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Highland Court project stirs density questions in Flower Mound

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The much-discussed Highland Court project off Rippy Road is going before Flower Mound’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday after being delayed due to weather.

Located on approximately 30 acres fronting Rippy Road near FM 2499, the project has stirred a lot of conversation about density among some residents, on social media, at neighborhood meetings and during public comments at the beginning of the last five months of town council and P&Z Commission meetings.

At Monday’s Flower Mound Town Council meeting, several residents voiced concerns about the meeting being moved to a Monday during Lewisville Independent School District’s spring break – a break during which a number of parents say they’d already planned to be out of town.

Mayor Tom Hayden, responding to several residents’ pleas for impartiality in the decisions about the project, said: “We work for the people who pay our taxes. This is not a glamorous position to put in 20 to 30 hours a week.”

Council member Steve Dixon also suggested town staff publish an outline of how the processes work for zoning changes, master plan amendments and other similar actions, explaining that town officials take their jobs to remain impartial very seriously.

David Watson, managing principal of Direct Development, will be presenting the plan he has revised several times since discussions first began with neighbors of the property last fall. Neighbors of the proposed project are submitting letters, circulating petitions, forming neighborhood groups and organizing efforts in hopes of swaying town officials to deny the project.

“We chose the town, and specifically Pecan Meadows, because of the small-town, rural feel,” Kelly James told commissioners in a meeting last November. “I want this town to remain one of the most desirable places to live.”

Watson, a longtime retail developer has worked with Flower Mound for years, developing the ranch-style Lowe’s-anchored shopping center off FM 2499 at FM 407, the Target-anchored shopping center across the street with its heavily-landscaped aura, Robertson’s Creek featuring historical obelisks and, most recently, the Tom Thumb-anchored center off FM 1171 in west Flower Mound that has a park behind it to provide a buffer between the commercial elements and nearby neighborhoods.

In short, Watson says, he is trying to build something that makes sense for the Rippy Road location, works with the land uses on all sides and will be compatible to nearby neighborhoods.

For instance, next to the property on the east side is a 200,000-square-foot office park, the heavily-traveled FM 2499 is nearby and to the northeast is 250 multi-family units, Watson said. To the west, the property is zoned Single-Family District-10 with a minimum lot area per home of 10,000 square feet, though property owners have created larger lots, he said.

The property he has under contract could be developed with a three-story office building and retail based on the master plan, he said, but that is not what he believes would work on the property or be beneficial to its neighbors.

Before creating a plan, Watson said he talked to town officials, residents and business owners to find out what was needed and what they thought would work on the property.

The development was first proposed as a combination of apartments and townhomes as a transition from commercial to the neighborhoods. Then he talked to several residents who wanted to see senior living that featured special accommodations such as elevators, wider doors, amenities within each unit and covered parking. Watson created another version of the plan to accommodate seniors looking for a place to live that wasn’t directly tied to assisting living facilities but was close to restaurants and retail.

After meeting with neighbors, Watson learned they did not want any rental properties. So, the plan was revised to include townhomes for sale along the area facing the neighborhoods. Nearby residents indicated they did not want any rental property on the site at all and he revised the plan again.

Issues of concern included not allowing College Parkway to be extended, preserving specimen trees, including single-family homes and not allowing townhomes or rental properties of any kind.

“I’m not trying to make the fast dollar,” he said. “I believe this is a good development for Flower Mound.”

Watson said he designed Highland Court in a way to preserve 11 of 13 specimen trees on the property – partly by not extending College Parkway all the way through the property and by putting a walking trail along the road, keeping existing trees as a buffer between the development and neighbors. An additional 91 trees will be planted along the Rippy Road perimeter, he said. The project also includes a 6-foot masonry wall.

Both the trees and the wall would keep neighbors from seeing most of the homes in Highland Court from their yards, Watson added.

By omitting an entrance onto Rippy, the project does not force the town to consider expanding it as is currently in the master plan. The master plan currently calls for a 36-foot pathway with 20-foot easements on both sides of the road for future expansion.

Jim Engel says residents believe, based on paperwork filed for an Environmental Conservation Commission hearing, Watson plans to cut down more than two trees and that some of the specimen trees to which he refers are not on the Highland Court property.

The project will feature lots ranging from just under 3,000 square feet closer to the office complex to over 6,500 square feet closer to Rippy Road. The larger homes on smaller lots are what he has heard both millennials and baby boomers are seeking in Flower Mound – high-end homes with little yard maintenance.

Engel, president of the Pecan Meadows Homeowner’s Association, says he talked with Watson about increasing the density of the project to 10,000-square-foot lots but added Watson indicated to him that he could not do so.

