna, a rapidly growing community that aims to be the most developer-friendly city in Texas.

Anna is a once-rural community located north of McKinney in DFW.

A lot has changed in Anna over the last 20 years. The flight for affordability, roadway expansions and nearby business activity led to its ranking among the top 10 fastest-growing cities in Texas for the past four years. Anna’s population increased by more than 105% in the decade leading up to 2020. Today, there are just under 17,000 people who call Anna home, but by 2050, that number is expected to reach 100,000. Since 2015, more than 4,000 new homes have been built in Anna.

With this growth has come a new vision for the once-rural community. Perhaps the most vocal advocate for change is Mayor Nate Pike, who set out to cultivate a pro-growth reputation when he took office in 2017.

“I saw opportunity for Anna — it really is one of the last blank canvases left, as far as land, in Collin County,” Pike said. “For a city that would usually push developers away, I wanted to completely change that.”

With a 61-square-mile planning area, Anna is ripe for development, but Pike knew he needed the right team in place. In 2018, the city council appointed City Manager Jim Proce, who went on to tap a new director of economic development, Joey Grisham, in 2019. Both men had experience ushering small cities through phases of rapid growth, Pike said.

“We knew we were going to grow whether we wanted to or not,” Pike said. “So, the real decision became, are we ready to grow up and be somebody? And I think for Anna, that is exactly what has made us successful: a good plan, a good city council and the willingness to market our city.”

Anna looked to other Collin County cities that had successfully evolved from once-rural communities to thriving business centers. Frisco, in particular, was a model they sought to emulate, Grisham said.

“They had a plan, and they stuck to it,” Grisham said. “As a city, you’re better served when you have a strategic plan and a comprehensive plan and as best as you can, you stick to those plans, so you can keep things moving.”

The city’s growth priorities were solidified via a strategic plan adopted in 2019. Pike said hoped the document would serve as a blueprint for future growth despite the changing makeup of elected officials.

“As council members come and go, [the strategic plan] is your guiding document into the future,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what I think or what others think, we all stick to that strategic plan, and that keeps us unified, which is very important. You’re only as successful as a city council that … agrees on the direction you’re going.”

The city has had success attracting healthcare businesses, such as the Surgery Center of North Texas.

The strategic plan identified Anna's historic downtown as a priority for redevelopment. Council hoped to turn the area into a gathering place for residents by attracting apartments, townhomes, cottages, destination retailers, restaurants, breweries and more, according to Kimberly Garduno, the city's first economic development coordinator who is helping to implement the area's master plan, approved in 2021.

"Revitalization will attract new investment and tax revenue for the city and breathe new life into the area," Garduno said, noting that the new City Municipal Complex will kick off investment in the area once it is complete early this year. 

The city also adopted the Anna 2050 Comprehensive Plan in 2021. The document indicates a strong desire to attract good, quality development, but many of the areas where developers seek to build are not yet connected to city infrastructure.

This is where financing mechanisms like public improvement districts and tax increment reinvestment zones have come into play, Grisham said. A recent development agreement between the city of Anna and Megatel Homes employs both a PID and a TIRZ to fund infrastructure costs for the $800M Anacapri development, a lagoon-anchored community that will include single-family homes, apartments and a commercial entertainment building, according to TV news station WFAA. 

“If you don’t plan for the infrastructure, you will get left behind quickly,” Grisham said. “That’s where partnerships with developers have really helped our cause.”

One of Pike and Grisham’s primary areas of focus is the land that fronts U.S. 75, which bisects the city and is currently home to a couple of truck stops. Their goal is to attract high-quality, mixed-use developments that include office, retail and multifamily, similar to what is seen in Allen. 

“You really only get one shot at it, so you want to take full advantage,” he said. “A lot of people judge a community based on what they see as they drive in on 75.”

Diversifying the city’s tax base is one way city officials hope to convince dubious residents that Anna’s growth is in their best interest. Today, close to 90% of Anna’s property taxes are paid by residential property owners. By introducing more commercial uses, the tax burden becomes more evenly spread, Grisham said.

“Obviously no one wants to see their property taxes go up, but we say every day here that the more commercial we bring in, the more it will offset the residential side of things,” he said. “We always preach density, because density will drive the demand for commercial.”

A pro-density stance is one competitive advantage Anna has over some of its neighbors to the south. In recent years, densely populated cities like Plano and Frisco have seen anti-apartment sentiment slow the entitlement process, with some developers choosing to avoid these areas altogether. 

“When people hear your community wants development, they certainly want to do business with you,” Grisham said. “Multifamily — a lot of communities don’t even want to hear that word. In Anna, council has been very much open to it.”

Anna Town Square was among the first master-planned communities in the city.

A handful of projects acted as catalysts for Anna’s rapid growth. Single-family home developments by Skorburg Co., D.R. Horton and Bloomfield all initiated a groundswell of interest from commercial builders as they sought to meet the needs of the city’s growing base of residents, Grisham said. 

One recent example of a major spinoff project is the 3,000-acre Mantua development, about a third of which is located just north of Anna in its extraterritorial jurisdiction. Risland broke ground on the project in 2019, and Anna’s city council is set to consider a development agreement that would include a PID and a TIRZ to help fund infrastructure costs in the spring, Grisham said.

Of the 61 square miles that encompass Anna, more than 45 miles are in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. A state law passed in 2019 means cities can no longer annex these areas without a majority vote by landowners, which means the incorporation of Anna’s ETJ, home to hundreds of landowners, would likely occur in a piecemeal fashion over a number of years, Grisham said. 

The future is bright for Anna, but it still has a long way to go in accomplishing its goals. Pike hinted at upcoming industrial projects as well as the potential for a college campus. A continued focus on the city’s west side, which is still mostly undeveloped, presents even more opportunity for the burgeoning city.

As all of these projects unfold, Pike said Anna will discover its unique identity within the fabric of DFW’s booming metroplex.

“I think we are still learning who we truly want to be within the next 25 years,” he said.