On the northern edge of the Trinity River, near Trinity Boulevard and Loop 820 in east Fort Worth, the landscape is scarred from sand and gravel mining that started about a century ago.
But the land, which is now mostly flat and vacant but also pocked by numerous tiny lakes spread over 1,600 acres, has at least two things going for it.
First, North Texas — and, in particular, Fort Worth — has a seemingly insatiable need for more housing, particularly for young professionals. And there are plenty of new rooftops less than a mile away to prove the demand is there.
And second, east Fort Worth is home to the Trinity Railway Express passenger train line, which connects downtown Fort Worth to Dallas and has operated since 1996. This part of east Fort Worth seems like a good spot for another stop on the TRE line, and developers are working to get one built there.
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And it wouldn’t just be a train platform in the middle of nowhere. This unlikely spot could soon be home to one of the most ambitious transit-oriented development projects in the Southwestern United States, supporters say.
The project is known as Trinity Lakes.
A developer, Newell Companies, is teaming up with several private partners and government agencies to build a mixed-use neighborhood at Trinity Lakes. The project is currently in the planning phase and undergoing a federally-required environmental review. It could be opened as soon as late 2020.
The centerpiece of the project would be construction of a new TRE train station, just east of Loop 820 and north of Trinity Boulevard. Already, dozens of TRE trains whiz by the property each day without stopping, as they travel between the Richland Hills Station and Bell Station near Hurst.
But the Trinity Lakes project also would feature a new network of streets designed to equally accommodate cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Hundreds of trees would be planted as part of a broader landscape plan. And, there is plenty of room not only for apartments but also a grocery store, pharmacy and other shops and restaurants — all surrounding a tiny, charming lake.
“It’s going to be exactly what you want a transit-oriented development to look like,” said Travis Liska, a senior transportation planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments who specializes in sustainable development. “It’s got the bones and structure in the planning that would make it a great, walkable place.”
The area wedged between Loop 820 to the west and Bell’s massive helicopter headquarters to the east already has nearly 2,000 single-family homes, many of which have been built since the Great Recession. Ultimately, once all the apartments and other new homes are built, the area could be home to 12,000 residents, project organizers say.
Ken Newell is owner of the Newell Companies, which is heading the Trinity Lakes effort. His family’s companies have been involved in commercial and residential construction in the Fort Worth area for decades, and became involved in the sand and gravel mining in the area now known as Trinity Lakes in the 1990s.
Newell also served on the Trinity Metro board from 2013-2017.
While continuing to perform sand and gravel mining until recently, Newell saw an opportunity to use the mining efforts to move dirt around the area in a way that created more flood storage for storm water and prepared the property for more home construction.
Newell says the area is “transit ready, not transit-dependent,” meaning the neighborhood is going to be built out regardless of whether TRE puts a station there.
But the chances of TRE putting a station at Trinity Lakes increased dramatically in 2016, when voters in Richland Hills opted to leave the transit agency now known as Trinity Metro (formerly Fort Worth Transportation Authority). That vote all but guarantees the TRE’s Richland Hills Station will need to eventually close.
The Richland Hills Station, which opened in 2000, draws several hundred cars per day to its park-and-ride lot. However, the station enjoys almost no foot traffic — despite years of talk among city officials and Trinity Metro about the need for transit-oriented development in the area.
Earlier this year, Trinity Metro officials notified Richland Hills leaders that they intended to close Richland Hills Station by 2020. Trinity Metro owns the station and likely will eventually sell the property.
City officials are not actively pursuing plans to do something with the property once Richland Hills Station is shuttered.
“Since it isn’t a property we own, we really don’t have any plans for it,” Eric Strong, Richland Hills city manager, said in an email. “However if they do sell it, we look forward to working with the new owner to help that property become something that will continue to be beneficial to our city and residents.”
Trinity Lakes is 0.8 mile east of Richland Hills Station, so it seems an obvious location for a replacement station for TRE.
Construction of the Trinity Lakes Station is expected to cost $6 million. Trinity Metro, Tarrant County’s transit agency, plans to cover half the cost and Newell Companies and its partners would foot the rest.
Much of Trinity Metro’s portion could be covered by a federal grant, which is being requested as part of the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ broader application for up to $47 million in federal dollars to make improvements up and down the 34-mile long TRE rail line.
Also, the city of Fort Worth has created a tax-increment financing district to help pay for infrastructural improvements at the Trinity Lakes site.
And if and when Trinity Metro sells its property at the Richland Hills Station, those proceeds can be used to offset the cost of building its share of Trinity Lakes Station.
If the efforts to develop a neighborhood around Richland Hills Station can be considered a failure, perhaps the planned transit-oriented development at Trinity Lakes can be considered a second chance.