The future is uncertain for a plan by Texas gubernatorial challenger Don Huffines’ real estate company to clear out more historical trees for new development in east Fort Worth.
On Wednesday, the Fort Worth Zoning Commission knocked down a zoning change request sought by Huffines Communities to build a multifamily development on 10.65 acres of heavily wooded land in the Bentley Village-Waterchase Estates Neighborhood of east Fort Worth.
Residents in an adjacent east Fort Worth neighborhood fought Huffines in a rezoning battle two years ago and lost. The John T. White Neighborhood Association has expressed concerns about the large-scale deforestation that has since taken place in the contested land.
Although the zoning commission’s verdict Wednesday prevents Huffines Communities from building about 100 townhouses at the 9000 block of John T. White Road, the case has created a rift among the Bentley Village-Waterchase Estates neighborhood residents.
“Homeowners that are in the area that’s most directly affected are just outraged, as are tons of other homeowners that have lived here for much longer than me,” neighborhood resident Tonya Monger told Fort Worth Report before Wednesday’s zoning meeting.
The Bentley Village-Waterchase Estates Neighborhood Association, however, supported the developer and the zoning change.
“We have more than enough apartments surrounding our neighborhood, but there is a need for more owner-occupied houses, such as townhomes, condominiums and single-family housing,” neighborhood association president Ann Caldwell said during the zoning meeting.
The fate of the property has reached a stalemate following the zoning commission vote. But the property owner now might decide on a project that ultimately satisfies neither of the diverging resident groups – a higher-density apartment complex.
Difference in opinions
The property and developer had put forward a rezoning request several times before. Last year, a request to rezone the property from general commercial to “R2” zoning did not get any traction. Huffines withdrew the case.
In December and again in January, the developer requested to rezone only 2.95 acres out of the total property from general commercial to medium density multifamily. The neighborhood association had opposed the change at that time.
The latest request the developer submitted was to rezone all of the property as “planned development” that would have allowed the construction of condos or townhomes.
However, the measure failed on Wednesday and now prompts the possibility that any developer who purchases the land would be able to build apartments or any multi-family housing without requesting a zoning change.
Huffines had floated the idea that if the rezoning did not happen, it would build an apartment complex on the property, which it is legally allowed to do.
“Some people just have different worldviews about things, and I understand that,” said Carolyn Meier, a board member of the neighborhood association. “Unfortunately, if the zoning request fails, it does not mean development will stop.”
Meir said the neighborhood association supported the zoning change because it would have meant no apartment complexes.
Monger, who formed an opposition group with fellow neighbors, said Huffines used building apartments as a ploy to threaten residents into accepting its desire to build the townhomes.
“Seriously, (Huffines) has been fighting us since last year. (If) they wanted to build apartments – and they had control of that – they would have already done it. They would already be six months into it.”
Monger created a petition to stop the developers from building the condominium project, whose entry point would have gone through the street her single-family house is on. About 70 neighborhood residents signed the petition, which she presented to the zoning commission on Wednesday.
“The neighborhood association was saying they support it because they’ve been given misinformation,” Monger said. “And we have changed some minds. If people will take the time to listen to what the truth is, we will have changed some minds.”
Meier agreed the new development would have caused congestion. But, she said, the plan would have served the neighborhood’s best interest.
“There’ll be more traffic on John T. White. But that doesn’t and can’t stop development,” Meier said. “So, what we’re trying to do is make sure that we have development that helps us maintain this quality of life that we have in this neighborhood.”
The rezoning request was placed on behalf of Timberwood Inc. and Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal MI, a church located at the edge of the property at John T White Road. A golf course sits on the other end of the property.
The land was zoned as commercial many years ago in anticipation of the National Tennis Association’s potential headquarter relocation, according to area residents. There are several tennis courts in the area next to the church.
Huffines purchased the property from a Canadian estate and also the church, according to the Bentley Village-Waterchase Estates Neighborhood Association.
The application for the zoning change request was submitted by former state Sen. Don Huffines’ son, Devin Huffines. Devin Huffines lists Timberwood Inc. and Four Rivers Capital, the Dallas-based private equity firm where he works as a senior associate, as the property owner.
“I know this is called multifamily now. That’s just a placeholder for a technical term. These are really just single-family houses being built,” Devin Huffines said during Wednesday’s meeting about the request that was denied. “But, according to the engineers, with the zoning we have currently, by right we could do roughly about 200 units of multifamily apartments.”
He added that the developer was ready to decrease the density through the single-family-like detached townhomes, as the neighborhood association wanted.
Devin Huffines declined to comment on urban forestry requirements after one of the commissioners during the meeting brought forward the neighborhood’s concern over the possible destruction of trees on the property.
He only remarked that trees will be removed and, “we will be planting trees to replace the significant trees.”
“One of the driving forces of the thriving Fort Worth economy is available workforce,” said zoning commissioner John Aughinbaugh. “And what drives available workforce is affordable housing. That’s what these developers are offering to put into the marketplace, which is certainly being embraced. If big lots were more attractive in the marketplace, certainly, these developers would be pursuing those kinds of developments actively. But the market says it’s not so.”
Neetish Basnet is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter.