Reporter: Ellie Mahan
September 1, 2021
The Whitney population is growing, along with the number of housing and business developments underway. There are currently three active housing developments in Whitney, and the number of certificates of occupancy for new businesses has increased by roughly 15% this year, according to Chris Bentley, city administrator and chief of police.
“There are good signs that growth is hitting our area. Real estate is reasonable here. Infrastructure is in pretty good shape. Crime is low. We have good fire protection, a lot of things that draw people to the neighborhood,” Chief Bentley said.
The three housing developments in the works are Trinity Estates, which is starting out with the construction of approximately 35 houses, a development on Colorado Street, which is set to include approximately 13 houses, and an unnamed development just west of Whitney’s water tower, which is set on 72 acres with plans for approximately 120 houses to be built on it.
Hope Zuniga, Realtor at Homeland Realty in Whitney, said, “We’re experiencing a big growth because of the influx of people moving here. The Texas economy is good. Whitney is also growing because of proactive city government that is bringing in new industry and investors putting in new housing developments.”
Zuniga said there is a need for housing in the Whitney area because of the newcomers who want to move into town. Zuniga and other local realtors stated that inventory is lower than usual because houses sell so fast. The cost to build is high because of lumber and construction prices. People may be able to sell their house for more money than they normally would, but it will cost more to purchase a replacement home.
“A lot of people didn’t put their houses on the market because they couldn’t afford a new place to go to. Homes that have been on the market do not last on the market long. They sell quickly. It’s a state wide phenomenon. There is a shortage of homes in all areas of Texas,” Zuniga said.
Denise Callaway of Bosque Real Estate said she is also seeing houses sold more rapidly when they are put on the market.
“Even since COVID started, it’s been probably double or triple [number of houses sold]. Where things normally would stay on the market for two, three, or six months, now they’re on the market for two to three weeks,” Callaway said.
Callaway said maybe people are moving to smaller towns like Whitney because the pandemic has shown them they can work for companies based in cities like Dallas and work from a home in a rural area.
“I think a lot of people have learned that they can work from home, and they don’t have to live in the big cities,” Callaway said. “A lot of people have discovered that, so they’re buying more in rural areas so that they don’t have to live in the big cities. They don’t have to commute.”
At the same time, some people may move to the Whitney area because it is within driving distance from bigger cities, according to Bentley.
“Amazon is opening up a big warehouse in Waco. People didn’t want to live in Waco, so they came all the way here. Again property is reasonable here, and people can buy property and then it’s only a 45 minute drive to Waco. A lot of people in White Bluff work in Dallas, so they travel right through Whitney. I think that’s going to be our biggest challenge is to keep the infrastructure strong, not necessarily for everybody who lives here, but for everybody who is going to travel through here,” Bentley said.
Another reason Bentley theorized people are moving to Whitney is because the policemen, firemen and emergency medical technicians strive to keep residents safe, and the small town’s city services attract people. Police officers keep medical and fire equipment in their patrol cars, so they are always ready to respond to any type of emergency.
“Crime, fire and ambulances are a big deal. We run our own ambulance service here. The combination of those three services, people feel comfortable with that. We have a three minute response time for an ambulance. That’s kind of unheard of. All the policemen are firemen, policemen and medics combined. They all have a triple certification, so they make more money. We have very low turnover in those employees. It’s been good for us,” Bentley said.
Bentley said he isn’t necessarily concerned about Whitney’s growth causing traffic issues, but he wants to focus on maintaining a safe community. He predicts that over the next five years, Whitney will need to hire more officers as well as more city workers to accommodate the town’s growth.
“We traditionally have one of the lowest crime rates in the entire county. The influx of population will always change that because you just have more people, but I think the council that we have right now has been very conscious about infrastructure building, what we’re going to do five years from now,” Bentley said.
Addressing residents’ concern that the city’s water and sewer system may not be able to handle the new development, Bentley said that last year, the city upgraded the water sewer plant, which he thinks will be sufficient for at least the next five years. City officials are already looking to the future and preparing to eventually switch from a processing plant to a package plant.
“Last year on the water sewer plant, we did a half a million dollar upgrade project because we anticipated this. People who had mentioned those things just didn’t realize, and the reason they didn’t realize is because we did it through a grant. We had saved up for our last five years to do the project, so we had no tax increase,” he said.
Bentley said a larger population can support Whitney expanding the variety of services it has to offer.
A Whitney motel, which also has a restaurant in the front of the business, is relocating to build a bigger facility. Also a recent change in Whitney’s restaurants, food delivery services like Waitr have come to town.
“I think you’ll see the restaurant business change a little bit because of Uber Eats and people being able to have that accessibility at their home. Whitney was always so small that we didn’t have that, and now we’re starting to get that stuff. I think as the neighborhoods grow, that business is going to grow,” Bentley said.
The police chief and city administrator said he expects existing Whitney businesses to benefit from the increased number of travelers and the rise in the number of residents. With the developments taking place and the new businesses being started, the people of Whitney may watch closely to see what happens next to their small town.