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Charter school new campus reveals a dilemma

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It was standing room only at the Aug. 7 Flower Mound Town Council meeting.

A new campus for the Responsive Education Solutions (RES) public charter school in Flower Mound, Founders Classical Academy, drew an overflow audience to the Aug. 7 Flower Mound Town Council meeting.

Mayor Tom Hayden’s introduction of the three agenda items related to the school’s proposed relocation site– 19-acres at the southeastern corner of the Flower Mound and Cross Timbers intersection, which is within the Cross Timbers Conservation Development District (CTCDD)–was the first indication that an underlying dilemma exists for the town.

Hayden said he supported the school itself and its need to find a new campus location, because it’s outgrown its facility in Parker Square. He also acknowledged that the new campus qualified as an acceptable land use under its Agricultural (A) zoning designation.

What Hayden did not support was the school’s request for a Master Plan Amendment to expand the town’s Long Prairie Wastewater Service District map within the CTCDD to include the school property.

“I’m very opposed to this proposal,” he said. “In 2013, the Master Plan revision process took almost a year and allowing sewer in the CTCDD was rejected.”

In his presentation, Von Beougher, principal engineer with Wright Group Architects at G&A Consultants, said ultimate sanitary sewer demand is calculated to be 17,000-gallons per day, based on 20-gallons per day per person by the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), for the completed RES project.

“We believe that there’s capacity in the existing wastewater system at the Saddlewood subdivision, due to the off-peak-use of the facility.”

He added that the town’s engineer agreed that the town’s system with its current capacity– 450-homes worth- was suitable for the school’s connection, with a 325- home capacity remaining.

Founders will enroll students in kindergarten through the seventh-grade this academic year, with additional grades through seniors in high school.

Phase 1 includes a 42,000-square-feet elementary/middle school building with 32 classrooms and a 200-seat, 15,000-square-feet gymnasium. The Phase 2 project will include the high school building on the campus.

“It [the connection point] is literally right across the street [FM 1171],” said Beougher.

Doug Powell, executive director of Development Services, said that land zoned (A), “allows farming, two-acre single residential housing, riding stables or institutions– churches or institutions.”

In addition, the 5,690-acres CTCDD– predominantly a residential area with single-family residential development on two-acre lots or greater using septic systems– also allows recreation uses, such as riding stables, golf courses and other similar uses compatible with the Cross Timbers ecosystem conservation goals of the district.

Council member Bryan Webb said that the RES project, “was proposed more than 10-months ago, they had multiple meetings with town staff, paid all the application fees, was presented in a public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission– which recommended approval with a 6-0 vote on July 10– and this idea of moving the [sewer] line was never mentioned.”

Warner Watkins, president of the school’s parent/teacher group, pointed out that the school is on the eastern side of Flower Mound Road, but there’s septic zoning going west from there. His wife, Joli, added that the school project meets the CTCDD scenic view maintenance standard and a septic system would expose both the students and the environment to chemicals.

“Long term, there is the potential for the septic system to go off or for the system to fail,” said Elizabeth Smith, a parent with three children enrolled in the Founders Classical Academy. “I don’t know if the potential odor issue around FM 1171 is the best way to enter the conservation district.”

Among the speakers supporting the need for a new campus for his school was Sam Howard, 12, who spoke about the Parker Square facility’s space restrictions.

“We’ve had to give up our music room, our cafeteria and our after-school room to build new classrooms,” he said.

Town of Ponder Municipal Court Judge and parent speaker Holly Fox, took exception to Hayden’s biased opinion in his introduction of the project.

“As a judge, I don’t say to someone: ‘I’m sorry, but I already found four people not guilty, so I can’t find another one today,’” she said. “Each person needs to have their issue heard on its own merit. Mayor Hayden came here today with his mind made-up.”

After hours of discussion by more than 25 supportive public speakers and council members, the council approved the school’s tree removal permit and site plan requests, but not the request for a Master Plan amendment to expand the sewer line.

