June 18, 2014

Canadian developer buys prairie land split by new tollroad

Plans are still being developed for the land in far south Tarrant County, which is likely to include homes and possibly a corporate or educational campus.

The U.S. division of a Canada-based real estate investment and development firm has paid $12 million to the Texas General Land Office for 923 acres of pristine prairie in far southern Tarrant County for a master-planned community.

The Walton Group of Cos., which is based in Calgary, has an additional 823 acres under contract with the state and anticipates closing on the land this year. The two tracts total 1,722 acres, bisected by the newly opened Chisholm Trail Parkway at Old Granbury Road. The first land buy was on the west side of the toll road, with the remaining land on the east.

The property, which had been targeted for preservation by a Fort Worth-based group, is Walton’s first Tarrant County acquisition.

“We love the land,” said John Vick, a Fort Worth native who is South USA regional president for Walton Development & Management. “Everything about is it right.”

Walton Group, a $3.9 billion company, has its U.S. headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz. It owns 25,000 acres of undeveloped land in Ellis, Hunt and Grayson counties in North Texas and Hays and Caldwell counties in Central Texas. In North America, the company said it has more than 85,000 acres under administration and management. It also has offices throughout Asia, according to its website.

Bill Doherty, CEO of Walton Global Investments, said that the company likes to buy undeveloped land in the path of development and that the far southern Fort Worth property fits right in. The company began due diligence on the property late last year.

Doherty said the company will begin meeting with city and community leaders and begin its planning process. About half of the land is in Fort Worth and the other half in its extraterritorial jurisdiction. Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan, whose district includes the site, said land will be annexed as it is developed.

It could be four years before building begins, Doherty said.

The land has access to a water tower, but plans are to bring city water and sewer service to the property. Where houses will be built or commercial property placed is still to be determined, he said.

“Everything’s on the table, that’s fair to say,” Doherty said. “With the amount of land that we have here, it provides a lot of flexibility. Walton looks forward to designing a master-planned community along the Chisholm Trail Parkway that meets the growing needs of Tarrant County.”

Vick said the company has only been in preliminary meetings with city staff.

“We have not put a plan in front of them or asked them for anything,” Vick said. “We’ll be working with the city cooperatively.”

The land is 18 miles south of downtown Fort Worth just east of Benbrook Lake, along Farm Road 1187 near Old Granbury, Stewart Feltz and Cleburne roads.

Over the past decade, a group called the Great Plains Restoration Council, led by Jarid Manos, led a drive to turn the land into a park, calling it the last untouched wild prairie in Tarrant County. He led students, conservationists and government officials on hikes across the prairie and tried to persuade the state Parks and Wildlife Department to buy the property for a state park.

But last year, the state land office said it had put the property up for sale to developers.

Doherty said the conservationists will be included in planning discussions for the property.

“We will engage them,” Doherty said. “We will talk to them. We don’t come into any jurisdiction and pound the table. What we do is, even though we’re an international company based out of Canada, we get the local expertise and the local knowledge.”

In 2006, the state paid $21 million for 1,983 acres, land pioneered by the Feltz family in the late 1890s, as an investment for the Permanent School Fund. When it bought the land, the office said it would eventually be sold to residential and commercial developers.

Jim Suydam, press secretary for the land office in Austin, said when it is all sold, the Land Office “will make a substantial profit for the schools of Texas.”

This is the first sale for commercial use out of the land hold. The General Land Office sold 70.8 acres for a little more than $1 million for the Chisholm Trail Parkway right of way. The state referred to the property as Rock Creek Ranch.

The state bought the land from Crestview Farm, a family business. Crestview Farm bought 2,233 acres from an Oklahoma City-based limited partnership called MTV Real Estate, whose investors had an interest in the land for about 20 years. Crestview Farm retained 250 acres in its sale to the state.

Councilman Jordan said the new toll road has created a significant amount of interest from the development community for land along the 27.5-mile road.

“We want high-quality development,” Jordan said. “We want a corporate campus or an education campus in the area, something we can bring in that reflects the image created by the parkway. All of those areas, as they develop, will be quality homes, quality businesses and quality jobs. We want to see this area grow and prosper.”

Most of Walton’s residential development has been in Canada, but it has developed the 343-acre Canter Creek in Prince George County, Md. The development has 410 single-family homes, a day-care center and community parks. About half of the development is open space, according to its website.

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