Chisholm Trail Parkway, the 28-mile toll road from Fort Worth to Cleburne opened in May, and already more than 3,000 homes are planned in Johnson County.
“The tollway is a huge game changer,” said Diana Miller, the county’s economic development director. “We did not expect to see residential development come so quickly.”
People want a country lifestyle near shopping and employment in Fort Worth, she said.
Godley could see 1,500 homes, and new homes are also being built in Joshua. In Venus, along U.S. 67, Miller said a developer wants to build 1,900 homes.
“I told our smaller cities that they needed to be prepared,” Miller said, adding that she told them: “Remember that freight train I told you about five years ago? Well, it’s here.’ ”
Miller said Joshua, Godley and Keene have upgraded to new water towers and treatment plants.
Godley Mayor David Wallis said he wasn’t too surprised to hear developers want to build more than 1,000 new homes in a city with a current population of 1,009.
He said he expects the population to increase to 3,000-3,500 in the years ahead. The toll road makes it possible to have a country home and commute to work in downtown Fort Worth, he said.
“This is where I grew up, and it’s exciting to see all of the interest in the area,” Wallis said.
He said the city council will have to approve plats for the housing developments, but developers won’t have to deal with much bureaucracy because Godley is so small. Some of the developments are planned within the city limits, but others will have to be annexed in. Besides the new homes, Godley will also get a new Wal-Mart Express store, he said.
‘It will move quickly’
In Joshua, Mayor Joe Hollarn is also hearing from developers who want to add new homes. He said he’s also seeing people moving in from Fort Worth.
Some homeowners are taking advantage of the high demand and selling, he said.
“I’ve seen people put their house up for sale and move out a week later,” he said, adding that the highly rated Joshua school district is probably the biggest draw.
In Burleson, city economic development manager Justin Bond said that last year 360 new homes were built in the city, and he expects 400 this year.
Burleson has two exits to the parkway, Farm Road 917 and County Road 913.
“We look at the parkway, and it’s almost a whole other Burleson that can be developed,” he said. Bond said he expects residential and business development along the parkway to happen in three to five years.
“It will move quickly; I have no doubt about that,” he said.
Johnson County judge Roger Harmon, who has spent the past 20 years helping plan for the tollway, said North Texas Council of Governments projections show the county population will double to more than 300,000 by 2035.
“We think growth will start out moderately and increase to a heavier pace,” Harmon said.
Harmon said that Johnson County and Cleburne formed a tax increment financing district that takes in the U.S. 67 loop and continues north along the toll road to help pay for development in the area.
Planning for growth
In preparation for a population boom, the Cleburne city council approved a comprehensive plan that estimated the population at 100,000 by 2040. The city’s population now, according to U.S. Census 2013 estimates: 29,747.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments puts the increase at a more conservative 40,162 by 2020 and 48,389 by 2035.
Asked whether the 100,000 population figure is realistic, Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said that there has been skepticism among some residents, but that the city needs to be ready for the larger numbers.
“Johnson County is the last frontier in North Texas,” he said. “The Alliance Corridor is all built out, and I think the Chisholm Trail Parkway opens up the whole southwest corridor.”
But Cain also wants to be cautious about the pace of development. He said he wants to see a plan for the Chisholm Trail Parkway corridor and intends to meet with mayors from Burleson and Fort Worth.
Cain said he would like to keep a rural feel to the area.
Holt Cat, a heavy equipment dealership that opened in early June, chose to locate on 20 acres at U.S. 67 near where it connects to the parkway to take advantage of the expected population boom.
Cain said company officials told him the toll road was a big factor in Holt Cat’s decision to expand in the Metroplex.
The Chris Brown Chevrolet dealership, also on U.S. 67, was up and running the same day the toll road opened.
Cashing in on the parkway
At least one small businessman is getting in on the act. Cleburne resident Robin Houghton figures everyone will need a “cool place” to go for entertainment as more people move in, and he plans to provide one.
Houghton bought the property that was once home to the iconic Bill’s Bookstore, which was torn down because the old building wasn’t up to code.
“I have always had a soft spot for Bill, (referring to the former owner Bill Miller who now lives in Grandview) and I wanted to help him out,” he said.
Houghton plans to turn the vacant lot in the heart of downtown into a venue for dining and entertainment, and called it Chisholm Trail Courtyard.
Houghton lives in “cattle country” in rural Johnson County near Interstate 35W, but his business, Mission Hospice, is in Cleburne. He said he wants to have a place to listen to music on weekends without heading north to Fort Worth.
“Cleburne has always been kind of a sleepy little town, and there was no reason to go there unless you wanted to visit antique stores,” he said.
Although downtown Cleburne is more than a five-minute drive from the parkway, Houghton said he probably would not have bought his property had it not been for the toll road.
“Quick access doesn’t do a lot of good unless you have a reason to come here,” he said.