Master Plan amendments require a super majority vote of four council members. The council voted 3-1 against the amendment, with Mayor Pro Tem Don McDaniel as the nay vote; Council member Jason Webb was absent.

“First, this is not about the school; this is about the policy for the town,” said Hayden. “If it [extending the sewer line] moves forward, it’s an erosion [of the CTCDD] of what was supposed to be a country-like atmosphere.”

Webb added that Hayden’s objection is based on land use, but that council has no control over this use [institutional] of land.

“The thing with ‘yes, but no further,’ is that density is driven by land-use, not [access] to sewer,” he said. “We shouldn’t tell the applicant, ‘yes, you’re permitted to go there, but don’t go there.’”

From that point, the discussion transitioned into a need for a re-examination of the eastern boundary line of the CTCDD set during the 2013 Master Plan revision.

Hayden pointed to past approvals for sewer amendments: for Liberty Elementary School, deleted from the CTCDD in 2001; deleting the King tract [site of the Old Cabin] in November 2014, which was re-zoned as Medium Density and is under development as Liberty Park; and, Rockpointe Church, which stipulates a restriction from additional sewer hook-ups as part of its Development Agreement.

It was suggested to make the straight line of Flower Mound and Lusk roads the north-south boundary of the eastern CTCDD boundary map. The change would affect 158-acres, including the 17-acres of Rockepoint Church. Instead of continuing “to draw lines in the sand,” there would be a line made of concrete.

“I hate being here tonight to talk about an issue that pits residents against each other,” said McDaniel. “For years– when I was on P&Z– I’ve argued that the line for the CTCDD is in the wrong place. Back when it was set … I always felt it was less about the environment and more about stopping growth.”

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Bryant said he has voted to support everything environmental.

“I hate that we’re battling back-and-forth on septic/sewer tonight,” he said. “We’re not changing the density on this project or the zoning and it’s not in the tree ordinance.”

Council member Claudio Forest, former chairman of P&Z, returned the discussion to the school and its students.

“Since it’s an approved use, and we’ve carved out past use by schools and churches, what’s the right thing to do for the town and the kids,” he said. “Making those fields handle the waste [ by using a septic system], I don’t know if I can say yes; that it’s a decision I’m proud of. The mayor pointed out that Flower Mound and Lusk are a straight line and that’s a demarcation.  And, we can put in the DA (Development Agreement) that no one can hook on to the RES proposal.”

The council consensus was to ask town staff to create the required document changing the eastern border of the CTCDD, to that of Lusk and Flower Mound roads. for earliest consideration by the P&Z Commission. The Aug. 28 meeting has been tentatively set for that requested agenda item.

Given the approval of two of its requests and the possibility of a change in the CTCDD boundary, school officials are still optimistic about a new campus at its chosen location.

“Yes, we were disappointed that it [sewer hook-up] wasn’t passed,” said Director of Communications Billy Rudolph, in a follow-up interview. “We thought it had a good chance, but since we knew that the wastewater was a point of contention, we’ve been looking at septic system options.”

The school sent home a letter to the Founder Classic Academy parents, which read in part:

“We may still be able to open the doors next year at the proposed location on the corner of Cross Timbers Road and Flower Mound Road. One plan involves a plan the re-positioning of the boundary line for the Cross Timbers Conservation District. If this boundary line is moved, then the location of this school would be outside of the Conservation District and we would not need additional approval from the council for the wastewater connection. In addition, we are evaluating other options, as well such as an on-site septic solution, alternative Flower Mound locations, or perhaps locating the school in Bartonville. No matter how this progresses with the Flower Mound Town Council, we are focused on our goal of establishing a K-12 Founders campus in the immediate area as soon as we are able to do so…” We have an executive team and all the options are on the table, because we don’t know what P&Z and the Town Council will do.”

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