Mansfield News

Fight over mixed-use development in Mansfield continues

Mansfield City Secretary Jeanne Heard looks at the referendum submitted Friday afternoon.
Mansfield City Secretary Jeanne Heard looks at the referendum submitted Friday afternoon. Special to the News-Mirror

Hundreds of apartments, the Dr Pepper StarCenter, retail stores and restaurants for the Shops at Broad could all be put on ice if the hundreds of Mansfield voters who signed a referendum get their way.

More than 20 people crowded into the city secretary’s office Oct. 28 to officially turn in the referendum with 615 signatures, seeking to overturn the zoning change for the Shops at Broad, which the City Council approved Aug. 15.

The Shops at Broad is a mixed-use project planned on more than 80 acres at the northeast corner of East Broad Street and U.S. 287.

The next steps

First, the city secretary’s office will validate that the signatures are from registered Mansfield voters. The referendum requires about 430 signatures. Organizers say they have independently validated about 550 of the names.

If it has the correct number of valid signatures, the referendum will be given to City Attorney Allen Taylor, who will check the legality of the referendum language.

The referendum could appear on the council agenda for consideration, possibly as soon as this month. The council could either adopt the referendum or, more likely, put it on the ballot for voters to decide in May.

What will it do?

The main target is the 330 apartments that the City Council approved as part of the zoning change in August. It would also kill the Dr Pepper StarCenter for the third time in a year.

Residents pleaded with the council not to approve a four-story apartment complex on the site because they would feed into Willie Brown Elementary School and Mansfield High School. It would also add to the traffic and strain city services, they said. Over the summer, hundreds signed an online petition urging the council to drop the apartments.

City Council members estimated that the Shops at Broad apartments would add about 20 children to the Mansfield school district. The council also limited the number of two- and three-bedroom units. The majority of the units, at least 65 percent, will be one bedroom. There can be no more than 99 two-bedroom units and no more than 17 three-bedroom units.

The Planning and Zoning Commission dropped the apartments from the zoning change. The council added them back in despite strong opposition.

A letter submitted along with the referendum calls the zoning change an “arbitrary council decision void of over 700 concerned citizens’ input and a disregard for Planning and Zoning recommendations.”

Organizers say the goal is not to stop the high-end retail and restaurant development that’s been promised on that site for more than a decade. Zoning for that is already in place—it’s the apartments and the way Mansfield funded the StarCenter, which included a land swap with the developer, that has generated opposition.

“The hope here is to stop the apartments,” said Tamera Bounds, who against the zoning change. “The apartments are what people, for the most part, feel will cause the extra overcrowding of the schools, the extra traffic, the extra property value decline. It’s all of that.”

They also cite the fact that the apartments conflict with the 2012 land use plan.

“The City Council has a responsibility to represent the people,” said Emery Betts, who supports the referendum. “If they are coming forth and saying they don’t want something then they should respond to that. This petition has several hundred people who oppose apartments so it should be as simple as that.”

John Minyard said his biggest opposition is to the StarCenter. He would prefer Mansfield focus on the Walnut Creek Linear Park and other trails.

“We’re spending half-cent sales tax on the StarCenter,” Minyard said. “I would like to see them go ahead and finish up the trails, the parks themselves. Let’s spend parks money on parks.”

But the reality of the retail industry today could end up sinking the entire project.

Geyer Morris, the developer of the project, did not respond to requests for comment.

During the rezoning process, Tyler Morris, a partner with Geyer Morris, said the apartments are an essential part of the project because they generate foot traffic that the merchants want. He also talked about the changing retail landscape with the advent of online shopping.

Morris said the apartments would rent for as much as $1.60 a square foot, meaning they would appeal to white-collar workers such as teachers, nurses and police officers.

The developer also redesigned the apartment building so balconies wouldn’t look into homes to the north.

Construction and financing

The $15.1 million Dr Pepper StarCenter is scheduled to open in September, just in time for the fall season.

But Bounds said the referendum would suspend the ordinance until action is taken.

If the Shops at Broad ends up on the May ballot, that could complicate the city’s financing of the dual ice rink.

“If a petition is submitted and we have something in hand, then there may be a duty or obligation to tell somebody something,” Taylor said.

If the petition is validated and passes the legal test, Mansfield may have to amend its disclosure statement to the bond market, Taylor said.

The Mansfield Park Facilities Development Corp. will issue $7.8 million in debt for the project, which will be repaid through the MPFDC’s half-cent sales tax. The city will also issue $4.7 million in general obligation bonds. The final piece will be the $2.5 million in prepaid rent and deposits by Dallas Stars Enterprises, which will operate and maintain the StarCenter.

Mansfield is also on the hook for more than $10 million in public improvements to the Shops at Broad site, including roads, sewer, drainage and part of the parking garage.

Geyer Morris was supposed to start construction in 2017 with the first shops opening in 2018.