Two candidates for the three Flower Mound Town Council places up for election in May have pointed to the council decision to amend the “public school” section of the town’s SMARTGrowth plan last December as one of the reasons they decided to enter the race.
Prior to that December vote, Town Attorney Terry Welch told the council that when the "public schools" component was created in SMARTGrowth in 1999, it addressed an over-capacity issue for the school districts.
The original school’s component stated that no residential project can be approved without a written certification from the specific school district that the potential students impacting schools will not exceed, or are not expected to exceed, 110-percent of their campus’ student attendance capacity within the current or next year.
Since then, the districts have matched the population growth and subsequent shifts in attendance, either: by building new campuses and/or rezoning-- such as in 1999 with the opening of Bridlewood Elementary and Flower Mound High School and the resulting rezoning of Flower Mound Elementary and Marcus High School.
Earlier in December, Welch and the town staff had advised the Planning & Zoning Commissioners—all of whom also sit on the SMARTGrowth Commission—that leaving the original wording as created could place the town in legal jeopardy from prospective residential developers.
The P&Z commissioners subsequently recommended removal of the “public schools” plan to avert possible legal implications. Commissioners also recommended that town council notify impacted school districts of new residential developments before the development is approved.
Town council voted instead to modify the wording of the school’s component.
The amended version states that a residential development in Flower Mound won't be denied if the number of students it is expected to generate surpasses the 110-percent threshold. The town will, however, formally communicate development information to Lewisville ISD, as well as the other school districts where Flower Mound students attend -- Argyle ISD, Northwest ISD and Denton ISD.
The Cross Timbers Gazette asked each of the candidates for an opinion on the SMARTGrowth “public school” amendment and the reasons behind that opinion, as well as what future council issues they place on their priority list.
Mike Walker is a candidate for the Place 1 council seat currently held by Kendra Stephenson, who withdrew her application to run for another term.
Walker currently sits on the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission, as well as the SMARTGrowth Commission. In his capacity as a P&Z Commissioner, he recommended changing the “public school” section of the town’s SMARTGrowth plan.
“We agreed that the town should be out in front of any potential future legal issues based on impediments that could be used by developers to challenge the SMARTGrowth plan,” said Walker. “The last thing we want is to have decisions made by judges and the legislature about the entire SMARTGrowth concept because we don’t have approval by the school districts serving the town, when we have no control over those districts. The town is responsible for the zoning of the land, the infrastructure—streets, sewers and such-- and the architectural specifics of the buildings erected; the school district is responsible for the students inside the school buildings.”
Looking to future council issues, Walker said that because North Texas is ahead of the national economic recovery, Flower Mound needs to focus on new development interests.
“The Lakeside, Canyon Falls and RiverWalk developments are starting up finally and now we need to address housing options for seniors looking to downsize and the younger, newly-employed professionals, plus new mixed-use residential/commercial options that will add to the tax base,” he said. “We also need to look at streets and non-HOA fencing with co-opting support in the older sections of town.”
Walker’s professional experience in urban planning has reinforced his advocacy for urban master and growth plans.
“The Flower Mound SMARTGrowth plan implements the town’s master plan,” said Walker. “It should encourage development with control, while protecting the native environment and character of the community. Changes may need to be made to it to retain balance and changes, such as happened when we were going to be in conflict with TxDOT when the street and country road changes happened.”
He added that residents need to remember that municipal governments and school districts are separate entities.
“If people have a concern over school district population issues, they should address those issues with the Board of Trustees who are responsible for those decisions; not the town council members,” he said. “If the infrastructure and the physical school buildings are both in place and can accommodate the total district population, then we’ve met our responsibility to our students.”
Walker earned a Master’s degree in Urban & Regional Planning from Virginia Tech and is a retired Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army Reserve working in the Civil Affairs Branch. He previously served on Flower Mound's Board of Adjustments, Oil and Gas Board of Appeals, Transportation Commission and Park Board. He is semi-retired and his community activities include being a Past President of the Bridlewood Homeowners Association and a current member of its Architectural Review Committee. Prior to moving to Flower Mound in 1995, Walker served on the Planning Commission of Naperville, Ill., the Chicago Development Council, and the Office Council of the Downtown Denver Partnership. He also worked with county and local governments to plan land use for growing urban areas like Vail and Aspen, Colo.
Joy Bowen’s run for the Place 1 council seat marks her entrance into Flower Mound public service.
Bowen is against amending the “public schools” section of the SMARTGrowth plan.
“I believe the amendment weakens the SMARTGrowth program and my concern is that it's just the first domino to fall,” she said. “Flower Mound has achieved a level of concurrency, because we have used SMARTGrowth to ensure we manage our growth well.”
Bowen said that the original approval process for new residential developments-- being dependant on school district certification-- allowed the town to assess the impact of a development, including schools.
“We can’t tell LISD what to do, but we can use their assessments to ensure we are not putting undue stress on our schools,” she said. “Traditionally we have done that with the school district.
We don't want to have a development built and realize we have inadequate sewer or water. Why would we want to do that to our schools, when we could have a systematic way to assess the impacts on our whole environment?”
The certification or assessment Bowen referred to are town-issued forms that the school districts complete and return during the Flower Mound development process of a residential development application. Before the December 2012 SMARTGrowth amendment, if the town were to deny a residential development application solely for failing school the component of SMARTGrowth the town could be put in legal jeopardy, according to information from Town Attorney Terry Welch.
Bowen said that as a Texas home rule community, the town has authority to manage its growth.
“Parents should be outraged that their children have now become the sacrificial lamb in future development,” she said.
Looking to future council issues, Bowen places improving economic development as a priority.
“There is work to be done to continue to diversify the tax base,” Bowen said. “We need a strong corporate presence, not only to balance our tax base, but also to draw people in and increase patronage at our retail and restaurants.”
Her second priority is for town government to be transparent.
“There are too many examples, including the latest school rezone issues, where meetings are happening behind the scenes,” Bowen said. “We have a real problem with ‘groupthink’ on Town Council. They vote unanimously on most issues and it's not until you do a public information request that you find out the true intentions of what's happening.”
Bowen is currently a consultant and coach to church leaders in family ministry through her work with Orange; a non-profit, parachurch organization. She also volunteers as a worship leader at Valley Creek Church, at the CCA Food Pantry and at her sons’ schools. She graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a B.A. in Psychology. Her previous experience includes serving as a deputy director overseeing the Women's Scholarship for the Governor's Conference for Women under the Sr. Policy Advisor for the Entertainment Industry and Women's Issues, in Los Angeles, Calif. in 1996; and, as a representative for Deputy Mayor of the City of San Diego in 1997.
Mark Wise is running unopposed for re-election to Place 3 on town council.
He voted to amend the “public school” section on the town’s SMARTGrowth plan.
“The council was advised that the original ‘public schools’ section was needed when Flower Mound was experiencing its growth boom,” said Wise. “But, now new school buildings won’t be needed until LISD runs out of room in its existing schools.”
He added that, although a developer may submit an application to build, it may take two to three or even five years to happen, if ever.
“Look at Lakeside; it’s been 10 years and they’re just starting to break ground,” said Wise.
He added that continuing to permit LISD to dictate approval over town developments would open the door for denied-developers to hold the town legally responsible, not the school district.
“As a reverse example, it would be as though the school district told the town where it could build roads,” said Wise. “They’re two separate elected groups with different responsibilities. It’s like not even comparing apples to oranges. It’s comparing apples to broccoli.”
He added that people still seem to be confused about the whole topic of rezoning.
“Both the town and the school district use rezoning to make needed adjustment over time,” said Wise. “By state law, cities and towns use rezoning for land usage—like from agricultural to commercial or residential and the needed infrastructure support—or specific building usage for things like municipal or court buildings and, yes, schools. But, because school districts are responsible for educating its students, they use rezoning to balance student populations within those schools. The last thing LISD needs is to leave some classrooms empty while others are overcrowded.”
He said that among his list of future priorities for the town council are: recruiting new businesses for quality developments and local jobs; the resolution of the pending decision on Lake Ralph Hall; and the continued oversight of the Lakeside, RiverWalk and Canyon Falls developments.
Wise holds an associate degree in computers and electronics technology and has worked in telecommunication hardware sales for 24 years. He was elected to his present Place 3 council seat in 2011 and previously served on Flower Mound's Board of Adjustments and the Oil and Gas Board of Appeals. Wise and his wife have lived in Flower Mound since 1996 and have two sons, both of whom attend Bridlewood Elementary.
Jean Levenick is up for re-election to Place 5 on Town Council.
She voted to amend the “public school” section of the town’s SMARTGrowth plan.
“SMARTGrowth was put in place over 10 years ago as a tool to ensure that necessary infrastructure is in place prior to development,” she said. “The amendment still requires that there be communication between the school district and the Town of Flower Mound regarding proposed development. However, because SMARTGrowth never focused on any specific campus a student would attend, but only whether the school district had the capacity to educate our children, we have protected our residents from the possibility of the Town being exposed to unnecessary legal implications.”
Levenick said the council needs to maintain the future quality of life that all Flower Mound residents enjoy and expect.
“The residents spoke loud and clear last year that they want to expand our economic development,” she said. “We have made great strides in bringing economic development projects to town that will not only allow our residents to spend their time and money here, but will also add to the tax base.”
She added that balancing the tax base will ensure that the town will have the necessary funds to support the most basic infrastructure needs and at the same time being able to fund beautiful park projects plus extraordinary fire and police departments.
Levenick added she is focused on increasing the job market in Flower Mound so residents can work in the same community where they live. Maintaining the businesses that have already chosen to call Flower Mound home is a focus, as is a permanent senior center.
“Our senior population has been promised a permanent center for many years and while the new temporary center is great, it’s just that—temporary,” said Levenick. “The Seniors in Motion program has outgrown the Shirley Voirin Social Senior Center. I will continue to make this one of my top priorities.”
Levenick was elected to the council in 2008 and served one year as Mayor Pro Tem. She currently serves on council after being unanimously appointed to fill Mayor Hayden’s open Place 1 seat last year. She has also served on the P&Z Commission, completed Leadership Flower Mound through the Flower Mound Chamber of Commerce, has been an advocate for CASA of Denton County and is a Board Member on Pennies for Paige, a Flower Mound non-profit organization. Levenick and her husband of 28 years, Mark, with their two sons, have lived in Flower Mound for over 17 years.
Another new face to Flower Mound politics is Tami Ryan, who is running for the Place 5 council seat.
Ryan is also against amending the “public schools” section of the SMARTGrowth plan.
“The decision to change the criteria for future developers now makes it easier to displace existing children from their neighborhood schools,” she said. “With the change to SMARTGrowth, developers only need to notify LISD of a potential impact of additional student population without assisting in reducing the burden on LISD and our taxpayers.”
Ryan added that in the past, residential developments have taken actions, such as donating land to LISD for future development of schools, to ease the burden on the cost of infrastructure. She said that there has been no evidence provided that this ever needed to be removed.
“It takes away our negotiating power with regard to asking developers to set aside land for schools or build a school for the community,” said Ryan.
She added that past town restrictions on development have had negative influences on commercial growth.
“Flower Mound has been known as a difficult town for developers,” said Ryan. “That has to change. Our residents want and expect better representation of who they are as a community. Our image outside of Flower Mound does not represent our resident population.”
She said that Flower Mound's residents have waited a long time for quality retail businesses and commercial development.
“I would focus on ensuring that the Lakeside development lives up to its promises,” said Ryan. “We have given numerous concessions and incentives to this development. We need to make certain that our community reaps the benefits of the amenities it's been promised and that this development does more than just provide additional housing.”
Ryan said she wants to work to bring people together and get them moving behind good ideas to grow in a way that will enhance and protect the quality of life of its residents.
Ryan grew up in Indiana and earned a Business degree from Robert Morris College in Chicago. She has been both a small business owner and has worked successfully with Fortune 500 companies. She volunteers her time for many organizations including her local PTA and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Her husband and three children have called Flower Mound home for 13 years.
Read more about SMARTGrowth and the LISD here.