Study considering preservation, uses of Lake Arlington

ARLINGTON -- Nestled against the western border of this city lies Lake Arlington, a quiet body of water where sailboats race on Sundays and bass fishers try their luck.

Built after a drought, Lake Arlington has for more than 50 years attracted homeowners seeking a peaceful place to live and fun-seekers looking for an urban escape.

Now, prompted by concerns about growth and the desire to ensure water quality, the city is drawing a blueprint for the future of the lake and soliciting opinions from homeowners, recreational users and other stakeholders.

Arlington officials say potential development must be studied to protect the quality of water, while homeowners and lake regulars say they want to preserve quality of life.

"This is a small lake, but it's our lake," said Jack Hattendorf of Arlington, who grew up boating on the lake. "At the end of the day, we just want to make sure we have a place to go and relax."

The lake, which covers 3 square miles, provides drinking water for more than 500,000 people in Arlington, Bedford, Euless and Colleyville.

It is also open to boats and other recreational watercraft.

Arlington owns the lake, but water flows into it from a 143-square-mile area that includes 11 other cities and extends to Joshua.

The lake's undeveloped west side is bordered by Fort Worth.

The Tarrant Regional Water District, raw water provider for the region, also pumps water in and out of the lake.

Concerns about water quality

Arlington was prompted to explore the lake's future in part after a developer presented plans last year for a 104-slip marina on the Fort Worth side, which would have nearly doubled the number of docks.

Arlington, which has authority over structures that intrude on the lake, declined to approve the developer's request pending further study. The lake now has about 120 boat docks; in 2009, it issued 1,471 daily and annual use permits, according to city records.

Part of the city's study will determine how many boats the lake can handle, said Julie Hunt, water utilities director in Arlington. In addition, it will explore beautification and recreational enhancements, as well as economic development opportunities on or around the lake. The study will also evaluate potential sources of pollution and issues related to trash and debris.

"We have to continually look to the future," said Arlington City Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, who represents west Arlington. "The lake is an asset to the city, and we need a plan to protect and enhance that asset."

The $542,000 study began in December and is expected to finish next spring.

City officials and engineering consultants will provide an update at a public meeting scheduled for Sept. 13.

When complete, the study will establish guidelines for protecting water quality, opportunities for sustainable and environmentally sensitive economic development, plans for recreation and open space, and standards for docks, piers and other structures.

What kind of development?

A central question to emerge has been what type of development would best fit the lake: residential, commercial or a mix of both.

Development on the Arlington side has been almost solely residential. On the Fort Worth side, 40 percent of the land remains undeveloped. About 14 percent is residential; more than 30 percent is either industrial or commercial.

Residents of both cities told officials at this year's public meetings that they would oppose commercial development on the lake, although some said they would be open to an upscale village-style development that mixes retail, restaurants and housing.

"We know the lake is going to grow, and we'd like to see that growth handled very carefully," said Pat Hollabaugh, leader of the Arlington Yacht Club, a sailing group of about 100 families. "We don't think commercial development or large marinas are right for this lake."

Yacht club members say they would prefer improving the parks on the lake: Richard W. Simpson and Bowman Springs in Arlington and Eugene McCray in Fort Worth, and adding trails for hiking and biking, a sentiment echoed by others in both cities.

Revitalization of the Fort Worth side has been a priority for about a decade, Fort Worth City Councilman Frank Moss said, but access to the lake hampered development.

That will change as the city plans to build the $6.9 million Lakeshore Drive with funds from the 2008 bond election. The north-south road will provide access to the lake and open the area for development. Construction is scheduled to begin on the first phase, which will run from Wilbarger to Berry streets, in spring 2013.

"It's an important project," Moss said. "We see how much potential the lake has, and we want to take advantage of all the amenities. This area lends itself to high-quality housing."