In Houston and the surrounding areas, there is a new kind of subdivision taking over the landscape called the Master Planned Community. These new subdivisions designed on very large pieces of land typically include large recreation centers such as water parks, hike and bike trails, multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds, and golf courses. Retail centers are part of the plan as well to offer residents a complete the package of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife nearby.
Another aspect of a master planned community is the attempt to make everything inside the subdivision homogeneous. Landscaping is kept similar throughout and walls use the same brick and style so that even though you may have different sections offering more privacy or bigger lots, ultimately you are aware that you are inside the boundaries of the master planned community. This continuity continues into the retail sections in which all buildings must use the same color brick as well. So the Taco Bell building will look basically the same as the Pizza Hut and the Kroger except for the signs which remain unique to the brand. On the one hand, making all retail look-alike creates a matching appearance that is appealing, but it makes finding a particular store or restaurant much more difficult since you have to read each sign to tell one building apart from another.
There are many advantages to master-planned communities which make them very popular with families moving into the area. The large water parks and recreation facilities are a huge draw for parents with children. The subdivision naturally creates a family friendly environment that means you are sure to meet other parents, your kids will have lots of other children in the neighborhood, and there are many schools nearby as part of the master plan as well. The continuity of landscaping and retail inside the community make it feel well maintained and less likely for home prices to drop because of an ugly strip shopping center popping up or neighbors not maintaining their property.
However, the rise of master planned communities comes with some costs as well. There was a time when you could plant what you wanted, paint your house any color, or leave toys in your front yard. Now, a Home Owners Association (HOA) governs almost all new subdivisions and gets to decide if changes to your house or landscaping are good or bad for the community. You have to ask the HOA for permission to make any visible changes to your house or yard. If you don’t mow often enough or leave a trash can out too long, you are likely to receive a letter from the HOA asking for you to fix the problem immediately or expect fines. In addition, the HOA charges a yearly fee that can reach over a $1000 per year to live in that subdivision. In theory, the HOA should help home values by keeping appearances to a similar standard in the neighborhood; however, sometimes they become overly restrictive.
Also, the same qualities that add to the community's popularity will drive away other people. The roads of endless houses create long winding drives that take extra time to get outside the subdivision and on to a highway. The sameness within the community is stifling for those who like variety. Drives to retail locations are often longer and plagued with more traffic since the retail is often placed in large blocks around the outside of the community and there may only be one or two main roads for access. Even if you don’t want to use the recreation facilities, you still have to pay for their upkeep and maintenance through high HOA fees.
Whether you like them or not, master planned communities are popping up more and more. In Katy, the master planned subdivision of Cinco Ranch continues to grow and move westward offering homes ranging in price from $150,000 to over a million dollars. At 8100 acres, it is now the largest development of its kind on the west side of Houston and continues to be an extremely popular place to live.