Keller City Council denied a controversial proposal to rezone a north Keller property from low to medium density last week after hearing dozens of residents’ strong — often heated — arguments.
Development plans for Gean Properties — 105 acres of land between Johnson and Bancroft roads, just north of Keller High School — have gone before the city’s Planning & Zoning board of commissioners three times. A plan requiring a land use amendment and zoning change — from low density to medium density — went before City Council Tuesday night in a public hearing. Dozens of residents spoke strongly for or strongly against the zoning change, and after 11 p.m., the Council denied the proposal, four votes to three.
The development plans
Most of the Gean Properties is zoned for low-density, single-family 25,000-square-foot lots or greater.
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When the developing company, Village Builders, originally proposed a development plan for Gean Estates, it included medium and high density zoning changes and it was denied by Council. The developer 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. It proved controversial for many of the nearby residents who didn’t want the land to be rezoned.
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, puts 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, not six.
But they only got three, and will go ahead with the approved plan that will develop the full property at low density.
Residents speak out
Residents spoke for and against the plan for multiple reasons. Some were angry, some thoughtful, but they all held strong opinions. More than 100 people sat in the audience, applauding those who spoke for their side.
Some people were against the plan because of traffic and safety concerns, and others said they like that parts of Keller still have a “rural atmosphere,” and they don’t want to lose that.
“(The proposed plan) puts more houses on less land,” resident Trent Jones said. “This will be a sea of rooftops.”
Some folks felt slighted by the way the developer designed the park land, a few calling it “unethical.”
“I’m going to be disgusted if you guys approve this,” resident Joan Boyle said.
“Anyone on this Council that would condone such behavior and support it tonight is just as underhanded, despicable and unethical as the developer,” resident Deb Reed said.
Others also voiced discontent with certain council members, though they rarely identified them by name.
Some residents, such as Stephanie Setzer, who has filed to run for City Council in the May election, spoke in support of the plan because of the gift of the park land.
“They (people against the development) are willing to throw away a generous gift of 35 acres ... over lot size,” Setzer said. “It’s hard to imagine how this is in the best interest of all the taxpaying citizens of Keller, when the cost of acquiring land is expensive.”
Sara Legvold drew attention to the fact that the proposed and approved plans held a difference of only eight houses.
“I am thankful that these developers brought their plan back,” Legvold said. “This (the proposed plan with park space) has the aspect of being a true community for the whole community.”
After the meeting, Setzer blamed the debate and outcome on Keller politics.
“There’s still a lot of work to do here in Keller to bridge the divide and unite the city,” she said. “We’re going to have to move on from this issue because City Council has the final vote ... and there’s other things to focus on.”
Council discusses ‘very tough decision’
The P&Z board voted unanimously last month to recommend that the City Council deny the proposal.
The Council discussed whether the city needed the park land or not. The city has 215 acres of undeveloped open acres, with 135 acres of planned parkland to be developed.
Village Builders representatives told the Council that it wouldn’t be financially responsible for them to have a plan that kept some of the park land but kept with the current zoning laws.
Mayor Mark Mathews pointed out that the difference of eight homes between the two plans would have minimal impact on traffic and the school district.
Mayor Pro Tempore Rick Barnes drew attention to the conflicted nature of the issue.
“On one hand, I get emails saying ‘I want open rural spaces,’ but on the other hand, we have an opportunity to maintain some open rural space, but we’re totally against it because of the down-zoning that will come with it,” Barnes said. “The thing I think has been most misunderstood by lots of people who sent us emails is that Village (Builders) is going to build on this property whether we want that or not.”
Councilman Armin Mizani, an attorney, reminded people that the plan with the park land wasn’t against the law, as some residents seemed to believe or imply. He also said that he doesn’t agree with the manner and ethics the developer displayed when it pulled the buffer line back, but he couldn’t, by law, let that influence his vote on the proposal.
“I’m voting for this plan because I believe in my heart of hearts that is the right thing to do for present and future Keller families who want to see Keller’s history preserved,” Mizani said.
Council members Debbie Bryan, Bill Dodge, Bill Hodnett and Barnes voted to deny it, while Mizani, Tom Cawthra and Mathews voted for it.
Video of the meeting is available at www.cityofkeller.com.
Mark David Smith, 817-390-7808