After “an uphill challenge,” the ground has broken and ribbon has been cut on a controversial neighborhood development in north Keller.
Officials from the city and developer spoke at the brief Friday morning ceremony to open Gean Estates, a 105-acre piece of ranchland between Johnson and Bancroft roads, just north of Keller High School.
“This project took a lot of time and energy and thought, and there was a little controversy involved, as well,” said Mayor Mark Mathews, holding a golden shovel next to some of the developers. “... It brought a lot of our residents into the discussion, and that’s always a healthy thing to have. We’re looking forward to the new Keller residents that will be moving on to the Gean Estates in the future.”
Stewart Parker, Village Builders’ division president, called it a “great day” for Keller and Village Builders.
“We look at this community as the crown jewel of our division and we intend to treat it with the respect that a community of this magnitude deserves,” Parker said. “Where we’re standing right here today, generations of families are going to be living out their lives and their dreams, and that’s pretty cool.”
Village Builders originally proposed a plan to the city requesting zoning changes to allow for medium and high density, but it was denied by the City Council.
Representatives came back to the Planning & Zoning Commission with a plan that would put 104 homes on the property, meet the low density zoning — and all other —requirements and take up all the land. It was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission and didn’t need to go to City Council.
However, after hearing from residents, the developer came back again with a new plan with 112 homes that would require approval of changing the zoning of much of the property to medium density, 15,000 to 24,999-square-foot-lots, but it would also be donating 35 acres of undeveloped park land to the city of Keller.
The proposed park land separated the neighborhood development from the northern and eastern borders of the property. Many nearby residents didn’t want to see a neighborhood of higher density and were opposed to the third plan. They also believed Village Builders took “unethical,” though legal, steps to silence some of them.
State law allows for residents who live within 200 feet of the proposed development to submit opposition to the zoning change. If the owners of 20 percent or more of the property within those 200 feet submit their opposition, the City Council can only approve the change with a super majority; in Keller’s case, that would be six out of seven votes.
The park land, however, put 200 feet between the proposed development and residents who live on those sides, effectively taking legal steps to avoid giving them the chance to vote against it, angering many residents.
Owners of only 11 percent of the land within 200 feet submitted opposition, which helped the developer’s chances of approval. Village Builders only needed four votes from the Council in February, not six.
But they only got three, and Friday broke ground on the second proposed plan, the fully-developed land at lower density, with an eye on the future.
“I think the product we ended up with was what the Council and our neighbors ... wanted,” said David Aughinbaugh, director of land developments. “I hope that we can move forward and move past the controversy ... We’re going to be good neighbors, good citizens, good partners with the city of Keller.”
Aughinbaugh said Village Builders was prepared for residents’ opposition — much of which was voiced in front of the developers and City Council during a public hearing at the meeting in February — calling it “an uphill challenge,” but it wasn’t a deterrent. He thanked Mathews “for all of his support.”
Village Builders expect to begin construction in a few weeks on Gean Estates. The first phase, about 45 lots on the west side of the property, will take about 10 months, Aughinbaugh said. The entire neighborhood is projected to take roughly five years to complete.
Mark David Smith, 817-390-7808