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Forney blossoms as a housing magnet for downtown Dallas commuters

After two decades of selling big, affordable houses with an easy commute, the city now aims to address traffic jams and add amenities.

Update: This story is part of Boomtowns, a look at some of the cities surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth that are attracting the interest of homebuilders, businesses and new residents as the area grows.

FORNEY — Every day a handful of new faces walk into Latham Bakery in downtown Forney, asking owner Malinda Latham and others questions about the growing city 19 miles east of downtown Dallas.

“With so many new home sales, they want to know about the city, what the schools are like and the parks,” said Latham, who opened the shop five years ago.

Not long ago, Forney was a sleepy rural town known for an 8-foot-tall jackrabbit statue. Today, it’s a magnet for Dallas commuters looking for big, affordable houses and highly rated schools within a 30-minute drive of the area’s major business districts.

Forney sits on the western edge of Kaufman County, a county that is being eyed for development because of its open fields and proximity to Dallas proper.

Builders have started work on 7,159 new homes in the last two years in Forney and nearby unincorporated Kaufman County. That’s a third more than in Celina and Princeton, the next busiest cities for home starts.

Forney’s population grew by 86% between 2010 and 2021 to 27,256, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the surrounding neighborhoods that sit in the same ZIP code and the same school district had 52,078 people as of 2021, which is 55% more than back in 2010.

And more should be on the way.

Forney Independent School District anticipates adding 20,000 students in the next decade. That factors in 28,000 home lots that have either been planned by developers or approved by city and county officials. The district has about 15,000 students now.

School district voters passed a $1.29 billion bond in May that includes plans for 10 new schools, including a third high school.

The growth has attracted business, too.

H-E-B, Kohl’s and LA Fitness have announced plans for new locations off U.S. Highway 80 in Forney, adding to other retailers such as Walmart, Kroger and Lowe’s that all have big-box stores in the city.

In 2021, Amazon opened two distribution centers with more than 500 employees in Forney, and tire maker Goodyear opened a 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse there the same year.

Forney Mayor Amanda Lewis, a former health care executive who was elected last year, said the city has been a magnet for middle-class families for two decades, looking to buy large and affordable houses, often in dense neighborhoods.

Now it is looking to diversify its base with more luxury homes on larger lots.

Forney’s average new home sold for $361,000 in the second quarter of 2022, over $200,000 less than in Celina and almost $500,000 less than the average new home in Prosper, where they were going for $841,000.

“Those are the kinds of housetops you need if you want the kinds of retailers people want, like Target,” Lewis said.

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The city is transitioning in other ways, too, she said.

The city shared a library with the local high school, but it closed in 2020 over safety concerns, leaving the city without one.

Traffic jams are occurring because of the growing population and the town’s awkward layout. Railroad tracks that were once a boon to a rural town are now a source of contention between businesses such as H-E-B and the city.

The city is working to expand roads and crowded intersections, but many of the farm-to-market roads that run through town are controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation, and taking them over would require hefty tax investments from Forney.

Lewis said city leaders are working to add more amenities to cater to the growing population. The city proposed $234.8 million worth of bonds for November’s ballot that would include new fire and police stations, parks, a recreation center and money to improve bottleneck intersections.

But Forney’s 14 square miles only cover about half of the residents that live in the 75126 ZIP code, which itself is 77 square miles. Even though those residents live outside the city boundaries, they still depend on the city for parks and retail.

Either way, Forney will have to keep dealing with the growth.

“We are built out in Forney, but there are a lot of homes under construction outside of the city limits,” Lewis said. “And all those people will be coming into Forney to eat and shop.”

FORNEY AT A GLANCE

Population: Estimated 27,256 as of July 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

Location: 19 miles east of downtown Dallas

Racial demographics: 65.8% white, 13.5% Black, 16.9% Hispanic, 2.5% Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

Median household income: $93,792 in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

Median existing home sale price: $391,245 in June, up 22.3% year over year, according to Redfin

Median new construction sale price: $361,468, according to Residential Strategies

Annual single-family home starts: 2,927 through second quarter 2022 in Forney and surrounding areas, according to Residential Strategies

School district: Forney ISD

Master-planned communities: Tellus Group’s planned development Tapestry on 1,100 acres with up to 3,100 homes; Megatel’s Bellagio Lagoon with 400 homes and a lagoon; and a new 1,000-home planned development at Gateway Parks from builder Ashton Woods.

Retail: Mustang Crossing features Walmart, Lowe’s, Chick fil-A and Whataburger. Nearby, the Forney Marketplace shopping center is slated to get a new Kohl’s store and an LA Fitness facility to go along with restaurants and other retail.

History lesson: Lake Ray Hubbard was originally known as Lake Forney and provided water for communities east of Dallas. After it was incorporated by the city of Dallas in 1949 and expanded, it was renamed after a longtime member of Dallas’ parks board.

Meet the next North Texas boomtowns

As Dallas-Fort Worth grows, smaller cities in every direction are attracting the attention of builders and new residents. Here are some of the ones to watch.

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