Sienna Plantation offers a water feature for every age and ability.
Johnson Development Corp. Sienna Plantation offers a water feature for every age and ability.

Master planned communities form a dense ring around Houston, like clouds around Mount Olympus. And, like the mythical gods and goddesses of the great Greek peak, they all are in fierce competition with each other.

There are some stellar, classic master planned communities in Houston, such as the vaunted Woodlands and Cinco Ranch, both more than 20 years old. So, when Johnson Development started Sienna Plantation 15 years ago, its planners knew they would have to do something to help it stand out in the crowd.

Instead of scattered neighborhood pools within the 10,000 acre development, Johnson planned from the start to build a resort-style water park with slides and diving boards for kids and zero-entry areas for seniors and toddlers.

Club Sienna, an “adventure park,” opened in 2001, offering 200 feet of slides, three diving wells, a junior Olympic pool, and a zero-entry pool and play area. It also includes a clubhouse, a terraced amphitheater with a stage suspended over Water’s Lake, a fishing pier, eight illuminated tennis courts, a playground, and a sand volleyball court.

Over time the original park, billed as the largest private water park in the South, was supplemented in new sections of the development with a multipurpose sports complex with heated competition swimming pools, and a resort lagoon with lush tropical landscaping. The resort pool—with a cascading tower waterfall at its center—is separated into adult and children’s areas, the latter of which features a large tunnel drop slide as well a tamer meandering slide.

“With the scale of the community being a gross of 10,000 acres we needed to make a statement about the place,” says Doug Goff, chief operating officer of Johnson Development. “Instead of spending a million [dollars] on a pool we went in for a whole different concept with a water park.”

Not surprisingly, the Sienna community now has three swim teams available to residents: the Sharks, Stingrays, and Plantation Aquatics.

Sienna Plantation opened for sale in 1997, and the first water park opened in 2001. “No other community in Houston or Texas had anything close to what the Sienna Water Park offered,” Goff says. “It was definitely designed to provide a very special lifestyle for our residents that they couldn’t find anywhere else.”

It worked. “It helped us weather the storm,” Goff explains. “Even during the downturn, Sienna was rated among the top 10 selling communities.” Of course, it helped to be in the Houston market since it was less battered by the housing depression. It’s also in a strong submarket of Houston in Fort Bend County, right off the Fort Bend Toll Road.

Still, some tweaks to the community were necessary.

“During the challenging times, obviously, we made some adjustments related to housing products we offer,” Goff says. “But we have found that in places like Houston, where there is a predominance of master planned communities, in challenging times people will gravitate to a master planned community longer term.”

As time passed, Sienna’s competitors also began to add water features to their communities. Yet Sienna’s remained pre-eminent and a major selling point, Goff says.

Sienna, which has sold 6,000 homes with 1,500 homes remaining, is nearing the end of its life cycle. In 2012, 387 homes were sold in the community—a 45 percent jump from 2011 numbers—despite competition from Johnson’s newer community next door, Riverstone. With 6,000 total home sites, Riverstone sold nearly 500 homes in 2012.

“Sienna is winding down, and Riverstone is taking its place,” Goff says.

It should be no surprise that Riverstone will be chock-full of swimming pools and lakes, too.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX.