Northeast Tarrant

March 10, 2014

Overlay district to dress up North Richland Hills freeways

City rules call for trees, decorative features and a ban on some businesses.

Motorists traveling along Loop 820 and Airport Freeway will soon know that they are in North Richland Hills — tree-lined highways with limestone decorative features will indicate they have crossed into another community.

At least that’s what city officials hope.

The Freeway Corridor Overlay District covers 200 feet on either side of the North Richland Hills sections of Northeast Loop 820 and Airport Freeway. Under the rules, a tree must be planted every 50 feet. And the tree must be a Caddo maple, cedar elm or a Shumard, chinquapin, bur, live or Texas red oak — fast-growing trees that can survive North Texas weather.

Also, 10 shrubs must be planted per 50 feet of frontage.

Bingo halls, most auto-related businesses, pest-control firms and self-storage buildings are among about 30 businesses now banned from moving in along the highways. Existing businesses can stay. Day care centers are banned for safety reasons, said Clayton Comstock, city senior planner.

The city wants to see office buildings, restaurants, attractive stores and other commercial properties in the area — the types of businesses that generate foot traffic.

“We’re trying to make it so the uses along the freeway are inviting,” Comstock said.

To keep a running theme, limestone walls or decorative monuments will be required when a new business moves into the overlay district, Comstock said. They play off the limestone material used to make the North Richland Hills entrance signs, he said.

The City Council voted 7-0 in a total of three separate votes Feb. 10 and Feb. 24 to approve the rules.

The overlay district is driven by the expansion of Northeast Loop 820 and Airport Freeway. The Northeast Loop 820 section will be expanded from four to eight lanes. The Airport Freeway section will be expanded from six lanes to 10. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

Overlay district violators can be fined up to $2,000 and up to $500 per day, depending on the offense. These fines are typical for zoning violations, Comstock said.

Taco Cabana, which opened in March 2013 at Rufe Snow Drive and 820, fits the ideal, with limestone walls in back, limestone covering part of the façade and several limestone square monuments about 3.5 feet high. Extensive landscaping blankets the outside.

Tony Bhuiya, who manages Applebee’s at Rufe Snow and 820, said he supports the district. He said that developing a high-end business corridor will attract customers.

“It’s a good idea, honestly, for the future,” he said. “It’s going to help.”

Some of the other owners and managers of businesses along the highway said they did not know enough about the overlay district to comment.

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