Northeast Tarrant

August 23, 2014

In Southlake, it’s clear that (lot) size matters

Council recently rejected a developer’s plan to build homes on smaller-than-usual lots.

Hunter Haas moved from Dallas to Southlake in 2008, looking to build a home in a semi-rural area that was not burdened by heavy traffic or a homeowners association.

He found a neighborhood off Shady Lane in north Southlake that is known for its large lots and streets flanked with trees.

Haas, a member of the PGA Tour, enjoys the slower pace of the area, especially when entering the neighborhood after being on the road.

“It’s nice not having to feel like you got to put it in fifth gear and be in a quick pace,” Haas said. “I feel like I could put it in neutral and coast. I feel relaxed.”

Concerned that the character of their neighborhood is slipping away, Haas and other residents were successful in their efforts to turn back a developer who wanted to build a nearby subdivision — Remington Estates — featuring smaller-than-usual lots.

The smaller-lots movement can be seen across North Texas, with developers promoting park space, walking trails and other amenities in communities with zero-lot line homes to meet the demands of empty nesters and Millennials.

“We've now gotten to a point where people are not wanting huge homes and huge, big yards. They would rather have a community feeling — a smaller place, a smaller yard,” said Shai Roos, president of SJR Planning Consultants and an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Urban and Public Affairs.

But for the most part, in Southlake — where the average home is valued at $545,223 — it’s clear that bigger is still better.

Suzanne Maisto, a Ebby Halliday real estate agent, said Southlake residents value their space, including massive back yards.

“Is there a buyer? Yes,” she said, referring to people seeking smaller lot sizes. “Are they knocking down the doors? No.”

She said a majority of the city’s homes are on half-acre or more lots.

“While there’s an appearance that we need every type of housing, not every city in the world has every type of housing,” she said. “We’ve had the enjoyment of being an award-winning city for our planning, and it’s worked.”

‘Distinct rural character’

After months of haggling over proposals regarding Remington Estates, Southlake City Council members recently voted to deny the plan to add 19 homes on 13.4 acres near Shady Lane, just north of Texas 114.

The proposed development would have required the city — where residents demand quality schools, city services and a special sense of place — to veer from its 2030 Master Plan to fit more homes on lots smaller than an acre.

Councilman Randy Williamson said the master plan is a guide and not a set of rules, but Remington serves as a message to developers.

“For these low-density, small pieces, it is going to be a very high hurdle to get something to change,” he said.

Shady Lane resident Susan Johnson spoke about how the proposed lot sizes and homes would look and feel out of place.

“Remington Estates does not fit the character of the neighborhood,” she said. “We are a unique place with a distinct rural character.”

Developer Tom Matthews argued that this location would be perfect for smaller lot sizes because it will lead the transition from commercial property to the south to larger lots in the north.

Johnson said the neighbors know the land will be developed someday but don’t want to see the city abandon the master plan.

“Cramming more houses in would fundamentally change the character of the neighborhood and open the door for more high density in other large tracts of land within our neighborhood,” she said. “In addition, we’re concerned overall about the trend of developers requesting and receiving land-use changes from low to medium density.”

Protecting status quo

This year alone, Southlake has heard three proposal to create homes on smaller lots.

In addition to Remington, another developer withdrew its plans to build 61 homes on 40 acres near Shady Oak Drive, however, a plan to have three homes sit on lots that are less than an acre at 2102 N. Carroll Ave. was approved by council members.

The city has 533 acres for lots larger than 1 acre and 384 acres for lots smaller than an acre, according to its current land-use plan.

Ken Baker, the city’s senior director of planning and development services, said the city estimates it will be built out by 2030 with a little more than 30,000 residents. Southlake currently has 27,330 residents, according to recent estimates by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Baker said city leaders try to stick to the land uses designated by the master plan, which was established in 1969 and has evolved looking ahead to today’s 2030 plan.

“We want development, but we want it to occur in a manner that’s consistent with our master plan,” he said. “We’re very concerned about trying to preserve tree cover and other natural features.”

Beverly Spillyards, Ebby Halliday real estate agent, has been selling homes in Southlake for more than 15 years and lived in the city for 17. She said the building standards in Southlake are high enough that homes on smaller lots would not have a major impact on neighbors’ property values on larger lots.

“If you’re sitting on a half-acre million-dollar house and they come in and put a quarter-of-an-acre million-dollar house, then it’s probably not going to have an impact on your property values,” she said.

For Haas, keeping north Southlake the way it is has nothing to do with property values.

“I want to protect the traffic, the noise, the value of the property we have not in the sense of economics but in the sense of intangible things that come along with where we live,” Haas said.

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