Brian Campbell was outside City Hall Sunday afternoon, where he was manning a petition booth in protest of a new tennis club in Keller, when he noticed a man in a pickup truck pull up to one of the protest signs and pull it from the ground.
The man pulled away, driving west toward Rufe Snow Boulevard, so Campbell followed him. When the man pulled over to grab another sign, Campbell recognized him: It was Mayor Pat McGrail.
“What are you doing, Pat?” Campbell said, noticing the pile of six signs in the bed of McGrail’s pickup truck.
McGrail, who did not respond to a request to comment for this story, told Campbell that he had received complaints from residents that the signs were in the traffic right-of-way.
But Campbell said it was just another effort by the city to thwart his group’s efforts to have the City Council repeal its approval of the proposed Birch Racquet & Tennis Club on Johnson Road in north Keller.
The private club was approved by the council in May, despite opposition from Campbell and other nearby neighbors, who argued that the club would increase traffic to the area and cause home values to drop.
Campbell and other protesters — who formed as the Johnson Road Coalition and sued the club’s owners last month — have been collecting signatures for three weeks and have until Thursday to collect the required amount of about 1,500 to call a referendum on the issue. If the referendum is called, the council could repeal the approval or send the issue to a public vote, Campbell said.
The petition on Sunday was about 100 signatures away from meeting the referendum requirement.
After Campbell confronted McGrail, McGrail gave him back the signs, which are about three feet tall and say “Keller Taxpayer Alert” with an arrow pointing to the petition booth.
Campbell filed a police report to have the incident on record but declined to press charges.
Capt. Tommy Simmons, a police spokesman, confirmed that the report was filed but said McGrail did nothing wrong and that the signs would have been picked up by city code enforcement officials on Monday.
“Instead of code enforcement, it was the mayor who picked them up,” Simmons said. “There’s no criminal wrongdoing.”
Campbell, though, said the signs were placed within city guidelines and should be protected under the First Amendment.
“The city is trying to interfere with our ability to be successful,” Campbell said.
A city spokeswoman said McGrail talked with Campbell about the incident on Monday.
Campbell said the mayor apologized to him and “said he just acted inappropriate.”
“He was acting on the fly without really thinking through what he was doing,” Campbell said.
The Johnson Road Coalition filed its lawsuit over the club last month, naming the club’s owners, former tennis pros Taylor and Jennifer Dent, and the city of Keller’s planning manager, David Hawkins. The Dents were dismissed from the lawsuit last week at the Johnson Road Coaltion’s request, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, which is still pending against Hawkins, said the project would increase noise and traffic in the area and drop home values by at least 20 percent.
The club would be on 27 acres of what once was Newton’s Rocky Top Ranch at Keller-Smithfield and Johnson roads, which are two-lane roads.
Phase 1 of the plan includes one structure with five indoor courts and 10 outdoor courts. The clubhouse, additional amenities — including dormitories and a short golf course — and more courts are planned for future phases.
Campbell, who lives about 300 feet from the proposed club, said it would not fit in a residential area, especially along Johnson Road.
“We bought our property here because of the low-density, country feel,” Campbell said last month. “That is the feel of this area, and now they’re going to plop this facility in here, a commercial enterprise, and we’ve fought it and fought it and fought it.”
This report contains information from the Star-Telegram archives