Flower Mound Planning and Zoning Commissioners approved the Highland Court proposal which has been at the center of controversy for more than six months among some residents concerned about density – an issue that has become part of the political conversation before the May 9 election.
“In approving this, it’s better use of the land,” said Commissioner Nels Pearson. “He [the developer] has really put himself on the line as far as David Weekly…this is going to be a show place.
“I think as a whole, as a whole, the Town of Flower Mound will be better off for this,” Pearson added.
“I’m in favor of this plan,” said Commissioner Daivd Johnson. “You’re going to have a nice park in the corner, trails. It’s going to be a nice subdivision.”
Several commissioners said that it was time to move on, especially with the substantial changes made in the proposal.
Commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the master plan amendment with Itamar Gelbman, an alternate on the P&Z Commission, casting the sole vote against. In the request for rezoning from agricultural district to planned development district with high density and medium density single family detached residential uses, commissioners voted 4-2 with Gelbman and Commissioner Sandeep Sharma casting no votes.
The project re-appeared Monday before commissioners after the Flower Mound Town Council remanded the Highland Court project back to commissioners on April 6 due to significant changes made since they first reviewed and denied the proposal in March.
Of the speakers during a public hearing, 12 spoke in favor of the proposed Highland Court while 39 spoke against it.
The proposed development, which has created a movement among some residents seeking fewer master plan amendments and lower housing density, will now go before the Flower Mound Town Council on April 20.
“I’m actually in favor of the plan,” said Mark Walker. “I think it’s as good as we’re going to get.”
Will Nesmith spoke against the development: “I’m not against building houses on the properties along Rippy Road … however it still bothers me that Direct Development wants to build 2,500-square-foot homes on postage stamp lots.”
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 town homes, apartments and senior living to 161 homes to 137 homes as of March 16 to 96 homes and a 1.6 acre park – one of two proposals put before residents for consideration. Of the 96 lots, 36 were 10,000 square feet or larger with 60 at 6,500 square feet or larger. A second proposal shown to residents during the neighborhood meetings included 99 homes at a 40-50 percent medium density with no park.
The latest Highland Court project also calls for larger 10,000-square-foot to 12,000-square-foot lots to insulate the Rippy Road neighborhoods with the smaller 6,500-square-foot lots closer to the existing commercial/office use, said David Watson, managing principal of Direct Development, which is pursuing its first residential project after building a number of commercial developments in Flower Mound off FM 2499 and FM 1171.
“What we’re trying to do over a span of 30 acres is what is appropriate to adjacent land uses,” Watson said, adding they have added larger back yards and cut the height of homes from three stories to two.
“These plans went to the neighborhood. Given the choice of no plan or a plan – 70 percent indicated they wanted to see a plan,” he said.
While an estimated 2.3 acres will be available for a park, Watson explained he anticipated 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 also calls for about 90 additional trees. “The idea is to keep the traffic off Rippy Road,” he said. “If you stay with the master plan, you lose 10 specimen trees and retain three.”
Several speakers indicated they would have favored the project if it included medium density housing only. Watson said it was not possible to develop the 30 acres with only medium density based on several factors, including the land price. Watson said the reason he was able to drop the number of homes from the earlier 161 to 137 to the final 96 proposed was because the landowner dropped the price of the property.
“It is not equitable to make it all medium density,” Watson said of repeated calls by Rippy Road neighbors to create a project with nothing but medium density housing. “The seller would just as soon keep the land and sell it for commercial.”
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.
“I’ve known the Bochardt family for 36 years,” said Don Shields. “They are not greedy. The price has gone up. You are not going to keep a rural flavor when property jumps up like that.
“They don’t understand something. … That place is going to be developed,” he said. “If you disagree [with the proposal], Lord knows what you’re going to end up with.”
Trible agreed: “I’ve not heard one complaint about changing the commercial to residential. … Change will win, maybe not today, but a change is coming.”
The proposal followed two meetings between the developer and residents in neighborhoods off Rippy Road – some who favor the changes and others who do 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.
Some residents said claims of continuing College Parkway as a thoroughfare – as proposed in the current master plan – or the possibility of the property being used for oil and gas development was “fear-mongering.”
“If you don’t do this, the street is going to go through; if you don’t do this, you’re going to get a gas well … I’m so tired of the fear-mongering,” said Sherilyn Flick. “If you put the citizens of this town first, you can’t go wrong.”
The “fear-mongering” term, Watson said, was unfair as he did not have control of either the master plan dictating major thoroughfares or what the seller would do with the property if his proposal was not approved by commissioners and the town council.
Several residents repeatedly urged commissioners to vote against the proposal on behalf of those who lived nearby.
“Please vote with an overwhelming number of residents…please don’t change the density,” said Rob Dorman.
“This has been a long battle,” Eddie Wynn said, adding that after seven to eight months, staying united has been a challenge among Rippy Road residents. “Everybody’s scared, everybody’s worried.
“This still does not fit,” he added. “You make it medium density, I’m all in.”
Susan Campbell echoed Wynn’s call for medium density: “My feeling is the compromise from low density to high density is medium density. … Why can we not just have medium density?”
Beverly Meador asked commissioners for more time to consider a second option with lower density. “I would say a majority of the neighbors preferred Plan B to Plan A.”
As one of the last speakers, Emily Strittmatter told commissioners that the proposal failed to meet the most important issue – density.
“We’re not compromising down from multi-family units to 97 lots, we’re compromising up from the master plan to 97 lots.”
Carol Kohankie urged commissioners to vote for all of Flower Mound. “I want you to remember you represent 70,000 people, not just the people who have been vocal.”