The Fort Worth school district late Tuesday authorized use of eminent domain to obtain four parcels of land for a new school, including property that is planned for a resort-style retirement home next to a synagogue.
The school district plans to build a new pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade campus in southwest Fort Worth to relieve overcrowding at Tanglewood Elementary School and has its eyes on property that Congregation Ahavath Sholom is selling to a developer.
The developer, 4050 Hulen Partners, announced on Monday that the sale is pending zoning changes for the property with the city of Fort Worth. The project is estimated to cost about $70 million.
“Our analysis says this is far and away the very best use for this site,” said Jeff Bryant, manager of the Fort Worth-based 4050 Hulen Partners. “This has been the vision and use that the congregation had when they first bought the property.”
Steven S. Brown, who is on the board of directors at Ahavath Sholom, said the congregation is not trying to clash with the district’s plans for a new school.
“We are looking to fulfill a dream,” Brown said, explaining that the congregation bought the property in the 1980s. “The plan for senior living fits with the campus setting that already exists among the temples and churches that are located there.”
Eminent domain allows a government entity to purchase private property for public use. The parcels voted on Tuesday night include the vacant land owned by the congregation, as well as a Jewish Federation building and two former banks.
Trustees voted 5-1 in favor of each. The dissenting vote was cast by Trustee Ashley Paz, who said she doesn’t support using eminent domain on religious organizations.
“I feel like some things should be kept sacred,” Paz said.
Three board members were not present for the vote: T.A. Sims, Ann Sutherland and Judy Needham.
Superintendent Kent Scribner said in a statement that the district is “committed to securing a location for the future Tanglewood Relief Elementary School.”
“We must move forward on this project; however, we continue to hope we will reach an amicable agreement with the ultimate sellers of the desired property,” he said.
Needham, whose district includes Tanglewood Elementary, said earlier in the day that she expected that the district will use eminent domain in “some fashion.”
The land “is subject to zoning and it is subject to our not condemning it,” Needham said.
The $28 million Tanglewood project is part of a record $750 million bond program approved by voters in November. With its passage, Scribner promised a “jackrabbit start” to projects detailed in the package, including $581 million in upgrades for 14 neighborhood high schools and about $40 million to relocate three specialized schools.
In December, the school board approved making final offers for a combined 4.7 acres of vacant land and property owned by Ahavath Sholom, which is located at 4050 S. Hulen St. The tracts of land eyed by the district also included bank properties for Frost Bank (1.66 acres) and First Command (5.4 acres.)
The district has made the same offer to the property owners “several times,” district spokesman Clint Bond said.
The district said the land best meets the needs for a school.
But the congregation has other ideas and that’s why it has agreed to work with Hulen Partners, to transform the property into a “first-class resort style luxury continuing care community,” according to a news release. It would be located between Fort Worth’s two largest Jewish congregations. The area is also near four other churches, including Arborlawn United Methodist Church.
The project will include 200 independent units and 48 assisted living units, a fitness center, indoor pool and concierge service that is “within close proximity to serve their aging Jewish population.”
Tanglewood’s overcrowding was the result of neighborhood growth. The school, built in 1960, has a capacity of 594 but served 870 last school year with help from seven portable buildings. Parents complained about long lunch lines and limited student opportunity for library visits.
During meetings with school leaders, parents stressed they want a solution that doesn’t ruin the neighborhood-school feel of the community and doesn’t change the attendance zone.
Tanglewood’s current attendance zone is bounded by South University Drive, Bellaire Drive South, Loop 820 and Bryant Irvin Road. A proposed map presented at town halls would divide the zone near the intersection of South Hulen Street and Bellaire Drive.
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.