“The one thing he hasn’t attempted to compromise at all on is the density,” Engel said, adding that since talking with Watson, the neighborhood’s position has been to continue asking town officials to deny the project.

“It’ll eventually be developed,” Engel said of the property. But the nearby neighborhoods hope a project with larger lots will be allowed to better transition into the larger lot sizes in Pecan Acres and Pecan Meadows.

Though zoned for smaller lots, Engel said neighborhood requirements are that homeowners must buy two lots in Pecan Acres. Lot sizes in Pecan Meadows, though allowed at a minimum of 20,000 square feet, have some areas where lots are three-quarters of an acre in size.

Highland Court will feature homes valued at $325,000 to $375,000 on estimated 3,000-square-foot lots – an indicator of the high-end type of homes he envisions for Highland Court. Due to the homes’ proximity to an office park, Watson said he believed the more expensive homes in the $400,000 to $500,000 range likely would not sell. The larger lots closer to Rippy Road would feature the more expensive homes, he said.

Residents say the higher density zoning is not what they want in Flower Mound, regardless of whether the property is next to them or further away.

“I’d like to keep it single-family, low density housing,” Engel said during public comments at a meeting late last year. “Based on Realtors, there is a shortage of single family homes. Conversely, we have developers who have gotten approval on some 3,000 additional apartments.”

Engel said recently that any comparisons with Lakeside DFW would not be a true comparison as the Highland Court project has larger homes on smaller lots than the project off FM 2499 and Lakeside Parkway.

“He’s cutting it [lot sizes] down so significantly, that it makes a difference,” Engel said, adding that by his calculations, Highland Court is about 24 percent more dense than Lakeside DFW.

Other residents say the higher density moves away from the town’s master plan and the reasons why they chose to live in Flower Mound in the first place.

Nick Strittmatter has told commissioners he’s not opposed to development on the property, but he’d prefer to see it at a lower density. Emily Strittmatter, at a meeting in January, re-iterated to officials that the group is not anti-development. Both told town council members at a March meeting that they remain steadfast in their opposition to the Highland Court project.

“We are firm in our stance that this proposed development is not in our benefit,” she said. “Please help keep Rippy Road low density.”

Paul Porter agreed: “I don’t think you’ll find much support for this outside of the developers.”

With an estimated 82 million millennials and 77 million baby boomers in the U.S., the two demographics are a huge market Watson believes are beneficial to Flower Mound – both because of the housing demand among the two groups but also because of the additional disposal incomes both bring to support local business.

“These two groups are the barbells of demographics,” he said. “The housing they are looking for is not here.”

The property is about a mile from the estimated 2.5 million square feet of retail and restaurant at FM 2499 and FM 407.

In discussions with retailers, Watson said he has heard concerns that sales figures for some Flower Mound businesses have not been as strong as predicted. A major employer also told Watson that 60 percent of their employees do not live in Flower Mound because they cannot find residences to suit their needs, he said.

“The whole idea of attracting corporations is to have housing products to allow employees to live in the community,” he said.

The housing component both groups are predominantly seeking, he says, is not abundant in Flower Mound – housing studies show is in high demand. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the market demand for 55 and older and the millennial “boomerang” population is expected to continue an upward swing this year.

Watson said both groups often want fewer responsibilities with yard maintenance and more high-end amenities in areas close to retail and restaurant areas. For the millennials, they are looking for the same type of housing they enjoyed with their parents but do not want higher-priced homes after seeing the effects of recent economic downturns. For the 55 and older set, fewer responsibilities and proximity to healthcare and lifestyle centers are key as is the proximity to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to allow them to travel.

“What I’m trying to build is what people want,” he said. “If you build something with a strong demand, you can build a high quality product.”

Robert Felt, who lives in Pecan Meadows, said he remains against the proposed re-zoning. “I didn’t come here to live anywhere other than low density housing. I’m glad the apartments are off the table but I’m concerned about too much housing on this property.”

Shyron Shenko, who lives off Rippy Road, echoed the sentiments: “High density does not equal cohesiveness of our neighborhood or our town.
“I’m very concerned how this development would effect not on the neighborhood but the Town of Flower Mound,” she said.

Brian Rountree, who is seeking election to the town council, told councilmembers the issue was one of the reasons he decided to enter the race.

He was one of two council candidates to speak in favor of the neighborhoods against the project. Kevin Bryant also approached the town council during public comments to speak against approval of the project.

“It’s clear time after time that they do not want this,” Rountree said, adding the council should consider the taxpayers’ wishes. “They have a right to expect the town will stand with them.”

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