COLLEYVILLE – After months of debate and demands to preserve forest in northeast Tarrant County, hundreds of residents got their wish Tuesday when Colleyville City Council members voted 6-0 to deny a luxury housing development proposal.
Council members denied the developer’s appeal but kept open the door for WillowTree Custom Homes and their representative, Curtis Young of Sage Group Inc., to return with a new proposal in the coming months. They could have prevented developers from submitting a new plan for at least a year.
The vote followed a lengthy public hearing and passionate appeals from residents concerned that The Bluffs at Colleyville, a 19-home development with prices starting at $2 million, could clear hundreds of older trees on the 14-acre property at 2417 Wilkes Drive and 6900 Pool Road.
Under the name Save Colleyville Trees, neighbors organized an opposition campaign that resulted in more than 550 residents submitting letters to the city. Vicki Heminger was among the speakers who urged Colleyville leaders to protect the Cross Timbers forest – and the history it represents – for future generations. In practice, that would require either the city or a land trust to purchase the property.
“Black and white photos are not the same as being under the majestic canopy of a forest containing trees over 100 years old and older,” Heminger said. “This isn’t about setbacks and slopes and drainage and finances and driveways and two million dollar homes. We can’t replace these trees.”
Bruce and Stacey Taylor, who own the property, also urged council members to give them a straight answer on whether the city is interested in purchasing the land and turning it into a park.
The couple’s property is currently under contract with WillowTree Custom Homes. If that contract expires without a zoning change, other potential buyers have expressed interest in using the land for commercial or religious purposes, they said.
“We can’t hold off forever to see what’s going to happen with this property,” Bruce Taylor told council members. “We heard a lot of the residents talking about preserving this land. Does the city have any interest to put the money forth to actually buy (the) property and own the property? Is that realistically on the table? Because they have the right to know, also.”
Before voting, council members did not address the possibility of purchasing the land from the Taylors. Instead, Mayor Bobby Lindamood said Young and the developers did not provide information that council members requested during a January meeting, including more details on their plans for driveways, tree removal and retaining walls.
“Nothing has come toward us that we asked for from the previous time,” Lindamood said. “I feel like this idea that’s being presented will not be met, and I refuse to drag this out any further than what it really is.”
Young said his team was unclear on how to move forward with a proposal that would earn approval from city leaders. He requested a “true workshop” where developers and city leaders could figure out a solution.
“No plan is probably going to make everyone happy, but perhaps there’s a middle ground here that can work,” Young said. “Otherwise, the owners have to look at alternatives as to what their options are on the property.”
Council members previously expressed skepticism about how the developer could remove hundreds of trees on a steep slope without causing drainage problems in nearby Big Bear Creek.
Developers have a plan to safely adjust the slope and soil elevation of the site that required tree removal, Young said. Young’s plan also met Colleyville’s rules to preserve at least half of the property’s tree canopy, though city regulations would allow homebuilders to remove up to 25% of the remaining trees on each lot.
WillowTree Custom Homes would 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 complied with Colleyville’s comprehensive plan.
City Manager Jerry Ducay told Young the council already offered clear direction for changes to the proposal.
“At some point, you have to provide them with a plan that they can review and give you an answer on,” Ducay said.
The property’s future is now in limbo, with residents remaining hopeful that the land will end up in the city’s hands. Leaders of Save Colleyville Trees say they have been in touch with the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization that specializes in acquiring green space for public use.
The trust works with willing landowners to purchase properties that will then be turned over to a permanent owner, typically a local, state, federal or nonprofit entity. The organization also pursues government and philanthropic funding for the purchase, which must be made at or below fair market value based on an appraisal. That process can take at least 18 months to complete, according to a Save Colleyville Trees memo.
A Trust for Public Land spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about its relationship with Save Colleyville Trees. The trust has a large presence in Texas, previously working with the city of Fort Worth to develop a roadmap for an open space conservation program.
Robert Egan, a 31-year Colleyville resident, wants to see the property transformed into a nature preserve, likely with the help of the Trust for Public Land. He feels sorry for the owners, but said the developers have not played by the rules. Dead pine trees were recently removed from the property, prompting anger from residents fighting the proposal.
Following the contentious hearing, Egan hopes the Taylors and their developers will come to the table and negotiate with the trust.
“I’m pleased to see that it’s moving in the direction to preserve this land,” Egan said. “The problem is it’s going to take time.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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