ARLINGTON — Six acres directly across Center Street from the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park development have been targeted for a campus expansion in a bill passed by the Texas Legislature.Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill June 14 giving the university permission to buy land within a 6.13-acre tract between East Third and Mitchell streets and Center and Mesquite streets if the property comes up for sale. The university cannot use eminent domain to acquire the land, and any deal would need approval from the University of Texas System board of regents.“We want this area to eventually complement the College Park District,” said Kristin Sullivan, a UTA spokeswoman.The defined area was established as a compromise between UTA and the Heart of Arlington Neighborhood Association. When Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, introduced the bill at UTA’s request, the proposed expansion area included about four more blocks to the north, using UTA Boulevard as the northern boundary.Grace Darling, president of the neighborhood association, said her group was never told by the university or Patrick’s office about the proposed legislation. Only when someone alerted the association about the bill did the group become involved, she said.“Steam was coming out of my ears,” Darling said. “It was done without consulting us.”The original bill included an area that is part of the city-designated South Center Historic District and contains some of the city’s oldest and best-preserved homes. One home is a two-story Victorian on East First Street that dates to the 1890s and may be the oldest house in Arlington, Darling said.“It’s just a work of art,” she said. Darling said she called UTA officials and worked out a compromise. The change was made before the bill was moved out of committee and voted on by the House and Senate. Those approvals came before the UT board’s May meeting.“It was all very amicable,” Darling said. “They were happy to accept this compromise. From our point of view, it was successful.” John Hall, UTA vice president for administration and campus operation, said the university was aware of the historic designation on properties on the east side of Center Street but did not realize that it extended to East Third Street. UTA reached out to a group of neighbors representing the Heart of Arlington Neighborhood Association and the Arlington Historical Society, he said.“We believe we all worked effectively as a group and developed an approach or solution that everyone agreed with,” Hall said.The land now within the designated area has mostly rental homes and apartments that have “suffered tremendously,” Darling said.According to a UT board report in May, “the area has several older apartments that are past their useful life expectancies.” In February 2012, UTA opened its $78 million, 7,000-seat College Park special-events center. About six months later, the $82 million College Park District residential, retail and restaurant development opened next door.In May, the UT board approved the change to the university’s master plan to include the 6.13-acre tract. The plan, adopted in 2000, is used to guide the school’s long-term needs. UTA’s campus occupies about 430 acres.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST