WEATHERFORD — If there's anything the latest U.S. Census numbers have shown, it's that Texas is growing. 

The Lone Star State boasts an almost 16 percent increase in population from 2010 to 2020, the fourth quickest rate of change in the country.

Signs of that population boom first sprouted in big cities but quickly shifted to sprawling development that reaches into one-rural communities. A surge in house developments, businesses and more continues to press outward from those centers.

"We're not a bedroom community anymore," said Parker County Judge Pat Deen, who represents an area on the outskirts of Fort Worth that has seen an almost 30 percent increase to its population — his county now 152,494 residents. "I think we're all dealing with a common issue here — just a massive amount of growth that's coming to our communities."

Deen's sentiment was echoed by officials across the state, including in Johnson County, another community on the outskirts of the  Metroplex that saw a 22.4 percent population boom in 2020. Cooke County, north of Denton near the Oklahoma border, also saw a double-digit increase with 11 percent growth.

Such rapid growth brings good economic times to many communities, but it also totes substantial stress for local infrastructure and government budgets as tax revenue lags behind the boom.

 

On the home front

Residential building permits in the cities, new and upgraded septic system applications in unincorporated areas and realty records paint a picture of a steady — and sometimes dramatic — rise in homebuilding.

In Weatherford, the county seat of Parker, the city's building division issued more than 400 new residential permits in the first 10 months of 2021, up from the 300 applications in all of 2020 and 250 in 2019.

"Right now, we probably have more than 100 subdivisions going in in Parker County, ranging from 20 homes to 200 or more," Deen said. "Just in Precinct 1 alone, specifically the northern quadrant of Springtown, there are nearly 60 subdivisions going in."

The city of Huntsville has already doubled its number of new single-family housing permits from 2020, and while most of the city is built out, major developments are coming on the edge of city limits or on land that was annexed into the city in 2019.

Two big developments in the works include a 251-lot subdivision and a 355-lot subdivision, both filled with houses under construction. Another, at 98 lots, is seeking to expand to a master plan community with 900 lots.

Most of the new permits are for starter homes, ranging anywhere from $200,000 to $250,000.

In southern Cooke County along the Interstate 35 corridor, new homes are selling quickly.

"I have four [planned subdivisions] that are all completely sold out in the last six to eight months, and then I've got another one that's going to be like 150 houses — and they just bought another 200 acres," Precinct 2 Commissioner Jason Snuggs said. "I'm probably looking at 200 houses down there and that's probably a three-year build out depending on how the market goes."

Ten different housing subdivisions have been platted and vetted by county officials in the last two years for that area, which includes the Valley View school district. The ISD could take on up to 450 new homes by 2025 or 2026.

Palo Pinto County, on the western border of Parker, has seen outright land sales skyrocket, with County Clerk Janette Green estimating her office has handled between 1,200 and 1,500 more land-sale documents so far this year than during all of 2020. Last year’s document count was surpassed by May or June, she added.

“The southern part of the county is getting full,” she said, describing one new subdivision with 144 lots “sold in one day. The title companies can’t keep up.”

But all that building means one thing — water needs to be available, a challenge bigger to some communities than others.

"You can't keep poking holes in the ground and expecting water to come out," Deen said, noting that his county's biggest water concern is in its western reaches. "Basically, we're going to need a reservoir for western Parker County."

The eastern side gets its surface water from the city of Fort Worth and through the Benbrook pipeline, but Deen said the county is working with the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District regarding testing and measurement of aquifers.

Cities like Athens and Corsicana haven't seen a dramatic shift in growth, but still are working on master plans for the future.

"We have not upgraded infrastructure to keep up with growth, but hopefully our comprehensive master plan will provide current and future staff on which roads, water and sewer lines need to be improved to accommodate future growth," Athens City Manager Elizabeth Borstad said.

Corsicana has already made improvements to one of its water treatment plants, and is planning to expand another plant with additional storage and pumping capacity, which should be completed in January, City Manager Connie Standridge said.

 

The roads more traveled

A quick drive down Farm-to-Market Road 920 from Weatherford to Peaster in northwest Parker County used to once be a peaceful cruise through the country.

Not anymore.

The housing development-lined stretch now has become a dangerous drive.

The Texas Department of Transportation is increasing signage and the width of the road, along with traffic signals and other safety measures.

"That's paramount is making sure we're not putting people in harm's way as we continue to grow and get more traffic on our roads," Deen said.

An updated traffic study of the Interstate 20 corridor, another area that has been prone to crashes, is also underway through the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which noted an estimated 49,300 drivers traveled that route at 5 p.m. in 2018.

City and county leaders have been working with state officials on future expansion of I20, which "should've happened 10 years ago," Deen said.

Snuggs added that Cooke County's current roads are well-suited for what's going on now, but that's going to change with more houses, more vehicles on the street and more kids in schools.

Hunt County, home of Greenville, is beginning to see a huge influence of growth from neighboring Rockwall and Dallas counties, with a 13.7 percent population increase over the last decade.

TxDOT has begun a $142 million project for expansion of the intersecting Interstate 30, to include extra lanes, reconfigured ramps and frontage roads.

 

Max capacity

A natural parallel to an increase in population is an increase in crime, something some counties are already working to address.

Parker County officials recently said they need another courtroom to keep up with more cases, and the scenario is the same at the Parker County Jail, which surpasses 400 inmates most weekends, PCSO Chief Deputy Mark Arnett said. The jail's maximum occupancy is 461.

Jail staff recently requested the county approve two projects that would expand the capacity, which were voted through based on the contingency that the funding could come from COVID relief funds.

"Commonsensically, the [jail population] is going to go up as the population goes up. That's the trend everywhere," Parker County Sheriff Russ Authier said. "I don't think we're in a dire situation at the moment, but you have to have a plan."

For Cooke County, that includes an expansion of the 212-bed facility that is averaging 162 prisoners per day.

County officials are also identifying ways to provide more law enforcement with a bigger population.

"We're going to have to hope that we get enough [increased property tax collections from rising property values] so we can put more deputies on, because that is a major concern of mine," Snuggs said. "And we have to make sure Cooke County EMS keeps enough ambulances around to handle our demand."

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