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FM P&Z denies recommendation for approval on Highland Court

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A project off Rippy Road that stirred neighbors into action against it was unanimously denied by the Flower Mound Planning and Zoning Commission for recommendation for approval to Town Council.

The project now goes before the Town Council next Monday where a super majority will be needed to pass both the master plan amendment and the zoning change request for the Highland Court project off Rippy Road.

In a standing-room-only council chambers that spilled out to the packed lobby and into a nearby hallway with more than 140 people, a third wore t-shirts emblazoned with a heart with the words “low density” across it. On the back, the t-shirts read, “Don’t be Dense. Smart Growth is Under Attack.”

Concerns about high density and changes to the town’s master plan mushroomed shortly after Direct Development approached neighbors along Rippy Road about its plans to build apartments and town homes early last September.

Several meetings later, including a meeting organized on Dec. 14 by Flower Mound Mayor Tom Hayden, the proposal changed to a single-family housing project with densities ranging from 3,600 square feet to more than 6,500 square feet. The proposal was recently changed from 30-foot by 90-foot lots, which would have included more single family homes on 2,700-square-foot lots. The proposal now includes 71 40-foot lots, down from 95 30-foot lots for a total of 137 lots, down from 167 lots.

The 542-page agenda packet for the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting included an estimated 350 pages dedicated to the Highland Court project, including more than 100 letters both for and against the project.

In a density comparison shown by residents, neighboring Pecan Meadows has a density of about 2.9 lots per acre to 5 lots per acre in Pecan Acres.

Town Planner Chuck Russell told commissioners the Highland Court proposal was a concept plan that could still undergo changes. At each stage, a SMARTGrowth review is done. Environmental Conservation Committee denied approval to remove specimen trees from the property. A review of the transportation changes will be on a different timeline.

Located on approximately 30 acres fronting Rippy Road near FM 2499, the project has stirred a lot of conversation about density among 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. The issue has also drawn the attention of regional media.

At the heart of the issue is residents’ concerns about the proposed change in density from neighboring lower density neighborhoods to the proposed 5,000-square-foot per single family home density known as SF-5.

The larger homes on smaller lots are what David Watson, who owns Direct Development, says he has heard both millennials and baby boomers are seeking in Flower Mound – high-end homes with little yard maintenance.

But neighbors to the west in Pecan Meadows and Pecan Acres residential areas say Flower Mound has enough of the higher-end homes with little yards in two ongoing developments – Lakeside DFW and The Riverwalk at Central Park.

The property, largely undeveloped with three residences on it, is part of a Specific Plan Area or SPA-5, which extends College Parkway from Rippy Road to FM 2499 and is split between low density and office/retail.

“This property is right in the middle of town,” Watson said, adding that it is clearly an urban project. Watson told commissioners the property was not suitable for retail development.

“I don’t feel a town planner would configure SF-15 low density next to a 115,000-square-foot shopping center,” he said, adding the master plan did not allow for a transition.

In a video and slide presentation, Watson showed the densities of surrounding properties from SF-10 on neighborhoods to the west and office development on the south off FM 2499. Watson also pointed to nearby multi-family developments and the nearby shopping centers.

“Rippy Road feels rural because of the vegetative lair,” Watson said. “But Rippy Road is far from rural.”

A proposed development from the neighborhood showed SF-15 density with College Parkway going through the property and an access point from the project to Rippy Road. With the access onto Rippy Road and extension of College, the traffic could force the town to continue on its plan to widen Rippy Road, which would then remove the vegetative lair, Watson said. Watson also told commissioners that 11 of 13 specimen trees on the property would be preserved.

Through monitoring social media, Watson said he learned that the 30-foot lots seemed to be a problem. Last week, they changed the 30-foot to 40-foot lots. The change also included larger front and back lots, doubling the yards. Some residents indicated concerns about not seeing the latest changes prior to their presentations.

“We responded to social media and it took us a week to respond,” Watson said, regarding changes to the proposal.

In the last week, Watson said he met with David Weekley Homes. “What’s interesting about David Weekley…they custom draw these particularly communities.”

Larry Jackson with David Weekley Homes – one of the largest builders in the country – said they choose their partners carefully. “We want to build in a quality community,” he said, adding their homes generally range from $200,000 to $750,000.

The market demand is turning into a higher density, urban infill building, Jackson said.

When Commissioner Don McDaniel asked Jackson how much the homes would have to be on Single-Family 15,000 lots to equal the current value of the land as low density and office/commercial. Jackson responded the houses would have to be $800,000 and up.

Near the end of his presentation, Watson said the project would cut traffic proposed in the master plan by 350 percent from an estimate of 5,700 total trips as currently in the master plan to an estimated 1,600 proposed for Highland Court.

In a study from Residential Strategies, Watson pointed to the fact that Flower Mound had a significantly lower rate for lot approvals and housing starts compared to Frisco (82 percent and 90 percent respectively); Las Colinas (15 percent and 52 percent); Keller (40 percent and 29 percent); McKinney (88 percent for both); and Prosper (74 percent to 90 percent).

“We think it’s a market-driven plan,” he said, adding they have planned extras as part of the project much like what Direct Development has done with retail centers developed along FM 2499 and at FM 407 as well as FM 1171.

The development was first proposed as a combination of apartments and town homes 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.

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.

Commissioner Nels Pearson asked about housing heights and the number of trees to be added. Watson told him the project would be a variety of single and two-story homes. In addition, a number of trees would be added, he said.

“Since you’ve done so much commercial, why residential,” Pearson asked.

Watson said Flower Mound has been a point of pride but recently, due to market concerns, he learned of concerns among some retailers.

“What is it about Flower Mound housing stock that we don’t know,” Watson said he asked himself, adding that the millennial and empty-nester were needed in town and would ultimately be good for the retail.

Itamar Gelbman, an alternate on the P&Z Commission, asked Watson whether the developer could cut the density further.

“We’ve gone as far as we can go,” Watson said.

As part of a 15-minute presentation, Patrick McUmber talked to commissioners about whether Highland Court makes sense for the property near the neighborhoods of Pecan Meadows and Pecan Acres, which have a lower density. He indicated the density of the proposed Highland Court was an estimated 235 percent higher density than Pecan Meadows.

“It kind of remakes what we are,” he said. “If you look at the densities, it’s not similar.”

McUmber asked commissioners to consider whether the project was the highest and best use, whether it was financially feasible, was it congruent with existing homes as well as what the potential domino effect would be in the area if they recommended approval of Highland Court.

“Once this happens, we can’t go back,” McUmber said.

Todd Eady told commissioners it had been clear for a number of months that many neighbors opposed the changes.

“Our struggle today is asking you to uphold the current zoning,” Eady said. “This property helps define our neighborhood and our way of life.”

Kelly James said if commissioners approve the project, other similar projects could soon follow. “When will it stop?” she asked. “Too much negatively affects the character of the town.”

Lisa Malone countered Watson’s earlier statement calling the property an urban property: “This is not an urban center where we live.

“We love the peace and tranquility of our neighborhood,” she said. “Say no to the Highland Court project.”

Jodie Boutilier told officials about other neighborhoods in Flower Mound where higher density homes were located near lower density areas, from Hearthstone to Lexington to Lakeside. “Not everyone wants to and can live on big lots. … In some ways people want to downsize.”

Donald Roberston, a Denton resident whose grandparents settled in Flower Mound in the 1890s, said he was averse to change when he was approached by Watson to sell his property for what would one day become Robertson’s Creek, a shopping center at Dixon Lane and FM 2499.

Robertson said he was not thrilled when FM 2499 took 10 acres of his property but later realized its importance. “2499 has made Flower Mound,” he said. “There’s always change. People don’t like change.”

Emily Strittmatter said she received at least 1,000 signatures on a petition that was created when the initial project proposed apartments. She told commissioners that the group is not anti-development and is concerned with maintaining their quality of life.

Beverly and Jerry Meador showed a video presentation showing homes in the Pecan Meadows and Pecan Acres neighborhoods and outlining concerns about lot sizes of the proposed Highland Court homes.

At one point, the visual compared the proposed lot sizes to the size of a basketball court. Though referring to earlier lot sizes of 2,700 square feet, the comparison was to basketball courts of 4,200 square feet.

Beverly Meador reminded commissioners of the town’s mission statement: The vision of Flower Mound is to preserve our unique country atmosphere, heritage and quality of lie while cultivating a dynamic economic environment.

“What you have seen tonight are my neighbors and new friends, who care about the town we live in,” she said.

Shyron Shenko, who says she lives directly across from the proposed Highland Court, talked of her concerns that changes to the proposed development were not shared with residents until the project was explained at Monday’s meeting. She indicated she was not in favor of the project. “If you approved this project, our master plan means nothing.”

Janvier Gentry Scott, a Flower Mound resident, said she recalled a developer in the Chaparral area proposing town homes in 2008 that were later rejected. A short time later, another developer – Toll Brothers – built what is now The Preserve, she said, adding: “I am confident that the right builder will come along … and want to build low density homes.”

“It’s funny I get criticized for changing the plan when I changed the plan based on social media,” David Watson, the developer, said in rebuttal at the end of the public hearing that included 103 speakers’ cards. A total of 51 people spoke against the project from the 93 cards filed. A total of 10 cards with seven speakers showing up were in favor of the project.

“This weighs heavy on us … all of us,” Commissioner Don McDaniel said. “We’re all very invested in this.”

“I think this property shouldn’t be ripped out from under them,” he said, adding that he also was concerned residents would get what they want and then realize the master plan was still calling for a widened road and office/commercial development. “The knife cuts both ways,” he said.

“The decision will be thought out and will be balanced,” McDaniel said. “Please acknowledge that and respect that.”

Commissioner Michael McCall said he wanted to see more compromise from the developer.

“I feel like tonight we’ve quit talking to each other,” McCall said.

Commissioner Pearson said he did not consider the property as rural and he said that he does not see compromise coming from both directions, referring to the developer’s changes from apartments to single-family homes and the nearby residents sticking to their wishes for no changes to the master plan.

“I keep hearing, ‘Keep it rural, keep it rural,” Pearson said. “Flower Mound is not rural any more.”

Pearson asked residents if they wanted a dollar store, which would be allowed under the existing master plan.

“It’s not going to be rural no matter what it is,” he said, adding the town has looked at the area as urban.

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