Monday, August 15, 2022

Livingston: Furst Ranch requires regional approach

Bryan Livingston, Argyle Mayor Pro Tem

Regular readers of this column know that the Town of Argyle’s leadership is focused on regional cooperation with our neighbors, a policy begun by former Mayor Don Moser.

Our corner of Denton County (Precinct 4) is fragmented into over a dozen jurisdictions, with interests that are not always aligned. Regional development cooperation, however, enables municipalities and other jurisdictions to work together on behalf of their citizens. As Denton County development accelerates, large-scale projects that overlap or profoundly impact multiple jurisdictions demand teamwork to realize acceptable outcomes.

Unfortunately, the most consequential development under discussion in our region today, Furst Ranch, is not being handled with a regional development approach. It has been almost three months since Argyle, Northlake and Bartonville requested a joint discussion of the challenges posed by Furst Ranch in a letter to the Town of Flower Mound. Our joint letter to Mayor Dixon was ignored.

Since we sent our request to Flower Mound, more information about the impact of the development has become available through workshop presentations made to the Flower Mound Town Council and the AISD Board of Trustees, which I touched upon in the column that I wrote for the February issue of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

Responding to the column, Jack Furst met with Argyle Town Administrator Rich Olson and me on February 19. He politely listened as we explained our concerns and appealed to him to bring the affected jurisdictions together to discuss the impacts and potential solutions. Other than a courteous acknowledgement of our meeting, I have not heard back from Mr. Furst.

Building a city on vacant prairie land virtually overnight will create a multitude of problems for the people who live nearby, including the residents of Argyle, Northlake, Bartonville and Flower Mound. Here are a few examples:

Regional mobility will suffer. Only two surface roads serve the Furst Ranch site, US 377 and FM 1171. Furst Ranch will create a population density far greater than the two roads were designed to accommodate, even after pending US 377 improvements are completed. There is no traffic impact assessment available to the public that models the traffic impact of building a city of 20-25,000 people on a site served by only two surface roads with limited capacity and no practical options for further expanding capacity.

The Furst Ranch plans show no access to the site from the northeast. This may be comforting to Bartonville residents, but it is highly improbable that access will not be built in the northeast quadrant of the development to relieve congestion.

US 377 expansion across the Denton Creek wetlands between FM 1171 and Roanoke is neither planned nor funded. Environmental regulation will make this leg of the US 377 improvements expensive, lengthy and disruptive when the work is finally undertaken.

The reality on the ground for residents of the towns surrounding the site will be heavy congestion in all directions and increased municipal roadway infrastructure costs in neighboring towns that will not be funded by Flower Mound.

Furst Ranch swaps single-family, manageable residential development for mixed-use. Furst Ranch is proposed to be rezoned entirely to mixed-use, which will allow the site to be far denser than the concept plans that have been made public to date. If the developers intend for over half of the site to be built out as single family or other owner-occupied residences such as townhomes, why apply for mixed use zoning for the entire project?

4,000 apartments may be a low estimate of the multifamily residences that are built on the site. Zoning and land use plan changes voted by a city do not guarantee what will be built. A developer who is handed a range of entitlements will act in their self-interest and select the direction that maximizes return on their investment. Multifamily housing is the most profitable option for Jack Furst and Hines Interests. In testimony before AISD and in his written submissions to Flower Mound, Mr. Furst and his representatives have been clear that the concept plans are subject to change.

The biggest risk posed by Furst Ranch is that of adding at least 4,000 students to Argyle ISD, a district that already faces steep growth from today’s approximately 3,700 students. AISD is a thinly-populated 22 square miles with approximately 15,000 residents and less than 10,000 taxpayer households. It has a negligible commercial base and very little sales tax revenue. A bond issue of approximately $400 million is expected to come before the voters in 2022 or 2023, driven largely by the needs of Furst Ranch, including the capital expense needed to build and equip four new schools and expansion of the high school campus to accommodate 250% growth before the end of this decade.

The bond issue, if it passes, would add a principal burden that could easily exceed $40,000 per current household. Argyle ISD already carries bond debt of $63,000 per student, by far one of the highest among all Texas school districts, not just districts of Argyle’s size. It is hard to grasp how AISD will be able to manage the financial burden.

Less than 20% of the school taxes collected by AISD come from present Flower Mound citizens – meaning that Flower Mound will reap the tax benefits of the development while the taxpayers in other jurisdictions front the capital required to absorb the growth of AISD driven by Furst Ranch. Looked at another way, taxpayers mostly living in Argyle, Northlake and Bartonville will subsidize the development of Furst Ranch and see nothing in return other than a school district struggling to deal with an extremely high rate of growth.

De-annexation should be explored by the school district. ASID leadership also has a duty to parents and taxpayers to become fully transparent on Furst Ranch impacts and bond funding plans before the Flower Mound Town Council votes to approve zoning and master plan changes for the Furst Ranch site.

Furst Ranch is a challenged site for retail development. Commercial development arguments for the site are weak, given the mobility limitations noted above and the fact that developers working to build commercial development on the Interstate 35W corridor have a significant head start on Furst Ranch. Every ambitious developer promises that once they have the entitlement for high density residential projects, sales tax-producing uses will follow. Argyle’s Waterbrook and Flower Mound’s Riverwalk demonstrate that skepticism is in order.

Good governance demands transparency and a regional approach. There is no movement toward a regional approach to grappling with these serious problems despite the best efforts of the leaders of Argyle, Northlake and Bartonville. In fact, signs are up on US 377 and FM 1171 announcing that Flower Mound is moving ahead with hearing an application for zoning and master plan changes to the site. Flower Mound could give Furst Ranch a green light within the next few weeks.

Citizens should demand public hearings on the impact of the Furst Ranch development. I call on Jack Furst and Hines Interests to delay the rezoning and master plan amendment request now being considered by Flower Mound and to begin a process of public engagement in each of the affected jurisdictions. Changes to the entitlements on the Furst Ranch site should not be made until the affected citizens of Denton County have been given an opportunity to engage with the developers and make their concerns heard.

CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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