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Tomball pursues funding for improvements to FM 2920

 The city of Tomball is pursuing infrastructure improvements to FM 2920—the city’s major east-west thoroughfare—as well as building and planning for alternative east-west corridors designed to increase mobility and reduce congestion through the city.

“We are going to try and do what we can to increase access to our businesses and our residents and enhance mobility srough the cityo people can get in and around town and also through town,” said Rob Hauck, Tomball police chief and assistant city manager. “We have people trying to traverse our city who are stopping at our businesses and schools, but there are others who are simply using our roads to try and get through or move around within our city and can’t do so easily.”

Not only does the continued rise in population and traffic counts require an improved road infrastructure, it also makes the region ripe for rapid development, according to local officials and developers.

Tomball’s east side along FM 2920 is an area of town that has long remained undeveloped and dormant. The area is especially primed for retail and commercial growth in the next few years similar to what is in place in the western portion of the city along FM 2920 near Hwy. 249, said Rodney Hutson, founder of the Hutson Group, a Tomball development company that owns a number of properties in the city, mainly in Old Town Tomball.

“The east side of Tomball along FM 2920 typically was not much to look at, but it’s going to become a very popular corridor with future retail and commercial development,” Hutson said. “You are starting to see more development out that way, and it’s not there yet, but in the next three to five years it will be. As that area starts to mature and grow and reaches that critical mass, it’s going to be a snowball effect where development follows population growth.”

FM 2920 improvements

The city is seeking funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Texas Department of Transportation for improvements to FM 2920 in Tomball spanning from the railroad tracks west to the Four Corners intersection, which is where the city sees most of its high traffic counts and congestion, Tomball City Manager George Shackelford said. TxDOT, which looked at future improvements to the entire 32-mile span of FM 2920 in a 2008 Access Management Study, outlined the infrastructure improvements to this portion of FM 2920 through Tomball as part of the study, he said.

The proposed improvements for FM 2920 in this section of Tomball would remove on-street parking from FM 2920, widen the sidewalks, add a center turn lane with raised medians and completely resurface the roadway, along with other improvements, Hauck said.

“The city is working with the H-GAC and TxDOT to see if we can get some grant funding to move forward with this project,” Hauck said. “We have got some real sidewalk and road repair issues that would be nice to have addressed.”

Shackelford said he estimates the total project will cost upward of $20 million and is expected to be funded 80 percent by the H-GAC and 20 percent by TxDOT. The city will pay for any additional enhancements it wants that are not included in the proposed improvements, he said.

The city will apply for project funding through the H-GAC sometime in the last quarter of 2014, Shackelford said. As part of the application process, the city has agreed to take on basic improvements to the sidewalks, medians and left turn channelization for an estimated $2.7 million in the hopes these efforts help score points during the application process by alleviating some costs to the H-GAC and TxDOT.

“The improvements to FM 2920 are absolutely necessary because the traffic is already there to support them,” said Kelly Violette, executive director for the Tomball Economic Development Corporation. “However, it’s not the only answer as a major east-west corridor through Tomball. There are other possible east-west thoroughfares that will continue to be explored.”

One such east-west roadway the city has underway is the Medical Complex Drive extension, an approximately $50 million project designed to eventually connect the road from Hwy. 249 to FM 2920, Shackelford said. The project is broken up into five segments. The city is first constructing Segment 3, which connects the road from where it dead-ends near Lawrence Street through to Cherry Street.

“If Medical Complex Drive can at least get built to connect Hwy. 249 to FM 2978, then you have attached two major north-south thoroughfares and that’s going to be a game changer, especially when you consider the [Harris County Precinct 4] project to widen Hufsmith-Kohrville,” Hauck said.

Tomball’s east side

With a lack of retail and commercial developments within the eastern boundaries of Tomball along FM 2920, as well as east of the city limits toward Kuykendahl Road, residents in that area are in need of developments within close proximity to their homes, Violette said.

The available land and opportunities for the redevelopment of existing structures make the eastern part of the city a hotbed for future development as a result of the employment and population growth it is and will continue to experience.

“The major factor for the growth and development the eastern corridor will experience in the future is the build-out of homes happening in that area,” Violette said. “As more rooftops are built, it will drive the need for more retail and commercial development. Right now those residents are in a gray area where they either have to travel north to The Woodlands, south to Vintage Park or west through Tomball to access major retailers.”

The addition of service vendors to the east, such as grocery stores and home improvement stores, paired with more retail and restaurant options will transform Tomball’s east side to more of a tourist destination and the primary source for residents in the area, which will add significantly to the city’s sales tax base, she said.

Some local developers also predict the northwest corner of the FM 2920 and FM 2978 intersection as the next hub for major retail and commercial development. One such developer is Jerry Hayley, co-founder of the development company building the 34-acre mixed-use planned development Peck Station near the intersection.

“The northwest corner of FM 2920 and FM 2978 is definitely slated for commercial and retail development and [that] is the best use for that corner, which is ideally situated to handle that,” Hayley said. “It’s the next shoe to fall in the city, and you will see entertainment, restaurant and retail needs all met on that end of town. It could be another Four Corners for Tomball.”

Development concerns

Traffic congestion is the primary area of concern when talking about rapid growth and development, Violette said. However, there are other concerns, such as aesthetics of future development and whether the infrastructure is in place to handle the projected growth.

Tomball has zoning ordinances in place to guide land use and future land use within the city, she said. Downtown Tomball is the only area of town where the city has ordinances in place to control the look of a development through façade requirements. Areas outside of downtown only have zoning ordinances in place that determine the type of development allowed, she said.

“There is a concern to encourage development within the city that has a higher level of aesthetics, but the city can’t require it,” Violette said. “We don’t want these corridors to look like FM 1960 and to ensure that, we need tighter regulations.”

Violette said the city could look at designating certain areas as overlay districts, which does not change the zoned land use of the property, but does provide more guidelines for façade and aesthetic concerns within the district.

“An overlay district simply provides additional requirements for how an area can develop and to keep certain standards along a certain corridor,” she said. “The city could look at designating the FM 2920 corridor to the east as an overlay district to guide development, but it’s not a top priority right now.”

The other concern over development is whether utility infrastructure—such as water, sewer and gas—is there to support growth. Violette said the city has infrastructure in place to handle the moderate growth it is anticipating in the immediate future and is always planning ahead to make sure the infrastructure is in place.

“There are always areas that need utility service and infrastructure improvements, and the future challenges will be increasing the capacity and infrastructure to those areas that are lacking,” Violette said.