Growth, growth, growth — it’s the constant topic of conversation in the northern parts of Galveston County.
“A few years before I moved here, a coworker lived in Countryside South,” said Byram Lass, a League City resident for 20 years. “When I went to his house, it seemed like a relatively long drive in the country once I passed Landing Boulevard. Now it’s all neighborhoods and strip malls wherever you go.”
Whether it’s $72 million of a $145 million bond referendum in League City going toward traffic projects, several cities spending on water and sewer improvements or massive widening projects on Interstate 45 and state Highway 146, many of the biggest decisions in Galveston County are driven by the growth in the northern reaches.
League City’s population in January was 106,803, up from about 102,634 at the same time in 2017, officials said. The difference since 2000, when, according to U.S. Census Data, the city’s population was about 45,400, is even greater. It has increased more than 135 percent in less than 20 years.
By 2010, the city’s population had increased to about 83,500, according to census data.
“I remember they were changing the population signs from 40,000 something to 70,000 something,” said Ange Mertens, a League City residence since 2001. “State Highway 96 was basically a farm road with beautiful open fields.”
Now neighborhoods fill the city’s major roads all the way between Friends-wood and Kemah, Mertens said.
But only about 52 percent of League City is developed and projections show that, once fully developed, the population could rise to more than 200,000, officials said.
Large swaths of land in the southwest part of League City are still undeveloped, though several groups have announced plans to build new residential neighborhoods with grocery stores and gas stations. Three large tracts of old ranch land in southwestern League City, which add up to 4,500 acres, or about 13 percent of the land area in town, could soon fill with residential and commercial developments.
The council in recent months has approved several measures aimed at aiding developers in that area of town. In January, for instance, the council gave approval for rezoning 1,747 acres to create a new Planned Unit Development on the city’s west side.
League City also recently approved instituting capital recovery fees meant to offset the cost of building roads. The new capital recovery fees divide the city into four separate service areas, with the two areas generally to the west of Interstate 45 showing the possibility of doubling in population, from about 32,900 in 2017 to 64,500 in 2027, officials said.
While League City, the county’s largest community, has had the greatest growth, other north county cities also are experiencing increasing populations, and the benefits and challenges that come with that.
Friendswood’s population on Dec. 31, for instance, was 41,075, said Jeff Newpher, spokesman for the city. That’s an increase from the 2017 population, which was about 40,668, according to the city’s planning department.
While the city hasn’t grown at quite the same rate as its larger counterpart, Friendswood has made consistent small gains in recent years. The city’s population in 2010 was about 35,805, according to U.S. Census data.
City officials, however, are waiting for the next census before making any decisions about future growth, Newpher said.
Planned neighborhoods for the southern part of the city could add about 550 homes in coming years and led to the local school district hiring PBK Architects to review enrollment numbers, conduct a facilities master plan and possibly help plan for a future bond referendum.
Both League City and Friendswood are making plans to accommodate that growth. League City is budgeting and using impact fees to prepare for increased water needs and Friendswood recently approved a 21 percent water utility billing rate for residents in order to fund $32 million in capital improvements.
Much of the growth in the northern part of Galveston County is because of exploding population numbers in Houston, the country’s fourth-biggest city. The population around Houston could increase to more than 10 million people by 2040, according to projections from Houston’s METRO group.