Dayton city leaders are striving to retain the town’s small-town charm while embracing the acceleration of growth coming its way. That message was shared by City Manager Theo Melancon during the State of the City address before the Dayton Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
“With growth comes challenges, and we have to meet those challenges,” Melancon said to the 60 or so guests at the chamber luncheon.
Melancon, scheduled to appear alongside Mayor Jeff Lambright, who was absent from the luncheon, shared information on the numbers of building permits, inspections, plats and new home permits from 2013 and 2017 to show how quickly growth in the city has escalated in just five years.
In 2013, the number of building permits issued by the city was 388, compared to 802 in 2017, a 107 percent increase during the five-year period. The increase was even greater regarding inspections, where the city performed 317 inspections in 2013 and 3,055 in 2017.
In 2017, the city also approved 12 development plats compared to the two approved in 2013. New home permits also increased nearly ten-fold from eight in 2013 to 77 in 2017.
“We did plats for over 190 homes in the month of May  alone. That’s pretty amazing. That gives you an idea of the acceleration of growth that is coming to Dayton,” Melancon said.
The city manager highlighted several residential developments that will add thousands of new homes, and potentially tens of thousands of new residents, to the city. River Ranch, a 7,000-acre master-planned community being developed by Bill Sjolander and other parties, will add more than 1,000 homes in the first of 15 planned phases. On FM 686, another 2,600-acre, master-planned development is in the works, and in neighboring Kenefick, homes are being built in the 3,000-lot development of Encino Estates.
“While [Encino Estates] is not in the city limits, it does affect our school district, so we are working alongside school district officials and developers in any way we can,” Melancon said.
The city manager said the challenge is to stay ahead of the growth and try to implement modern permitting and planning concepts, or risk being inundated with negative developments.
“The Plum Grove development has gone through a lot of evolution. It went from a pretty tough development to something a lot better,” he said. “We want to make sure our future developments in River Ranch and all those around us that affect, not only the city limits but our ETJ (extra-territorial jurisdiction), are all good developments for the future vitality of the city.”
The city is working to recruit companies to the area that offer good wages in both white-collar and blue-collar fields.
“We are committed to bringing in good jobs,” Melancon said.
With a proximity to Mont Belvieu, Pasadena and Houston, a lot of jobs undoubtedly will come from petrochemical plants; however, the city of Dayton is looking for a diversified economy that does not solely rely on the prosperity of the petrochemical industry.
“We are also looking at service industry jobs,” Melancon said. “When the economy goes up [in the petrochemical industry], the city does well, but when you have a bust cycle, then it goes downhill. We want to have a cross section of the American economy.”
He pointed to the success of the Gulf Inland project, which is in the city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ). Gulf Inland is projected to add between 7,500 and 15,000 jobs in the city within the first three phases, according to Melancon.
The city now is looking to create a second TIRZ to spur growth downtown, which could be expanded to include areas outside of what is traditionally considered “downtown.”
Melancon said the downtown TIRZ will let developers know the city is “serious about redeveloping the downtown area and sensitive to the city’s heritage.”
In recent months, Dayton City Council approved the city’s comprehensive plan. City leaders now are working on a formal downtown revitalization plan and master parks plan. The plans could also open grant opportunities for the city.
Dayton also has implemented a 380 program to incentivize developers to build homes in the original town sites that cost roughly $185,000 and meet architectural standards. Melancon pointed to a project on Beauty Street that has undergone a recent transformation. Previously the property had a value of $29,000 for a one-acre undeveloped tract. The land was divided into two half-acre lots and brick homes were erected on each. The value of each home and half-acre lot is now $210,000.
“There is definitely an effort to revitalize the old town site,” Melancon said.
With all the new homes being added, a population boom is inevitable. One of the biggest concerns for residents living in the area is how the city will address the additional burden of vehicles on the already-congested roads. Melancon said the city is considering multi-modal transportation for cars, bicycles and other means.
“The city is looking at a highway plan. We have a transportation project that should go out for bid in 2021 for the intersection of US 90 and FM 1413,” Melancon said, adding that the plan now calls for US 90 to cross over FM 1413.
According to Melancon, H-GAC (Houston-Galveston Area Council) is funding the overpass project for TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation).
“That would save a lot of lives at that intersection,” he said. “Other transportation projects being considered by TxDOT is an expansion project for FM 1960, for an initial four-lane highway, and a feasibility study for the expansion of FM 1008, and having raised medians on US 90.”
By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org