An Allen Community Bucks Trends
By Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter
Allen, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Montgomery Farm has been a long-time family retreat of about 500 acres for Amy Monier and 5 siblings. Her late grandfather, who built Fair Park's Hall of State and other structures for the Texas Centennial, bought it in 1940.
Amy Monier: Most people in Texas call their property ranches and ours was always Montgomery Farm because of its size, it was only 500 acres. That was considered small. Now it's considered huge
Zeeble: For 20 years beginning in 1981, 72 acres of the farm became the Connemara Nature Conservancy, where artists were invited every spring to put up sculptures & installations on the pristine land. Visitors could drive in to see the works, meet the artists, and soak up the surroundings. But Monier says in 2001, things had to change as encroaching suburbia bumped up hard against the land, forcing land values to the sky
Monier: It's sort of like Gone With the Wind. You can be land-rich and cash-poor. You can't afford to inherit farms anymore
Zeeble: Monier and her family didn't want to sell off the land piecemeal to pay ballooning taxes. Instead, they created a partnership to build homes themselves, according to their own standards. They started with Montgomery Farm's northern border, Bethany Drive, just off 75 Central Expressway. AMBIENCE Monier drives west along the road that boasts widflowers and natural surroundings
Monier: It's native trees no stop signs. So if we want to go back in the other direction, we do this turnaround. The first year we planted the wildflowers, I had a code inspector call me and say we had to get rid of the weeds. And I said it takes 3 years to get the wildflowers. And see, now we're in our 3rd year. Isn't that great?
Zeeble: It got this way because Monier hired designers to re-plan what Allen had already come up with. Her team includes artists who'd created works for the annual Conemmara project & were intimately familiar with the land. Another contributor is landscape architect and artist Brad Goldberg
Brad Goldberg, landscape architect/artist: You've been on 75 and everything's on the grid, and you take a little turn onto Bethany road and you feel like you're in a different place
Zeeble: Bethany Drive won a project-of-the-year honor from the state of Texas. From the family's farmhouse, near where some new Montgomery Farms homes have recently sprung up, Amy Monier says Bethany Drive seems far away.
Monier: You don't see it, you don't hear it, it doesn't have to be mowed. Keeps pollution in. That sort of set the standard for the land.
Zeeble: But she didn't realize that until after the award-winning road was finished and she brought in a commercial planner to design the neighborhood. His first demand? - entry monuments.
Monier: I hate monuments, with pansies and a sign that says where you live. What's the most expensive piece of retail real estate in the city? Northpark? Where's the sign? You see beautiful art, you know you're there. So we ended up parting ways.
Zeeble: Monier then called nationally renowned conservation planner Randall Arendt, who spoke by phone from his current job in Virginia
Randall Arendt, conservation planner: I think they put me to the test when I first got there. They said what would you do with this corner, 20-30 acres? Are trees healthy or not? I invited their comments, how does this look? I did the design in 30 - 35 minutes. I think they sort of hired me on the spot
Zeeble: Arendt's design meshed with Monier's goals. The land will retain its rolling character instead of being scraped and compacted flat. The property's creek will be extended. One pond's already been built, and a cistern and windmill are in the works to filter runoff water from yet another pond. But most of all/maybe most important Monier and Arendt kept all the native trees inclu thousands of oaks and pecans. Arendt says sometimes, money DOES grow on them.
Arendt: People pay more when there are nice trees on the property. It's a project in a market that is booming. If we can demonstrate these principals in the market place, we're going to see this copied.
Zeeble: There's more green space planned as well. Allen's building code allows 5 homes per acre, but to avoid a cookie-cutter layout Monier has urged builders to customize designs for clients, including smaller plots for smaller homes. David Hoover, Allen's Director of Planning and Development, says this will conserve the land
Hoover: This way you may only have half of your land with homes on it, the other half may be open space that's park area, trees or what have u so it makes for a much more pleasing style environment as opposed to the standard grid type system.
Zeeble: Because Montgomery Farm is so different, Amy Monier says homes will be pricey. But, to counter a sense of exclusivity, Brad Goldberg has come up with plans for a community garden
Goldberg: This could be something more city wide, that attracts people from a larger community than people that just live right here, so it's almost a community outreach program.
Zeeble: With these plans for Montgomery Farm, Amy Monier now embraces a project originally forced on her family by decades of constant growth. And the development excites her in part, because children will be able to see and enjoy the area in its natural state, as she did years ago. For KERA 90.1 I'm Bill Zeeble