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Flower Mound: A Story of Growth and Change

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Flower Mound has a colorful history and rich heritage.  Cowboys and American Indians, buffalo and Texas Rangers traveled through the local area of the region’s Eastern Cross Timbers Forest and the surrounding Blackland Prairies. The earliest pioneers discovered a land with natural beauty and abundant resources to build their farms and ranches.

Geography and topography have always had a lot to do with why people were attracted to Flower Mound. The Eastern Cross Timbers Forest runs from Central Texas to Kansas, while the vast Blackland Prairies stretch north-and-south across Texas from the Red River to San Antonio; both encircle Flower Mound. That mixture of topography gives Flower Mound its varied terrain; from hardwood forest to rolling hills and prairies.

Today, not much is left of how the greater Flower Mound area looked to the early pioneers. The Mound still exists as it did when the buffalo and antelope grazed its prairie grasses and wildflowers. It is one of the final examples of original, unplowed prairie. Early civic leaders managed to preserve some stands of the Cross Timbers, more so than most communities. But, much of Flower Mound is now urbanized with homes, schools and commercial development.

Running through the history of the town is the conflict over municipal development– its growth and change– or the fear of it. This conflict has been the main issue in virtually every municipal election to date.

The die was cast for growth in Flower Mound long ago. The completion of Lake Grapevine in 1953 and start of DFW Airport in 1969 changed the future for the rural Town of Flower Mound forever. Both Dallas and Fort Worth were growing northward. The best town leaders could do was to steer growth toward higher quality developments.

The 1950’s and 60’s marked the transition of the town from a rural community to an upscale suburban community for Flower Mound. Edward Marcus (then Chairman of Neiman Marcus department store) played a major part in guiding Flower Mound’s growth.

During this period, Marcus entertained the rich and famous at his 4,000 acre cattle ranch named Black Mark Farm in Flower Mound. When Neiman Marcus clients traveled to Dallas, they expected a real taste of Texas. A short drive from Neiman Marcus in Downtown Dallas to Flower Mound provided what visitors expected– a working ranch, real cowboys, horses and lots of cattle.

Neiman Marcus held extravagant yearly Fortnight Celebration Parties in Flower Mound, starting in 1957.  The first Neiman’s Fortnight made the cover of Time Magazine and was named “Dallas in Wonderland”. Neiman’s Downtown Dallas store was decorated for the French Fortnight theme. Fashion icons Coco Channel and Elizabeth Arden attended the first Fortnight Party in Flower Mound. Barbeque and beans were on the menu; but not to the liking of Coco Channel. She scraped her plate off under the table, right onto the red slippers of Elizabeth Arden. It was unintentional, supposedly.

Marcus enjoyed his ranch getaway in Flower Mound, but saw the growth coming.  He often talked with guests about his vision for what Flower Mound would become– a beautiful planned community with fine parks, trees and walking trails. It would be a place where nice homes, schools, churches and businesses would co-exist in a planned and complementary setting.

In the early 1960’s, an uninvited form of growth threatened Flower Mound, forcing its residents to incorporate as a town. The City of Irving attempted to grow its boundaries by annexing land through Denton County. Flower Mound lay right in the path. The attempted land grab became known as “The Denton County Land War.”

Marcus, Bruton Orand, and other large landowners agreed to finance a lawsuit against Irving, if local residents would take up the fight.

Bob Rheudasil, “Doc” Wilkerson, Ray Skillern, and others were more than willing to organize residents for the fight. Flower Mound won the landmark lawsuit and Irving’s subsequent appeal.

The town incorporated after the lower court ruling in 1961 and Bob Rheudasil was elected the town’s first mayor. Not everyone embraced creating a town, but it was necessary to stop future land grabs. Flower Mound took control of its own destiny.

The first Town Secretary was Bob’s wife, Pat Rheudasil. She was dubbed the “Mother of Flower Mound” having organized the town’s beginning without any resources or prior experience. As the town’s only employee for many years, she worked without a salary or even an office and handled everything from reading water meters to balancing the financial books. Bob always said, “No one did more for Flower Mound than Pat.”

In 1968, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced the New Town Program to spur new ideas for urban planning, encourage self-sufficient communities, advance home building design and help control urban sprawl across America.

Marcus seized the opportunity to make his vision for Flower Mound come true. He applied to be one of HUD’s New Town projects, naming it Flower Mound New Town (FMNT). HUD approved and made the first phase loan guarantee commitment of $18 million in December 1970. FMNT consumed all of his land, as well as all the land he could buy or option for annexation. The project eventually consumed him as well.

The stress of his involvement with the Flower Mound New Town Program is believed to have contributed to his death in 1976. The project failure was linked to a non-performing partner, a downward spiraling economy, shifts in national politics, government red-tape and cancelled HUD commitments.

But, much of the Marcus vision survived. The Town of Flower Mound inherited parks, trails, streets, utilities, buildings, and well-thought-out plans for future growth. His vision and actions set Flower Mound on a new path toward quality, planned growth. It was a quantum leap forward for the town; one that Flower Mound would not have made without Marcus’s vision and leadership during those early decades.

