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Bartonville at crossroads with Ladera project

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Editor’s Note: Story has been updated to include a note from the Denton Independent School District.

Tucked directly behind Bartonville Town Center, an 80-acre tract of land sits untouched from its days of dirt mining — a pit of reddish-brown water filling with erosion from the hillside above it each time the rains come.

To the average person, the property seems lost to deeply-etched trenches and scrub brush sprinkled with a few fast-growing fill-in trees — trees many developers call “trash trees.”

But to developer John Delin and landowner Bruce Monroe, the property’s possibilities lie in creating a different style of neighborhood — one unique to Bartonville and in keeping with the community’s rural lifestyle.

Because of the property’s challenges, Delin and Monroe developed a conceptual plan to create an active adult community — known as Ladera — with 180 courtyard villas and 40 larger hillside villas situated in a way that would allow restructuring of the property in a more scenic way. The lake would be cleaned, scrub brush removed, the hillside tapered and wildflower meadows added along with fitness trails, an additional lake and natural flowing streams. Groves of trees separating the property from the neighboring Saddlebrook residential area would remain, Delin said.

Homes would range from 2,157 square feet to 3,755 square feet, including two-car garages, patios and porches. The property would be maintained through a homeowner’s association, Delin said, adding it would be kept in pristine shape — much different than it is today. Many of the homes, due to the property’s gradation and the tree grove, would not be visible to passersby or neighbors, Delin added.

The project, however, met with disapproval from residents seeking to keep the town’s 2-acre lot restrictions in place. The problem, Delin and Monroe say, is that the property does not lend itself to a 2-acre per house development because of the topography and damage done in more than two decades of mining.

On Sept. 2, the Bartonville Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend denial of a zoning change request to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan from residential or RE-2 zoning to planned development or PD-2 zoning.

The fate of the development now lies in the hands of the Bartonville Town Council, who will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lantana Fellowship Community Church at 2200 E. Jeter Road — a site selected after residents packed Bartonville Town Hall, leaving standing room only.

The town council’s decision, Delin and Monroe say, could mean the difference between a residential development created to make the best of a challenging situation or selling the property to a school district — an option Monroe discarded several years ago when Liberty Christian School was looking to build a new campus in 2004.

Already, significant growth projections in the Denton Independent School District show plans to eventually build six high schools. Guyer High School, the newest of the trio of Denton ISD high school complexes, is at maximum capacity. In 2005, enrollment counts showed 1,095 students. By 2013, enrollment more than doubled to 2,225 students, records show.

In a text message from Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson, he noted the school district has made alternate plans to handle growth at Guyer High School.

“Denton ISD is not planning or looking for a high school site in the Bartonville area. During the 2013 Bond Election, Denton ISD voters approved a ninth grade addition at Guyer High School as a long term solution to student growth in this area. It is our intent for high school students in the Bartonville/Lantana area to remain at Guyer High School and Wildcat Nation,” Wilson wrote.

A high school would entail an estimated 60,000-square-foot building with 1,200 parking spaces not to mention additional fields including a stadium, Monroe said.

His concern, he says, was the potential traffic impacts such a development could have on the community.  Monroe says he believes Bartonville residents would prefer a residential neighborhood rather than thousands of students and vehicles driving into what many consider a rural respite from urban sprawl.

Another concern would be the dearth of property valuation income from a school facility, which would be exempt. The active adult homeowners in the proposed Ladera would not only pay ad valorem taxes, but they would more likely also spend discretionary money at neighboring businesses, generating sales tax revenues for the community.

It’s a viewpoint at least 60 residents in neighboring Saddlebrook and business owners in Bartonville Town Center share.

According to Carter Ghrist, a Saddlebrook Way resident, Monroe could opt to put in a school, a hospital, drill gas wells or whatever he chooses.

“After 14 years, I’d much rather have a planned community than a school,” Ghrist said. “We see this as an opportunity for the best we can get.”

Annette Doody, owner of Savory Bistro in Bartonville Town Center, said she believed the proposed residential development would be good for the center as well as the community. 

“As a business owner, I want to see this community thrive and do well,” she said. “I see this as being a very aesthetic development in the community.”

She cautioned that saying no to the proposed development would not stop growth. “When a community says no to everything, it happens anyway,” she said. “This is a controlled way to develop the community. … We should use this as an opportunity to bring the town together.”

Tim Landrum, also a Saddlebrook resident off Noble Champions Way, said the development was proposed specifically for the property. “I see Ladera as bringing value to Bartonville,” he said. “People moving here are good people. This would just add value, not only in people, but economically.”

With the new Kroger development serving as a gateway into Bartonville, the community is already changing, says Jim Ball, also a Saddlebrook resident. “The world is growing around us.”

At least 11 trucks per day traveled in and out of the property for 25 years while the location was used for mining, leaving its mark behind for decades to come. “This is the least attractive property in Bartonville,” Ball said. As a Saddlebrook resident, his concern is that if other residents push the council members to vote against it without knowing all of the facts, his residential neighborhood will be the one to suffer.

“If something comes in not wanted, Saddlebrook values will go down,” Ball said.

Monroe, who purchased the property 14 years ago through his company, Yeti, said he has been trying to be a good steward in protecting the town’s rural feel.

“I have been, to the best of my ability, a good neighbor,” he said, adding he was surprised at the response among Bartonville residents living further away from the property. “I thought this would be a bonding experience — bringing the community together.”

Delin said it was the first time his company had faced such opposition in a community where the neighboring homeowners were so largely in favor of the proposed development.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been involved in a project where a development with unanimous support of neighbors is getting turned down,” he said. “All of these people one mile, two miles, three miles away are dictating what doesn’t impact them.”

Through Denmiss LLC, Monroe has developed the Bartonville Town Center, which is full, and has plans on the table for expanding the town center as demand grows.  But without Ladera, Monroe said he is unsure of when the town center expansion would occur.

The problem, he says, is that many existing residents work outside of the immed
iate area, making it challenging for businesses during daytime hours. The development proposed by Integrity Group LLC would bring an older yet very active population more likely to support local businesses inside the town center during the day.

“Bartonville is a place everyone wants to get into but everything is 2-, 5- to 10-acre lots,” Monroe said, adding the 2-acre plus sized lots restrict many from moving into the area. Monroe also said that had more 2-acre lots been available in 2008 as originally planned in Saddlebrook Phase II, many of those properties would be vacant due to overabundance of such properties at a time when the housing market slumped during the Great Recession.

Creating a residential development that keeps the look and feel of Bartonville is both a professional and personal mission for Monroe, who says his parents have expressed interest in relocating to an active adult community where they would have close access to the amenities provided by the neighboring town center — amenities that aren’t always so closely located to existing active adult communities.

“My parents absolutely are excited about this,” Monroe said. “People wanting to move to your town has got to be a good thing.”

Senior residents would be active in the community, have discretionary money to spend and be located in a gated community where roads would be kept up by the homeowners association. With adequate water and wastewater capacity available, potential income for the town’s coffers and no additional expenses incurred by the town through road upkeep, the concept brings a lot of positives, he said. 

“By saying ‘yes’ to this, you’re saying ‘yes’ to what neighboring landowners want,” he said. “Neighbors see this as the preferred choice. I’m hoping the city sees this.”

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