Many of the suburbs around Dallas are still writing their own stories. They have pastures not yet paved, subdivisions still undeveloped, office buildings yet to rise. They’re early in their life cycles. Their paths are not yet set.
Plano, on the other hand, is past its period of wild, booming residential growth. It has become landlocked. Half of its houses are 25 years old or older. Newcomers began passing over the city for shinier, newer suburbs across North Texas.
“We peaked, and we started getting overlooked,” says Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere. “But what we’re experiencing now is a true second act.”
Plano has reclaimed the headlines with news of one large corporation after another relocating to the city: Toyota, Liberty Mutual, and FedEx Office are all building new headquarters and operations centers, spending millions of dollars on office parks and drawing thousands of workers. The city is surrounded by an ever-expanding array of shopping and dining options—such as The Shops at Willow Bend, anchored by high-end retailer Neiman Marcus. A parade of Dallas restaurants continues to open branches in Plano—Lockhart Smokehouse and Smoke, for instance. The city also is revitalizing its downtown, which some have likened to having the same “up-and-coming” feeling as the Bishop Arts District. Residents also rave about the city’s libraries and parks.
But the growth, as always, comes at a cost. Incoming residents are helping to fuel a shortage of homes for sale in Collin County and driving up house prices—a boon for sellers, but a problem for residents hoping to trade up in their neighborhoods. As values rise, so do property taxes. And many residents are worried that the influx of new people will further clog roads and overcrowd schools.
Once again, Plano finds itself grappling with the questions faced by every rapidly growing community: how to handle growth without diminishing quality of life.
Rebecca Anderson moved to Plano 12 years ago, after she accepted a job with J.C. Penney Co. right out of college. Anderson now works in Frisco but still lives in Plano with her husband and two children, largely because of its schools. On weekends, when she takes her kids, ages 1 and 3, to the playground at the neighborhood elementary school, she notices the portable classrooms.
“I wonder, Is my daughter going to have to be in one of those trailers, or will she be in the real building?” Anderson says. “My sense is that the school board is making good decisions about future growth, but these things do cross your mind.”
When Lyn Osborne and her husband relocated to North Texas in 2009, they weighed the same variables as everyone else when deciding where to live—schools, house, and commute. For them, schools ranked first and commute second. They chose Plano. But if school quality lags, they may have to re-evaluate the equation.
“We could have chosen a cuter house in Dallas, or a newer house farther north,” says Osborne, a mother of two. “But we picked Plano because of its test scores. The schools are wonderful. But with all of these people moving in, how are we going to keep them wonderful?”
It’s a question city leaders and school board trustees are fielding regularly from parents. They remind them that, unlike some of the region’s newer suburbs, Plano has been handling rapid growth for nearly three decades. Plano ISD uses a demographics firm that studies growth patterns and delivers reports every quarter. Trustees are paying attention to the growth and believe they’ll be able to maintain high-quality schools, says Nancy Humphrey, president of the Plano ISD board of trustees.
“This period of growth is a big deal to us,” Humphrey says. “We’re excited to have new businesses and their families come to Plano.”
LaRosiliere says that growth had begun to taper in Plano, and enrollment in some schools had begun to dwindle. An influx of new residents will help keep the school district and community strong, he believes.
“We are a maturing community,” LaRosiliere says. “We are at that point in our life cycle where many cities have a turning point. The residents get older. The neighborhoods get emptier. The infrastructure begins to deteriorate. By focusing on bringing jobs to the area, we believe we have found our fountain of youth.”
In the past two years, Plano has spent $35 million in improvements to its infrastructure and roads. It also has launched a program offering up to $5,000 in tax rebates for residents who renovate their homes in older parts of town. So far, leaders have allocated about $470,000 in rebates and spurred $2.7 million in improvements to neighborhoods, LaRosiliere says.
He notes that the new companies are drawing a large number of millennials as workers—a generation now in their 20s and 30s, just beginning to start families. Their presence in Plano, to a large degree, will not cause an immediate onslaught at schools, but rather gradual growth, the mayor says. The city’s challenge will be convincing them to remain in Plano and not eventually move off to nearby suburbs.
Plano orthodontist Tamara Jones hears mothers talking every day about rapid growth as they bring their children into her practice at Willow Bend Orthodontics. Jones understands all too well their concerns about schools and traffic. She notices it’s taking her longer to run errands during the lunch hour.
But she also feels relieved by the changes. As Plano continued to age, Jones had begun to worry about whether the city could sustain growth for her business. In recent months, she has received several new patients who relocated to the area for jobs.
“We’re seeing new people, bringing new energy to Plano,” Jones says. “I’m ecstatic about what’s happening here now.”