Jul 06 2021 7:00 AM

Celina has to deal with the growth that’s coming

The Dallas Morning News - Steve Brown

 Exurbs must plan now to embrace an urban future.

Each election cycle, when we interview candidates for city leadership throughout North Texas, we see a predictable set of issues come up on repeat.

For Dallas, it’s urban problems like homelessness and broken, battered roads. For inner-ring suburbs, it’s aging infrastructure and struggles with economic development. For hot outer-ring suburbs, it’s what to do with all the money coming in from new development and how to deal with residents angry over the change.

And then there’s the exurbs, where you’re as likely to encounter a cornfield as a request for a zoning change. Typically, those towns display a hesitancy to change.

They like the idea of economic growth, but they don’t want to lose their town’s rural, low-crime charm.

Celina, a town of 28,000 that’s closer to the Oklahoma border than to downtown Dallas, has all of that ahead of it. Last week brought news that Celina is starting its progression through those rings. The town officially surpassed Frisco, the boomtown to its south, in residential building permits, according to a city news release.

The mistake exurbs often make is to embrace policies designed to fend off growth and density, rather than anticipating growth and building a smart, diverse, sustainable city to accept it. Celina seems to be taking the latter approach.

“We believe that growth is inevitable,” Celina City Manager Jason Laumer told us. “Some of our citizens miss seeing farmland and hate to see it developed, but property owners have the right to develop their land.”

Laumer said his staff has been hard at work on forward-looking plans for residential development, industrial zones and public transit, some of which may be more than 20 years away. The city has been involved in a recent transit study with the North Central Texas Council of Governments and hired an engineer to determine where to build a Celina transit station, likely to be the last stop on a train line. Laumer spoke of automated buses, fiber-optic broadband and other futuristic efforts to get ahead of growth.

Celina will likely never deal with hub-city issues. City leaders estimate its maximum build-out population at 350,000. But Celina, like other exurbs, can learn from the experiences of its neighbors to the south. And it should. As a region, the farther out we build, the better we should be at it.

Celina’s official city logo features a shock of wheat, a fitting symbol for a bucolic little town. As any small Texas town would want, Celina may be best known for its powerhouse football program. The school won seven state championships between 1995 and 2007. It’s real-life Friday Night Lights.

But rural Texas is changing. City leaders in Celina and other exurbs should not shy away from the coming transformation, lest they replace that shock of wheat with the shock of seeing their city fall behind.

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