How to Turn New Urbanism Inside Out: Walk, Don’t Drive, Says Developer of New Houston Project

HOUSTON –  (By Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report) – Designed to enhance walkability, presenting a denser mix of housing and new urbanity never seen this close to the Harris County line, the upcoming development of the residential acreage in what’s been known as Springwoods Village will be different than the standard subdivision fare.

A Radical Commitment to Non-Auto Transportation

The developer’s new stated vision: “Put the residential piece into a sophisticated urban fabric that makes a radical commitment to non-automobile transportation.”

Springwoods Village, a 2,000-acre development that has attracted the global headquarters of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the 3 million-SF Exxon Mobil corporate campus, has been largely focused on commercial development in its first years of existence.

But now, CDC Houston, a subsidiary of Coventry Development Corporation of New York, is ready to move forward with the residential development of its 450 acres on the western side of Springwoods Village. It will have more of an urban feel than the typical residential community in Texas.

The first big sign that something very different is coming down: a name change.  CDC Houston just announced that “Springwoods Village” is out. Henceforth, the entire project shall be called “City Place.”

“It’s really becoming a city,” said Warren W. Wilson, Executive Vice President of CDC Houston when announcing the name change at a recent press conference. “As we went through the planning process over the last 18 months, the name Springwoods Village became increasingly outdated.”

Enter DMB Development

DMB Development, a community developer based in Scottsdale, Ariz., was brought in as a joint venture partner for the residential development of City Place.

The land, which is south of The Woodlands, near the intersection of Interstate 45 and the Grand Parkway has the advantage of not being on the outer edge of suburbia’s northern creep, said Brent Herrington, President and CEO of DMB Development.

Note: The City Place development is 25 miles north of downtown Houston and full-scale new home construction is occurring in Willis, which is 50 miles from Houston. So a strong case can be made that City Place can be suited as an urban infill project with a brand that includes the word “City.”

The City Place residential development will feature a “mid-density” blend of housing, an unusual menu of homes for Houston. Look for town homes, garden homes, patio homes, detached town homes and various types of condominium product. “We will have some normal single-family – not very much, but we will have it,” Herrington said.  Phase one of the project, with lot deliveries due in 2023, will have about 600 dwellings.

Turning New Urbanism Inside Out

 The residential acres in City Place will have a dense network of sidewalks for pedestrians and separate “alternative mobility pathways” for bicycles and or electric scooters.

“We put in this very audacious goal,” Herrington said. “If we get it right, you’ll be able to go anywhere, without crossing a street busier than the one you live on.”

The developer’s goal of fostering non-automobile transportation includes the ability to walk or ride an electric cycle to work. The City Place work force is already close to 20,000 people with other existing buildings for Southwestern Energy, St. Luke’s Health and the American Bureau of Shipping.

The extensive non-automobile transportation network with the green “alternative mobility pathways” was created with DMB making a major twist to one of the most highly-exalted land planning movements of the last 40 years – The New Urbanism.  Advocated by a host of progressive planners, including Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Peter Calthorpe of California, The New Urbanism envisions walkable neighborhoods, narrow tree-lined streets typically in a grid pattern and a central community plaza with housing and front porches that encourage interaction with neighbors on the sidewalk in a small-town fashion.

“I love New Urbanism and I’ve done a lot of it in the past. The problem is, it’s very street centric. It’s all about the street – eyes on the street,” Herrington said.

But what if the homes face a common greenbelt, pathways and open space, leaving auto access in the rear?

With its plan for City Place, DMB Development is replacing much of the urban street pavement with green space and functional pathways and bicycle lanes.

“We took The New Urbanism that I love so much and just turned it inside out,” Herrington said. The result is City Place’s plan for a massive network of green space and pathways forming an intricate community framework, with many homes facing shared green space.

Walking and cycling will be a high priority in City Place’s final plan. “What we want to do here is this radical commitment to non-automobile transportation,” Herrington said.

The Team

DMB is working with the Espiritu Loci planning firm in Arizona, in conjunction with local architect Jim Wendt, who was on-staff at The Woodlands for many years.

Alex Sutton, who recently retired as co-president of The Woodlands Development Co., has been hired on as general manager of the CDC Houston/DMB Development residential joint venture.

Sutton commented that Houston builders have expressed interest in the new housing types planned for City Place and being part of something that feels like DMB’s denser projects out west.

Executives at the Patrinely Group, which developed a number of the office properties in the project and a 60-acre commercial core of the development, says this new residential is a natural fit.

“CityPlace was conceived as a dynamic, 18-hour community,” said Robert Fields, President and CEO of Patrinely Group, which has developed a number of the commercial properties in the project. “The addition of this residential program adds to the character of what we’ve set out to create.”

Another Phoenix Developer Comes to Space City

The last time a major Phoenix developer came to town –  it was Del Webb – the creator of Sun City developments for mature adults. In the early 1960s, Del Webb partnered with Exxon to develop the 10,000-acre Clear Lake City, adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Clear Lake City set the tone for large-scale residential development in the Houston area for decades to come. The Del Webb/Exxon partnership led to the founding of the Friendswood Development Company, which developed Kingwood, Fairfield and a number of other Houston projects.

Del Webb, or at least the wake of its entry into the market,  left a huge mark on Houston. Large-scale master planned communities, such as 10,000-acre projects that took 20 years to complete, followed Clear Lake City.

But what Arizona-based DMB is doing with City Place may have even more of an impact on Houston.

The developers intend to popularize mid-density housing with its blend of patio homes, townhomes and the like. For this project, DMB’s Herrington rejects the notion of carving up the City Place land into a subdivision where 50-foot and 60-foot lots are divvied up among national builders for mass production. Herrington would consider that a failure.

This land presents opportunity.

“The real burden we have is to not screw this up,” Herrington said.  With tens of thousands of jobs already in place in the City Place, this residential land creates the opportunity to develop a community where homes can be built near existing jobs and the tiny commute to work won’t require a car.

Herrington says DMB’s ambitions are high. City Place should be a development that is “important” – not just a money-maker. The hope is to make the project a place that is imitated by other developers. Herrington talks of sociology and the total human cost of commuting behind the wheel of a car for two hours a day.

Why can’t Elon Musk surround his next electric-car factory with a master planned community that allows Tesla workers to commute to work in a couple of minutes, he asks.

This is Herrington’s moonshot. City Place could be the place that advances The New Urbanism. City Place could change the way master planned communities are conceived in Texas. And people wait to see the highest goal take shape: a community built with “a radical commitment to non-automobile transportation.”


July 17, 2021 Realty News Report Copyright 2021


For more about Texas real estate, check out the book Houston 2020: America’s Boom Town – An Extreme Close Up  by Ralph Bivins. Available on Amazon  http://tiny.cc/4a2g6y  

Houston 2020 Ebook version  https://tinyurl.com/4xm7z8b5   


Image: City Place’s commercial development and adjacent acreage. Courtesy: Gensler


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