The 1970’s were plagued by the “Dis-annexation Wars” in Flower Mound. From 1971 to 1977, there were seven attempts by citizen groups to eliminate some of the previously annexed sections from inside the boundaries of Flower Mound.  Some residents feared the effects of change and wanted to retain their sleepy rural community. However, the underlying cause of the unrest was new taxes brought on by growth and the incorporation as a town.

A lot of residents felt Flower Mound was a town in name only, existing only to stop annexation by other towns like Irving, Lewisville, and Denton. Flower Mound didn’t enact property taxes until 1972 or sales tax until 1977. Taxes, like growth, were inevitable.

The Town Council said in a press release to citizens in October 1972: “There seems to be a great deal of misinformation being spread regarding the proposed taxation…Flower Mound is situated in a position which makes it the focal point of urban development…adjacent to what will become the world’s greatest airport…This area will witness a fantastic rate of growth…Failure to properly ready ourselves for this urbanization can result in utter chaos in the form of strip zoning, haphazard development, poor construction of public, as well as private facilities, and the invasion of Flower Mound by fly-by-night developers who come into the community, install second-rate facilities, and leave when their construction begins to deteriorate and create problems for the public…Town Council has a tremendous opportunity to build a first class city, but that can only be done by getting out front with proper controls.”

The Town Budget was $258,000, of which $150,000 came from new taxes. The remaining balance came from federal grants and utility franchise fees. The new taxes allowed the town to establish a volunteer fire department, hire six police officers, a Director of Community Development & Building Inspector, and fund consulting fees for a City Attorney plus a Planning Consultant.

Although citizen anti-annexation groups protesting existing taxes and rumors of future taxes, growth and change was inevitable. Flower Mound could not grow in a quality manner without a town government and tax base.

During that decade of struggle to shrink the town’s acreage, Flower Mound was dubbed the “Voting Capital of Texas” with all the succession and regular elections held. Of the registered voters, 85- to 95-percent voted in many of the elections. None of the elections related to the annexation issue succeeded.

The 1980’s & 90’s marked the town’s highest population growth. Flower Mound was consistently ranked one of the fastest-growing towns in America. It grew from around 4,400 residents in 1980 to more than 50,000 in 2000.

However, many long-time citizens wanted to slow or curtail new growth. Top reasons included wanting to preserve trees, retain open space and the natural landscape, as well as to ease traffic and commute times to jobs in Dallas or Fort Worth. These issues exacerbated the stress level for many residents.

In spite of the town’s pro-growth advocates citing new businesses, new jobs, lower taxes and increased property values, the development pendulum swung toward slow to no-growth policies.

In January of 1999, Flower Mound enacted a Residential Building Moratorium to stop residential growth. This moratorium stayed in place for about a year, while new ordinances were written to slow future growth. That no-growth sentiment remained strong in Flower Mound for several years.

The result of the building moratorium and its slow-growth municipal development policies was that growth went around Flower Mound. Developers sought paths of less resistance.

The story of growth and change in Flower Mound is far from over. Flower Mound is entering a new economic cycle and has great opportunities. Hopefully, we all welcome our new neighbors and work toward steering Flower Mound toward quality and balanced growth. A growth that future generations will be proud of and enjoy.

A Personal Perspective

No one felt growth pains more personally than the founding leaders of Flower Mound. It was both a sad and exciting time for them. They watched Flower Mound grow from a collection of farms and ranches with just over 700 people, to a sea of homes.

Bob Rheudasil was the founding leader I admired most and knew best. Bob was the first Mayor of Flower Mound and my father-in-law. He told me many stories about early Flower Mound and the people who lived here.

Bob moved to Flower Mound in 1953 to run Black Mark Farm for Edward Marcus. He was an expert on native grasses, cattle, and trees. He was a man of the dirt and could grow anything. Bob planted many majestic trees along the corridors and in the neighborhoods of Flower Mound. Bob passed in 2011, but he was proud of the town he helped create.

Bob grew friends well, too. He loved making new friends and greeting old ones. He wholeheartedly welcomed new residents, but with one condition. When Bob met a new Flower Mound resident his greeting was: “Welcome to Flower Mound, as long as you welcome the next to come.” If you didn’t welcome our next new neighbors, Bob didn’t have much respect for you.

Early leaders like Bob Rheudasil and Edward Marcus had high standards for development as well. They knew they couldn’t stop growth, so they wrangled it to the best direction. One constant reminder for me is Flower Mound Farms, where I live. It was slated to become a mobile home park. Edward and Bob wouldn’t stand for it. They acquired the land and developed a very special residential neighborhood that generations of families have enjoyed.

Mark Glover is a native of the area and son-in-law of Flower Mound’s First Mayor, Bob Rheudasil. Mark and his wife Penny live in Flower Mound Farms on their three-acre mini-farm called Rheudasil Farms. Mark owns iMark Realty Advisors and helps clients buy, sell, lease and develop commercial real estate.

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