Monday, November 29, 2021

Northlake Notes — October 2021

Summer is barely over, but the heat is still on in our area…

Two issues are heating up debate and causing concern in our area these days. First the ongoing surge in COVID cases, and second, development activity, specifically the project formerly proposed as Furst Ranch and now a subsequent project presented as Flower Mound Ranch.

To start, we are reaching higher levels of active cases in our town than ever before. Thankfully, the seriousness of those cases is diminished by the number who have been vaccinated, leading to some milder cases. Hospitals were recently completely full with COVID patients in ICUs causing concern that the overrun so long avoided might be upon us. It’s not yet clear if we’ve reached the peak of this D-variant surge, but if the last two surges and new case trends are any indicator, it would seem we may be close to the turn.

Libraries of thoughts have been written and discussed on this topic in the last two years. I have just one short point to offer. I have observed, with some disappointment I might add, that despite the significant efforts of the human race to combat this pandemic, from Asia to Europe to the Americas, this disease has run its course, in the end with little difference in ultimate infection and mortality.

Geography, urban or rural, access to medicine or not, the disease seems to be highly resilient. Also, since our responses long ago became politicized, it begs the question if we are even able to identify and prove effective solutions, would they ever be accepted? That is an unfortunate reality we now live in.

I have been watching with some curiosity if the effects of European-style restrictions or Texas-style rollbacks would have some effect on the spread. Time and place certainly skew local trends but overall there hasn’t been a significant difference in the effect.

That leads me to this observation: The world seems to be convincing itself that a decision to abandon stay-at-home restrictions in our state is some macabre indifference to the suffering and loss due to COVID. I would posit it is not. Rather, it is a reflection of our culture from our founding that it is the responsibility of each individual rather than the state to decide one’s own risk of harm and make considerations accordingly.

The absence of rules does not mean the absence of concern or abdication of responsibility. Independence, a word synonymous with Texan history, cherished, celebrated and fought for, is being practiced. To the degree we each find danger in this pandemic, we each respond accordingly. There is certainly cause and room for caution at this specific time when the third wave is still breaking over us. We take some measures and adapt as needed like everyone else. Determine your risk, be safe, but above all, live free. Live free to live as you see fit and if the disease finds you or yours, it will not be the fault of anyone but chance.

To date, I have not expressed a full public position on the topic of Furst Ranch, a large, master planned project proposed to span some thousands of acres around 1171 and 377 and be home to some 20,000 people. This is a complex subject that cannot be simplified into a small statement. There are however a couple things that have me concerned.

First, the project as proposed has already been rejected by the Flower Mound council after a particularly lengthy 6+ hour meeting. I was impressed by the consideration that they gave it and am pleased that they did so. For something as large, costly and impactful as this project, a lengthy process of consideration and preparation is warranted.

The response to that rejection by the developer is quite concerning however. Rather than address the concerns of the council and return with a counter proposal, the developer seems to have gone the opposite direction and is trying to force an up to 10,000 unit apartment project through that serves no ones’ best interest.

I applaud the Flower Mound leadership for their original decision and hope they continue to hold their ground and get the considerations they require. Large or small, every project needs to respect the jurisdiction it is proposed in and come prepared to address the externalities it creates.

That said, from an urban design standpoint, the original project was a compelling design and it was clear that much thought and expense was made to prepare it. Unfortunately, while as far as it may have been a good design, it was a great project in the wrong place. That project started with a starkly different idea then the town’s vision outlines. The planners ignored that to their own disappointment. The council was not unclear in their vision or their feedback.

It is disappointing to see the developers fail to recognize the merit of the council’s recommendations to adapt the project in the direction of the Flower Mound vision. That said, these issues are for Flower Mound and the developer to work out between them. If Flower Mound were to consider the current proposal or alternative, zoning and density are their decision. It is reasonable and necessary however that the trans-jurisdiction issues are addressed as part of any plan. Those are the domain of the neighboring communities.

Depending on what the project ultimately is there are considerations that affect multiple jurisdictions. Of principal concern are transportation, education and utilities.

Utilities are generally solved by the development process so for now I’ll leave the open questions there aside.

The principal concern I have for our area is transportation. Growth is outstripping roads across the region and the speed at which major roadways can be designed, funded and constructed means we are in for years of difficult commutes despite the pandemic’s effect to reduce it somewhat.

The bedroom communities across Cross Timbers rely on ready access to employment centers and this project threatens the already strained Hwy 377 artery. Our County Commissioner has been working to advance the conversation on expanding 377 with the support of Northlake and Argyle leadership. It would be appropriate for both Flower Mound and the Flower Mound Ranch planners to step forward and participate in driving that conversation forward. Any project for this area must assess and work to provide a solution through TxDOT to ensure that as the traffic from buildout arrives the capacity is available to serve it.

The second area of significant concern is Argyle ISD. The original projections for this projects’ buildout were not even in the realm of reality. Buildout of large scale projects in this area are already vastly outpacing expectations. A project in this location, providing economical large scale rentals, and access to a top notch district like AISD will be in extremely high demand. This means the buildout economics will favor the residential before the commercial. With AISD largely tapped out of bond capacity for years to come, there will not be funds to build the schools for this project, even as the demand from families wanting access to this district surges. Maxed out capacity schools, the highest tax rates in the region and no money to build are the future of AISD the way these two proposals are presented.

On these two issues and others, some months ago the leadership of Argyle, Bartonville, and Northlake requested that Flower Mound engage us to discuss these issues and come up with viable solutions. Since our constituents share these roads and the school district with the future residents of this area it is both responsible and neighborly for our towns to work together. That request and offer still stand.

The future of our area is at stake. We must work together for the good of our current and future neighbors, however many they may be and whatever style of home they live in. What matters is how well we have prepared to receive them.

CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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