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Master-planned community Riceland could triple Mont Belvieu population

November 22, 2021

A new master-planned community in the works will have the potential to double or triple the population of the small town of Mont Belvieu in Chambers County.

Houston-based McGrath Real Estate Partners said it plans to break ground on the 1,400-acre Riceland in March, with work on the first residential plats starting next summer.

McGrath is working with four builders for the development, which envisions 3,800 to 4,000 homes starting in the low $300,000 range, a recreational building with a pool, a lake with a fish camp and a park system with 30 miles of hike and bike trails, according to Randy Hopper, vice president of acquisitions and development at McGrath Real Estate Partners, and Chief Investment Officer Barrett Kirk.

The Houston office of Austin-based TBG Partners is the landscape architect, which is working with Houston-based Jones Engineering Solutions. Memphis-based LRK is designing part of the town center. Toronto-based Trez Capital is providing financing.

Riceland is designed to be a walkable community and encourage limited automobile use, Hopper and Kirk said.

“The design will promote residents to say, ‘Let's walk to the town center, let's walk to the amenity,’” Hopper said. “We’ve kept the density of housing per acreage pretty low, so that lends it to a lot of green space per home.”

Part of the plan is a town center that McGrath is developing in collaboration with the city of Mont Belvieu, which is currently building a new city hall and other municipal buildings.

It will include office, retail and green space as well as potentially restaurant and medical buildings, Hopper said.

The town center, on the corner of FM 565 and Eagle Drive, “will give Mont Belvieu an authentic downtown,” according to the city.

Kirk said he considers the town center, with its event lawn and restaurants, as one of Riceland’s top amenities.

“It'll be a place that we can hold events, the city can hold events, we can hold events together," he said. "You can eat dinner or lunch while your kids play on the green. It's going to have that small town feel that they're lacking right now.”

The town center could also be a draw for other communities, Kirk said, especially with the expansion of the Grand Parkway.The 1,400-acre piece of land has been in the hands of Randy Hopper’s family since 1824, when Texas was still part of Mexico, he said.

Over the years it has been used for rice farming, cattle, hay and crawfish, Hopper said.

In the late 1980s, Mont Belvieu was basically moved about 2 miles to the west because it was threatened by a salt dome after a plant explosion, according to the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas.

The salt dome remains today, but local industry is managing its safety and using it as natural gas storage, Hopper said.

“But the city got moved and they lost the ancestral center of town,” he said. “And so this development also aims to deliver a part of Mont Belvieu that was lost to history.”

Riceland will be the largest, amenitized master-planned community in the area, said Lawrence Dean, Houston director for real estate data firm Zonda.

“There’s a larger share of this type of large-scale, higher-end master-planned community — generally speaking — in the western half or maybe western two-thirds of the Houston area,” he said.

But the eastern side of Greater Houston has “always had pockets of higher-income, more upscale, master-planned community-oriented development,” Dean said.

Mont Belvieu has a highly rated school district, the Barbers Hill Independent School District, and many residents have high-paying, managerial jobs in the energy industry in Baytown, along the Houston Ship Channel and even as far as Beaumont, Dean said.

He said there’s a common perception that the higher-paid people in that industry work in offices along the Energy Corridor on Houston’s westside. But that’s not necessarily true.

“There's lots of engineers and managers and professionals and also highly skilled technical workers that work in the refineries and make a really good living,” Dean said. “So there is demand for nicer (and) frankly, more expensive, housing in proximity to those facilities as well.”

By Florian Martin, Houston Business Journal