In far north Fort Worth, many feel like they're not part of the city
FORT WORTH -- With a population of 122,000, the cluster of communities in far north Fort Worth would be the third-largest city in Tarrant County if it were its own entity.
In many ways, this booming area that begins north of Loop 820 and extends into Denton County has not only its own distinct population, but also its own set of problems, which often differ from those of residents elsewhere in Fort Worth.
Concerns over various issues, most notably traffic, have led many residents to identify more with the neighboring cities in northern Tarrant County than with Fort Worth. Far north residents sometimes feel as if their area is a remote appendage to the sprawling city of 741,206 that covers 348 square miles.
It's to the point that some far north residents don't realize they live in Fort Worth, while others simply refuse to acknowledge it, said Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance.
"I seriously think one of the things Fort Worth has to do is make it known to these people that they're actually in Fort Worth, but I don't know how they go about doing that," Fuller said.
Fort Worth's northward expansion was fueled in large part by Alliance Airport, for which the city annexed land up the I-35W corridor into Denton County in 1987. American Airlines' maintenance facility, which the airline has proposed closing, came a few years later.
The city annexed the land for Texas Motor Speedway in 1995.
The expansion has brought jobs -- Alliance alone has added more than 30,000 -- but infrastructure hasn't kept pace with all the residential development along what were once two-lane county roads.
District 2 City Councilman Sal Espino, who represents much of far north Fort Worth, said the city has brought in city services and key amenities, such as fire stations and the Summerglen Library, while Hillwood, developer of Alliance, brought in shops and restaurants at Alliance Town Center.
But as the city tries to work through its backlog of road projects, Espino said, it needs a dedicated revenue stream for infrastructure issues and city services in far north Fort Worth to connect with residents.
"Far north Fort Worth is the fastest-growing part of the city. They deserve their fair share of city resources and city services," Espino said, listing a municipal courthouse or sub-City Hall as the top priorities, along with a new library and community center.
But some residents question whether new facilities would make a difference to those who don't want to admit that they're part of the city.
"I believe they were sold a bill of goods that they live somewhere other than Fort Worth," said Robert Rouse, who lives in the Village of Woodland Springs subdivision. "When I and/or others bring it to their attention, they scream. Most people believe the school district is where they live."
Keller schools were a significant factor in Rouse's decision to move his family to the area. That means he fights traffic every day to get his job near Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Rouse said many of his neighbors are too caught up in their daily commutes and own lives to take part in civic issues.
Besides traffic, Rouse said, most of the recent chatter has focused on the opening of a Mi Cocina restaurant and a Starbucks at Alliance Town Center. A Cinemark movie theater is also eagerly anticipated.
"It was crazy how many people were talking about that," Rouse said referring to Mi Cocina. "We all want to stay in our little pockets. We want all of the services as close as we can get them."
Further up I-35W, construction continues on Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance, which will end long drives to reach a hospital.
But many residents wonder whether the long-delayed widening of Golden Triangle Boulevard, which is being performed by the state and is on track to be completed in December, will pose problems for the hospital's opening this year. City officials have said it shouldn't be an issue.
How the area differs
The 2010 Census shows subtle differences between far north Fort Worth and the rest of the city.
In far north Fort Worth, 80 percent of the households are families -- at least two people living together -- compared with 67 percent for the city as a whole. In far north Fort Worth, 22 percent of households have four people; in the city as a whole, 15 percent do.
Far north's median household size is 3.13 people; the whole city's is 2.77.
In far north Fort Worth, 34 percent of families have children ages 6 to 17, compared with 27 percent for the whole city.
Housing prices are higher, too.
Median home sales prices in January were $127,470 in the Saginaw/north Fort Worth submarket and $138,000 in the Park Glen/Summerfields submarket of far north Fort Worth. For the whole city, the median price was $115,200 in the third quarter of 2011.
The issues of wanting to be part of another city aren't limited to those who live in the Keller school district. Those living west of Interstate 35W share similar frustrations.
In the Northwest school district, many residents know they live in Fort Worth but would prefer to live elsewhere.
Realtor Lucy Puniwai, who has lived in Dorado Ranch off of Avondale Haslet Road for four years, said she feels far more connected to Haslet than Fort Worth.
"We're begging to be a part of Haslet," said Puniwai, who is president of the Haslet Lions Club. "I would live in Haslet in a heartbeat."
While Puniwai has similar complaints about roads, she also has ones specific to her area.
Far north residents who live closer to Keller "want to talk about the status of widening Golden Triangle and Alta Vista [Road]," she said. "We want to talk about getting a subcourthouse, more emergency services, street lighting and zoning. It's hard to determine what is zoned as commercial and what is zoned as residential."
Stephanie Winquest, president of the Sendera Ranch Homeowners Association, noted that a much needed Wal-Mart Supercenter is being built along Avondale Haslet Road. But residents are worried about the traffic it will bring.
Winquest also faces the challenge of getting Sendera Ranch residents to engage on issues that affect the neighborhood.
"I try to tell people at our HOA meetings that you're a voter and you need to get out and voice your opinion," Winquest said. "The city pays attention but we've had extremely low voter turnout."
Mayor Betsy Price, who has tried to strengthen ties with the North Fort Worth Alliance and the area's residents, recognizes the challenges.
"I think part of it is north Fort Worth tends to be newer people to the community and they don't have a strong tie to the community," Price said.
But Price, who noted that many of these issues aren't new, said "the city got behind" on infrastructure as the far north Fort Worth's population exploded over the last decade.
Both Price and Espino said finishing the backlog of road projects and bringing more city services are critical.
Price said she understands the need to deliver "better infrastructure, better transportation, and better city services with a subcourthouse or sub-City Hall, so to speak. ... I think everybody in the city does appreciate that area of the city and the growth and the jobs it has brought to the area."
Price hopes to build a sub-City Hall there within two years and believes that completing the backlog of road work over the 18-month timeline laid out last year will go a long way toward improving how far north Fort Worth perceives the city.
Residents want action
But residents said it will take more than promises.
"The lines of communication have opened up," said Jason Allen, who lives in the Crawford Farms subdivision and commutes more than an hour to Dallas. "Whether that leads to better services remains to be seen."
Lara Lee Hogg, a Keller school trustee, said that Fort Worth has done "a fairly decent job" in trying to bring services to the area and that redrawing City Council districts could give the area a chance to build upon what's in place.
"It may have given us the opportunity to have that representation we need," Hogg said. "Just take a look at where the growth occurred and redraw those boundaries."
Transportation may be ultimately the key to fostering those connections.
Carolyn Mulkray, who grew up on the north side of Fort Worth, hasn't been downtown in a couple of years because of traffic.
She lives in Chadwick Farms, a Denton County enclave that is one of the northernmost neighborhoods in Fort Worth. She describes it as part of the "Bermuda Triangle," where most people think they live in Roanoke.
Mulkray has other concerns, too: saltwater disposal wells that will be drilled near her neighborhood and the effects of layoffs at American Airlines, where many of her neighbors work.
While she wants better city services, such as more police presence, she doesn't know how things will get better until the I-35W congestion is solved.
"When I moved out here, the Alliance Town Center was completely wide open. Now it's completely congested," Mulkray said. "And police or an ambulance responding to an emergency has to come through I-35 to get to us. It's been fairly safe, but we're growing so rapidly I think it's going to catch up with us. It's just a matter of time."
Staff writer Darren Barbee contributed to this report.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698