The town of Celina’s little downtown is a flashback to the 1920s.
Historic buildings like the old Nelson railroad hotel and the First State Bank haven’t changed much in the last 100 years.
But just over the hill toward Dallas, it’s easy to spot earth movers plowing up thousands of acres of farmland to make way for new residential rooftops.
During the last year, developers have announced plans for a half dozen major new home communities in Celina. Even more are on the way.
“I’m amazed with what’s going on in Celina,” said Fred Balda, president of Hillwood Communities, which has three new residential neighborhoods in the works in Celina. “I’d buy more land if I could.
“Celina is in the right location, and the town leaders have the right attitude,” said Balda, whose firm is one of the largest residential community builders in Texas. “And the growth is all being driven by the huge amount of job creation in the northern suburbs.”
Celina is 40 miles north of downtown Dallas.
But the town, which straddles the Collin and Denton county line, is only 20 miles from where Toyota, JPMorgan Chase and Liberty Mutual Insurance are locating thousands of new jobs.
More than 20,000 new home building lots are in the pipeline for 2016 and 2017.
And builders have gotten permits to start more than 2,100 Celina houses just in the last year.
“In the next 10 years, we are going to grow the way Frisco has in the last decade,” said Corbett Howard, executive director of the Celina Economic Development Corp. “This is the decade of Celina.
“Right now we have a population of about 11,000,” he said. “In 2020, we expect it to be 35,000.” Celina only had 1,800 people as recently as 2000.
About 10 percent of the city’s land is currently built on.
“Celina has a 78-square-mile footprint,” Howard said. “That’s larger than Frisco and larger than Plano.
“We have so much room to grow.”
And Celina, which is on the path of the extended Dallas North Tollway, is in the right place to take advantage of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s booming population and job market, housing analysts say.
“The homebuyers are coming up to Celina,” said Ted Wilson of Dallas-based housing analyst Residential Strategies. “That market is just red hot, and I’m hearing from a lot of builders wanting a position up there.”
The huge success of the 1070-acre Light Farms residential community on Celina’s south side has gotten a lot of attention in the homebuilding industry.
Since opening last year, builders have sold almost 700 houses in the first phases of the 3,200-home community between Preston Road and the Dallas North Tollway route.
Houses in the project start at around $250,000.
“For those people looking for affordable new housing, Celina certainly is an alternative,” Wilson said. “Over the past year and a half, builders have moved further out looking for affordable land.”
Howard said that a new home in Celina’s communities can be almost $100,000 less than a comparable house to the south in Frisco.
“Twenty months ago, Light Farms didn’t have a single house,” he said. “They are now one of the fastest-growing new home communities in the country.”
Light Farms was one of the top two dozen residential projects in the country last year, according to Jake Wagner, CEO of project developer RPG.
“We have over 2,000 people currently living in Light Farms,” Wagner said. “We make pretty conservative projections for our communities, and we have definitely outperformed them thus far.
“We sold 402 homes last year.”
One of those buyers Ben Rogers, who moved his family from Far North Dallas to Light Farms at the end of last year.
“We fell in love with it,” said Rogers, who’s a sports talk show host and works near downtown Dallas. “It’s small-town charm but right on the fringe — we are just a couple of minutes away from Frisco.”
After selling their house in Prestonwood for a “ridiculous price,” the Rogers family shopped new homes in Allen, McKinney, Southlake and Frisco. Rogers said he hadn’t even heard of Celina before visiting Light Farms.
‘This is the best thing we have ever done for our family,” he said. “The amount of extra house you get and the community and safety is off the charts.
“Our home took almost a year to build,” Rogers said. “In the time we bought our house and we closed, it had already appreciated $95,000.”
He said some of the longtime residents in the area fret about all the construction.
“Some people that have been here a long time don’t want it to grow,” Rogers said. “Some of those people are moving further north to Gunter.”
Frisco, Prosper, Celina and Gunter were once all distinct little towns.
Celina got its start in the late 1870s and early 1880s when a pioneer — John T. Mulkey — settled in the area and named it after his old Kentucky hometown.
In 1902, when the St. Louis, San Francisco and Texas Railway (the Frisco) was built through the area, the town moved its buildings to the west to cozy up to the new rail line.
By 1950, there were just over 1,000 residents in Celina. For decades, the town survived as a farming community, along with many of its neighbors.
As Dallas’ suburban sprawl moved up Preston Road, towns to the south all developed.
Now Celina is next in line for a boom.
Developer Tomlin Investments is building a 1,408-acre community called Green Meadows that’s just west of the tollway. The new home community in east Denton County will bring 4,500 homes to Celina.
And Cambridge Cos. is building a 682-acre residential project that will have room for almost 2,000 homes called Mustang Ranch. Cambridge has a second Celina project — Cambridge Crossings — that will include another 1,600 houses.
Centurion American Development is building a 2,300-home subdivision on Celina’s west side.
Hillwood Residential’s three projects add up to almost 2,400 homes. Hillwood is partnering on one of the home communities with Wynne/Jackson on land once known as Glendenning Farm after a longtime local family.
“We will have 10 different builders on those three projects we are doing,” Hillwood’s Balda said. “We should start delivering houses next year.
“The market up there is so big that we think there is demand for all these new communities.”