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Local Government

Blame For Collin County Growing Pains Rests on State, Regional, and Local Officials

Regional planning in DFW has mostly meant subsidizing road and development projects that are now straining life in booming Collin County

On July 1, the Dallas Morning News ran a lengthy report on how Collin Country’s tremendous growth and economic success is beginning to frustrate residents. The frustrations run the gamut of the usual urban growing pains: schools are crowding, roads are crowding, land is disappearing, and increased density is changing community character. Often touted as the poster child of the genius of DFW’s singular-minded regional planning strategy — build roads to cheap land, watch fields sprout concrete — now Collin County officials and residents are feeling a little buyer’s remorse:

“They put too many apartments in too tight a space in too high a density,” anti-growth advocate Alan Samara tells the DMN. “We want them to stop.”

Unfortunately, the situation in Collin County could not have been more predictable. After all, it was designed that way. State, regional, and local transportation strategy over the past three decades has overwhelmingly supported the directing of public resources towards road-building projects that can open up new land for development. Concurrently, the regional strategy around public transit has been to direct resources towards a light rail network designed to relieve congestion on those highways. Area cities that have not contributed sales tax to public transit have instead been allowed by the state to use those tax dollars as economic development incentives to attract business relocation and new real estate development.

When you spend three decades building auto infrastructure into cheap corn fields and throwing economic development slush funds at corporations, you are going to attract growth. And if you direct the majority of your state’s infrastructure resources towards this end, while also unbuckling restrictions on zoning, you’re going to attract a hell of a lot of growth. You’re also going to get a schizophrenic built environment that will work wonderfully until growth hits a tipping point, and some of the very community values that incentivized that growth — space, schools, convenience — are eroded away.

There have been some exceptions to the rule. Addison smartly developed a community in Addison Circle, and Plano has created a few walkable hubs and town centers, all of which can absorb density efficiently and balance it with the needs of nearby single-family neighborhoods. But the rest of Collin County is a free-for-all, the market manifestation of a philosophy that makes public investment serve the interests of private investment, but fails to make private investment serve the public interest.

I feel for the residents of Collin County. They live in rapidly changing communities that look every day less and less like the places they grew up in or moved to. The growth will soon bring big-city problems to their suburban communities. Their schools will overcrowd, their commutes will worsen, and solutions will become increasingly expensive and politically difficult as land disappears. Their geographic character will make it difficult to back-in urban infrastructure, like transit, more sensible streetscapes, and shops and services located away from big-box-anchored shopping centers.

And all of these problems will only get worse in the coming decades when the new construction, built with dirt-cheap materials, will reach the end of its 25-year life span, and today’s pseudo-luxury apartments start looking shoddy and shabby. This isn’t some dystopian fantasy — it’s precisely what has already happened all over DFW, from the inner-ring suburbs to Dallas’ once swinging singles hot-spot, Vickery Meadow. It’s what happens when you allow the market to turn your community into a disposable commodity.

If anything the frustration emanating out of Collin County needs to be a wake-up call for local, regional, and state officials. It has surely been fun to turn on the growth spigot, doling out precious tax dollars for roads and business incentives and watching the tax base grow exponentially. But if DFW wants to succeed in the long run, some real planning is necessary — planning that can look holistically at the region and consider how to steer jobs, density, investment, and growth in a way that serves the area’s long-term interest and sustainability, and not planning that turns each city and suburb into a little fattened fiefdom competing against all the others.

Unfortunately, planning requires thinking, compromise, and, occasionally, restraint — not exactly qualities Texas or DFW has exhibited when it comes to urban planning and transportation.



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  • DubiousBrother

    “buyers resource:” por qué?

    • bmslaw

      Remorse: deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed.

    • Peter Simek

      I can’t seem to get through a post without at least one awkward typo. Thanks for pointing it out.

      • DubiousBrother

        Same here – auto correct isn’t all good.

      • bmslaw

        But, do you have remorse for your awkward typo?

  • dallasmay

    The basic unit of time for city and regional planning and development should always be the “Generation”. If you are planning your city based on the needs and desires of the current generation you are doing it wrong.

    • Ben Reavis

      What if you’re planning for the generation on Medicare?

      • dallasmay

        I’m suggesting that a generation is a unit of time, like a second or a day.

        So in the instance of Medicare, I would like our politicians to consider creating policies that would stabilize Medicare for 3 or 4 generations.

  • The_Overdog

    Apartments pay way more in tax property tax than all but the finest single family homes do, so the reckoning will come one way or another. It’s apartments or eventual bankruptcy take your pick. Dallas City Councilman Kleinmann said in Dallas a single family home has to be worth a minimum of $250k to ‘pay its own way’, which is above Dallas’ and pretty close to Plano’s median home value (not current sales value, you have to include all the homes not currently for sale). That’s an impossible nut to crack if raising taxes is off the table too.

    Dallas and DFW also aready have a regional planning collective (2 actually, DART and NCTCOG) that’s not been much value on the ‘future planning’ front, so I’m not sure why you would even suggest that other areas join, unless they just want highways, free money, and eventually a token rail stop.

  • SuburbanUrbanist

    While it is amusing to compare Frisco and Plano to Vickery Meadow, this piece reflects someone who is just clipping DMN comments from disgruntled baby boomers, and not someone who is actually observing what is going on in Collin County.

    Many of the suburbs in Collin County are actually trying to thoughtfully plan for their future by encouraging the redevelopment of failing sprawl development, and by introducing nodes of mixed-use into their suburban character pattern. Some are doing this as their communities are still experiencing rapid growth (Frisco, McKinney) while other suburbs are achieving this through infill and redevelopment (Plano, Richardson, Allen). As Collin County doubles in size in the next 20 years, those cities that have not come around on transit will begin to realize that they will need to see mode shift in order to reduce congestion.

    Sprawl development patterns still dominate in Collin County (as it does in Dallas as well), but commentary like this actually makes it harder for our communities to break the stranglehold that sprawl has on DFW. Focus on making Dallas more vibrant and urban and you won’t need to care about what is going on in the burbs.

  • Manu Dance

    No to Californinflation of Texas

  • stacy

    Growth has its cost, nothing comes free. its become even harder as sole earner in family for moms , there are some help here available though.

  • TXKeith

    Interesting that Addison (and Addison Circle) are listed as examples/exceptions for Collin County, considering that the town is located entirely in Dallas County.

  • Arlie Tater

    Almost. Addison isn’t in Collin County. It’s in Dallas County…