February 3, 2014

Developer plans to raze three north Arlington complexes for $160 million project

Tenants at Huntington Chase, Pointe of North Arlington and Countrywood apartments could have to move as soon as June, developer says.

Alicia Luna and her children are among hundreds of apartment renters along east Lamar Boulevard awaiting word on how long they have left before their homes are torn down.

An estimated 300 individuals and families are renters at the Huntington Chase, Pointe of North Arlington and Countrywood apartment complexes between the Rolling Hills Country Club and Lincoln Drive in north Arlington. Those properties are slated to be purchased by a private developer, JCKPL AC, LLC., and demolished this year to make way for a higher-density, $160 million apartment complex named Arlington Commons.

Luna, who speaks limited English and is unemployed, said she and other tenants at Huntington Chase have heard some information about the pending demolition but don’t know how many more months they have before they need to find a new place to live. With six children living at the $540 a month, two-bedroom apartment, Luna said finding an affordable apartment near the same schools they currently attend will be a challenge.

“She said she doesn’t even know where she is going to move,” said Luna’s daughter, Aleyda Mendoca, adding that the family doesn’t have extra money for moving expenses or a new apartment deposit.

Need for quality housing

Construction on the planned Arlington Commons, which received preliminary zoning approval from the Arlington City Council on Jan. 21, is expected to begin next January. The complex, when completed in phases over the next decade, is expected to eventually have 1,600 units in buildings as high as five-stories tall, JCKPL AC President Robert Kembel said.

Rents at the complex, which will be marketed to young professionals and graduate students, are set to start at $1.40 per square foot, much higher than Arlington’s average rental rates, Kembel said.

“Arlington needs quality housing choices. Young people who need rental housing shouldn’t have to leave Arlington,” Kembel said. “We need to keep our bright young people here. Our best and brightest are going elsewhere.”

Existing tenants at Huntington Chase, Pointe of North Arlington and Countrywood apartments should have at least five months to find new homes, Kembel said. The developer anticipates closing on those properties by mid-February and razing the complexes by the end of this year.

Tenants with month-to-month leases will be asked to move as early as June, but Kembel said his company will honor existing leases, although families may be moved if their buildings are slated for demolition before their lease is up. Kembel said the company will provide some tenants, such as widows and single mothers, with moving materials and help with physically moving their belongings. He said he is also working to negotiate with surrounding complexes to have rental deposit fees waived for the relocating tenants who have a good rental payment history.

The company also eventually hopes to purchase and tear down the nearby Water Chase apartments, Kembel said.

The redevelopment project could affect nearby Roquemore Elementary School. With the loss of so many students from the apartment complexes, the Arlington school district is considering repurposing Roquemore into a fine arts/dual language academy and relocating its students to a new elementary school that would also relieve overcrowding at Ellis, Larson and Sherrod elementary schools.

Funding and a time frame for both of those proposals have not been determined, school spokeswoman Leslie Johnston said.

Increasing the tax base

City leaders have actively sought such a redevelopment project for years.

In 2006, the city established the Lamar-Collins overlay, a special zoning area designed to encourage private developers to tear down existing apartment complexes and replace them with higher-density, mixed-use developments.

North Arlington council representative Charlie Parker is among those who say replacing the aging apartment complexes, which were built in the 1970s, with high-quality, high-density housing will increase the city’s property tax base, establish higher apartment rental rates in Arlington and likely spur other private investment.

“The face-lift for the neighborhood will have the property values that have been going down, reverse, and go back up to what they should have been awhile back,” Parker said.

To help make Kembel’s redevelopment project more financially viable, the council approved nearly $10.5 million in possible economic development incentives plus a 30-year, 90 percent property tax abatement.

Incentives include up to $3.8 million in grants for plan development and demolition and abatement costs associated with removing the existing complexes, $400,000 for drainage improvements and $250,000 to improve the entrance to the adjacent Rolling Hills Country Club. Arlington also plans to make improvements to the Lamar Boulevard median, which the developer intends to turn into a linear park with a walking trail, landscaping and other pedestrian amenities.

“We don’t have an apartment complex like this in Arlington,” said Parker, adding that the units will rent for more than $1,000 a month. “They are going to be very nice, very expensive and a very exclusive place to live.”

Parker said the project will increase property values, generating more property tax revenue to pay for city services. “We are going to get more money out of the deal, too,” he said.

The four complexes JCKPL AC plans to buy and tear down have a total of 716 units and are appraised at a combined $12.1 million, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District. The existing apartment complexes only generate about $78,000 in tax revenue for the city annually, City Manager Trey Yelverton has said.

Kembel lauded the city’s support for his project, which he said will stabilize a neighborhood in decline, protect the value of surrounding single-family homes and raise the bar on existing multifamily housing in Arlington.

“It’s a big shot in the arm. This is injecting life back into what has been an area with declining assessed valuation,” Kembel said. “This is another step toward protecting the long-term viability of our city.”

The council still has to give final approval to the Arlington Common’s zoning request as well as review and approve the development plan for the complex, said Gincy Thoppil, a city development planning manager.

JCKPL AC, LLC is also developing the Viridian master planned community, which will eventually have 3,500 single-family homes and 1,500 condos, town houses and apartments, in far north Arlington.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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