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FM council sends Highland Court back to P&Z Commission

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Flower Mound Town Council unanimously sent the Highland Court project back to the Planning and Zoning Commission at Monday’s meeting, indicating the proposal’s significant changes from when P&Z first voted to deny it made it a point of procedure to allow commissioners to review the new proposal.

Council member Michael Walker made the motion to remand the project “for more eyes and ears,” he said. “I’m a big advocate of stimulating input.”

The council’s action sends the 30-acre development that has been at the center of controversy with some neighbors along Rippy Road to commissioners for the next Monday meeting before it returns to council for a vote in two weeks.

The decision surprised developer David Watson, managing principal of Direct Development, who is developing the property off Rippy Road. Watson said he was willing to meet with residents again and continue talking about changes. “We’re always open to discussions,” he said.

Several residents voiced anger over the council’s decision.

“We’re kicking it down the road,” Nicholas Strittmatter said. “They said 6-0 no (in reference to P&Z). … Why can’t we just take a stinking vote. This has been ridiculous.”

Jim Engel, president of the Pecan Meadows Homeowner’s Association agreed: “I would like to see it done, but I want to see it done in the right way. For myself, the newer plan is better but it still has some lots that are too narrow.”

Council members held a public hearing, allowing residents to comment on the project in order to be able to schedule the project for the next P&Z meeting as per the town attorney’s recommendation.

Neighborhood reaction to the initial project stirred an outcry against higher density housing on the 30-acre property off Rippy Road near FM 2499 – land that currently is zoned half as low density with the other half as neighborhood retail/office development. Several plan changes have taken it from the initially-proposed townhomes, apartments and senior living to 167 homes to 137 homes as of March 16 to 97 homes and a 1.6 acre park.

The latest Highland Court project also calls for several rows of homes on larger 10,000-square-foot to 12,000-square-foot lots to “double insulate” the Rippy Road neighborhoods with the smaller 6,500-square-foot lots closer to the existing commercial/office use, Watson said in a telephone interview last week. In addition, while an estimated 2.3 acres will be available for a park, he anticipates using only 1.6 acres for the actual park to allow additional space for larger lots along Rippy Road.

The current plan keeps College Parkway from becoming an thoroughfare street, keeps 12 of 13 specimen trees currently on the property and places a hike and bike trail on the property, leaving trees and other landscaping on the outside of the project next to Rippy Road.

The proposal followed two meetings between the developer and residents in neighborhoods off Rippy Road – some who favor the changes and others who did not. A survey sent to 146 emails with 77 responding showed 50 percent preferred a proposal with a park, 23.8 percent preferred a proposal with 99 homes on slightly larger lots while 25.97 percent indicated they did not like either plan.

The property, which is owned by Vicki Borchardt Trible, has been popular among developers and oil and gas companies, who approached the owner before stricter rules were put in place in 2011. The rules are now under target by Senate and House bills seeking to supercede municipal control. In the last year, two other developers have approached Trible, who says she hopes to sell the property that has been in her family for more than 100 years.

Several council members, who initially would not have voted to delay the vote, said later they were changing their decision because people who would have participated in the public hearing had already left when the motion was initially made to send Highland Court back to P&Z.

Jean Levenick, mayor pro tem, said she believed remanding the project to P&Z followed proper protocol.

“Procedurally, it’s my opinion that it should be sent to P&Z for re-consideration,” she said.

An agenda packet with more than 900 pages included letters from residents voicing concerns about the project. As an addendum to the agenda, a petition was filed with hundreds of signatures collected over the last several months in opposition to the project.

“We’ve gotten your letters. … We are listening to you. We can move this forward if we all get (together) on the process,” Levenick said.

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