COLLEYVILLE — Just beyond rows of large homes in northeastern Tarrant County, trees stretch as far as the eye can see in one of Colleyville’s last remaining pieces of Cross Timbers forest.

To Tim Waterworth and what he calls a ragtag group of neighbors, the 14-acre property on Wilkes Road is more than just “a bunch of old trees.” The forest is home to nearly 1,000 large trees that represent some of the last natural space not lost to development, he said. 

“It’s something I just think that people shouldn’t take for granted,” Waterworth, a wealth management adviser and 25-year Colleyville resident, said. “Colleyville has hit a tipping point in development, and people are very sensitive to hold on to what little green space we have left.” 

More than 500 residents have submitted letters opposing a Southlake-based developer’s plan to build The Bluffs at Colleyville, a gated community of 19 luxury homes with prices starting at $2 million. Neighbors came together under the name Save Colleyville Trees to create an opposition campaign, complete with a website, video and petition, Waterworth said.  

Colleyville planning and zoning commissioners voted unanimously to reject the proposal in November. But, following an appeal by Southlake-based WillowTree Custom Homes and Sage Group Inc., the decision is now in the hands of the City Council, which met for a Jan. 5 public hearing dedicated to the proposal. 

The Thursday night meeting was the developer’s first chance to present its revised proposal to the public and answer questions from council members. 

No action was taken because of council rules, with a formal vote expected for a special Feb. 7 session. The date is subject to change in the case Colleyville officials don’t receive more information on elements of the plan, said Mayor Bobby Lindamood. To overturn the rejection, developers would need five of seven council members to vote in favor of the proposal. 

More than 50 residents filled council chambers, with all speakers expressing opposition to the proposal. Several council members, including Lindamood, were skeptical of how WillowTree Custom Homes could remove hundreds of trees on a steep slope without causing drainage problems to nearby Big Bear Creek. 

Lindamood said the plan makes him “extremely nervous” — and wants to make sure the tree preservation and removal counts are correct. 

“(The tree counts) doesn’t add up,” Lindamood said. “I’m not a tree professional, but I do know how to read those plans.” 

Curtis Young, a principal at Sage Group Inc. and the lead representative for the proposal, said developers have already made several concessions to address resident concerns. Those adjustments include reducing the number of lots on the property by increasing lot size and purchasing additional land to keep traffic out of the adjacent Ross Downs neighborhood, Young said. 

“We’ve already been at this for six or seven months. We’ve thought this through very carefully,” Young told council members. “Our intent here is to work out something that is best for the city that may not make everyone happy, but it’s best for all involved here and yields a very high quality development for Colleyville because it’s a beautiful piece of property.”

Residents arrive for a Jan. 5, 2022 public hearing on a proposal that would build 19 homes on a 14-acre property in Colleyville. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

Plans meet urban forestry requirements, but neighbors want park

Beyond increased traffic flow, neighbors say they’re concerned about WillowTree Custom Homes’ proposal to remove about 5.48 acres of tree canopy, or about 47% of trees estimated on the property. 

MaryAnn Nicholson, a 27-year resident and board member for the statewide Texas Garden Club, said she fears that removal will hurt wildlife and the community at large. She urged Colleyville officials to negotiate with the property owner to purchase the wooded area and preserve it as a city park. The Tarrant Appraisal District estimates the 12 acres currently owned by the developers is worth about $2 million. 

What’s a heritage tree in Colleyville?

Colleyville forestry regulations define heritage trees as post oaks, blackjack oaks, cotton wood, water oak, and green and white ash trees that have attained a significant age. More information on the specific definition, and penalties for removing heritage trees, can be found here.

“It is essential to keep trees and wildlife habitats for survival of all wildlife species as well as for the enjoyment of current and future residents,” Nicholson said. “I would be happy to volunteer for any type of work that is needed in order to make that a reality for the citizens of Colleyville.” 

Young’s proposal meets Colleyville rules to preserve at least half of the canopy. Developers would also be required to make up for the hundreds of removed “heritage” trees by either planting 276 large trees, paying a $176,600 fee or combining the two methods. A city staff report also found that the zoning change complies with Colleyville’s comprehensive plan. 

In an email statement before the hearing, Young said the sloped property will require a certain amount of grading to safely install streets, utility services and home sites. Grading involves adjusting the slope and soil elevation around a construction site before building. 

Removing trees is a necessary part of accomplishing that goal, Young said, and developers have proposed a “tree preservation buffer” to preserve the trees planted by the current property owner. 

“We have every intention to work with the city to minimize the amount removed,” Young said. “This high quality residential neighborhood would undoubtedly result in the support and enhancement in the property values of our neighbors and the city at large.” 

Amid rapid development, residents hopeful plan will be denied

Several residents said the incremental increase in tax revenue from the development isn’t worth the cost. Emily Lucht, a member of the Save Colleyville Trees group, said there’s already a lot of construction in the area. 

The city is rapidly developing, with Colleyville officials approving a $8.3 million project to build “gateway pillars” as part of a beautification project. Several residents, including Lucht, call the pillars an eyesore that has contributed to residential opposition against development. 

“The thought of having to then add development into it, and take out a bunch of really old and really historically significant green space just really upset everybody,” Lucht said. “And made everybody that much more gung ho to keep it green and not tear down.”

Young said some of the public comments were “a bit hyperbolic” because many trees will be preserved. Developers will continue working with city staff, including Colleyville’s urban forester, on the project proposal, he said. 

Residents say more than 50% of trees will be removed

Per Colleyville regulations, at least 50% of the entre subdivision must be preserved, excluding trees located in existing utility easements or right-of-way. Once the lots are ready for homebuilders, at least 75% of the trees on each lot must be preserved. Tim Waterworth of Save Colleyville Trees fears this rule will wipe out more trees as part of the building process.

Before the Jan. 5 hearing, Waterworth expected council members to favor developers, in part because of misunderstanding around the tree ordinance and how many trees will be preserved once homes are built on the property. 

But several council members, including George Dodson, appeared to share neighbor concerns over the narrowness of the home lots. 

“I would be much more positive if it were half the number of lots that we’re looking at,” Dodson said. “That’s sort of where I stand right now. I would like to see further analysis of the trees that will have to be taken out.” 

Lindamood assured residents that since he was elected last summer, the council has not approved any high-density housing projects. The high amount of public attention on the development has brought council members around to their cause, Waterworth said, and he has high hopes Colleyville officials will make an offer to acquire the property for parkland. 

“The track that it’s on, if the city says it’s too many houses and they cut back the amount of houses, that’s cutting down the economic feasibility for the developer,” Waterworth said. “I just wish they would get it over with. I hope we don’t go on for 10 months like this.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...

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Seth BodineBusiness Reporter

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....