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As southeast Arlington grows, some residents fear development will overtake nature

Chad Dickson, a southeast Arlington resident, holds a phone displaying a map of zoning cases near his home while standing outside the thickly-wooded space behind his backyard.
Kailey Broussard
/
KERA News
Chad Dickson, a southeast Arlington resident, pulls up a map displaying zoning cases in the area, including one that would open the wooded area behind his home to more houses. Dickson and several neighbors are rallying to preserve the space.

A group of residents in one of Arlington’s most southern neighborhoods makes the case for more parks rather than apartment buildings and businesses.

Chad Dickson sees an opportunity for the wooded area behind his house near neighboring cities Grand Prairie and Mansfield. Dickson and his family like to view the pond and walk around, as do several of his neighbors.

“It’s definitely a neat attraction for all the residents,” Dickson said. “There are a lot of residents like me that have gates that lead directly back here.”

However, the land at 9501 and 9535 North Holland Road is not supposed to be a park. Its owner, ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy, received permits from the city for gas well drilling on the site in 2008. City Planning and Development Services Director Gincy Thoppil said in an email that the gas well site was plugged and abandoned in January 2018.

But like several parcels in the overwhelmingly suburban southeast corner of Arlington, it’s caught the attention of developers who want to take advantage of the vacant land that’s becoming harder to find as the city approaches buildout. The city received a Jan. 14 rezoning request from Baird Hampton and Brown on behalf of Steve Hawkins Homes to build homes on the wooded property, Thoppil said.

Dickson and his neighbors have looked to the city as it drafts a development strategy along State Highway 360 in hopes the city would consider more park space near their homes. However, officials have told residents the remaining vacant land is private property and that the city cannot tell owners what to build or preserve.

Sarah Stubblefield, principal planner in the city’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, said previous council members requested the development strategy study and recommendations in order to attract businesses and housing that fits with residents’ needs. Residents along the corridor have retail options in neighboring cities, she said, while Arlington is losing their business and tax revenue.

“People with vacant land are going to develop it,” Stubblefield said. “We view this strategy as a partnership to do our best to try and put out tools to help people get development that fits in with the community, knowing that we can’t keep it all open space. It’s just not the way development in a fast-growing city works.”

The plan for parks

More than 73% of people who responded to a city survey listed parks and trails as their most desired developments in the study area that runs from Interstate 20 to city limits, according to a draft of the study.

Stubblefield said open space in residential developments factors into city park development.

“It’s not something that’s completely off the table ever, it is something that we have to look at judiciously,” she said.

Preliminary recommendations in all segments of the corridor call for adding or improving sidewalks, trails and bike lanes to connect pedestrians and cyclists to park systems and other parts of the city. The corridor has 105 acres of public park land, with part of Bowman Branch Linear Park being the closest public park space to the Southwind neighborhood. That's about a 10-minute drive or more than an hour on foot.

Dickson said he and his family have been vocal about more nature space because crossing Debbie Lane and other busy streets pose a challenge for his children.

“There’s no way for our kids to get up there safely,” he said.

Instead, nearby Elmer Oliver Nature Park in Mansfield and Walnut Creek in Grand Prairie are more enticing to Dickson and his family.

“No one’s going to have any place to go except for Mansfield or Grand Prairie,” Dickson said. “From my understanding, the city of Arlington is desiring people to stay in Arlington. I’d think this would be an important venture for them."

Developing during strategizing

Housing has also become a central topic in the 360 strategy development, though the need for more retailers drove the strategy’s creation.

About 6.5 acres of the study area, less than 1%of the strategy study area, is dedicated to apartments and higher-density types of housing. The city has approved 744 apartments since 2019. The new development spans nearly 54 acres.

That scares residents like Dickson, who was attracted to southeast Arlington because of the suburban feel and strong neighborhoods. Dickson also lamented that the council has taken up apartment plans while city staff draft a development strategy.

“No one at Planning and Zoning Commission or, it appears, city council, is really doing anything to slow that down, to wait to see what the [study] brings to the table,” Dickson said.

Stubblefield said city staff do not have the authority to halt development unless the council approves a moratorium. However, council members and commissioners have been mindful of the pending recommendations, she said.

“As these proposals in the corridor have been coming through, I think that they have consulted the draft recommendations, even though it’s not adopted, to see where it’s lined up with recommendations that have come out of this planning process,” Stubblefield said.

City staff are in the process of finalizing the draft plan, and the council is scheduled to vote on the plan in late March, according to study timelines.

All the while, Dickson plans to keep pushing for park space. He and several neighbors are organizing around the issue, he said. The alternative for him and other residents, he added, is moving.

“We really want to work with the city," Dickson said. "We really want to find a resolution."

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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Corrected: February 1, 2022 at 10:04 AM CST
This story was updated at 10:03 a.m. Feb. 1, 2022, to clarify Sarah Stubblefield's title with the city of Arlington.