Before Jennifer and Neal Cooper purchased their home in June, they asked city officials if apartments were going to be built in a vacant field abutting their backyard.
“We were told, ‘Oh, this is just a vision.’ I felt that the apartments were a pipe dream. I felt comfortable that single family homes would back up to my fence someday,” Neal Cooper said.
Cooper said he saw plans on Watauga’s website for possible uses for the vacant land, which is why he contacted the city before buying his home.
The Coopers moved from Bedford to be closer to their family and they wanted a large backyard with a pool where their grandchildren and neighbors’ children could play and swim.
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They know all of their neighbors, and the quiet cul-de-sac is a place where families gather for block parties.
Two months later, the Coopers and their neighbors formed a campaign to fight a proposal to build high-end apartments, townhomes and businesses near their homes. The developer and city officials expect that the apartments would attract millennials and young professionals while the townhomes are geared toward retirees.
Large banners reading “Say no to rezoning” are visible in the neighborhoods, and a Facebook group has over 700 members.
Cooper said he and his neighbors will speak against the request from a developer, SunScope, to rezone the land at a planning and Zoning Commission hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 7105 Whitley Road.
SunScope is proposing a mixed use development, called Hightower Commons, along the north and south sides of Hightower Drive and the southeast corner of Whitley Road.
Watauga is not the only North Texas city where residents formed groups to fight against apartments and housing developments.
In Bedford, residents are opposing a plan to build luxury urban lofts on vacant land in an area called Bedford Commons, saying the city needs more businesses instead.
In Mansfield, there was opposition to several housing developments including homes for senior citizens.
Watauga amended its strategic plan in 2016, and the land was designated as an area for mixed use development, city manager Andrea Gardner said.
Gardner said Watauga has seen declining sales tax revenue for several years. Proposed changes to property tax could also impact revenues.
“What about the future of Watauga? What about shopping and entertainment in Watauga instead of people going to Keller and North Richland Hills?” she said.
Police and fire officials do not expect the project to affect traffic or increase crime, Gardner said.
The Coopers and their neighbors Lindsey and Andrew Neal also worry that their property values will decrease.
Gardner said the project gives the city an opportunity to move forward.
“Residents get all twisted about a topic before they are fully educated about it. Once they dig their heels in it’s hard to get them to move from that position,” she said.
The Neals said they bought their home several years ago because they liked a community of single-family homes.
As their children swam in their neighbor’s pool, Andrew Neal said: “This is a devastating blow. I never thought Watauga would be a place to see high density apartments stacked onto one another.”
Scott and Cody Prescher left a downtown Fort Worth apartment about a year ago for Watauga. They wanted to find quiet neighborhoods and good schools because they want to adopt children some day.
The Preschers heard about the proposed development from neighbors and immediately got involved in the opposition effort.
“We noticed there were no apartments here. That’s what we liked about Watauga ... we are really afraid this will change the DNA of our town,” Scott Prescher said.