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July 27, 2023

8,500 Homes, White Sand Beach Proposed For One of DFW’s Largest Communities Ever

Mitchell Parton, The Dallas Morning News, 27 July 2023
ELLIS COUNTY — As he drove around his company’s sprawling piece of land just south of Midlothian, Shannon Livingston showed off a vision he’s dreamed about for years of almost 3,300 acres of consistent development with the kind of amenities you would find at a resort.
About a half-hour drive south of Dallas and Fort Worth, Livingston’s firm RREAF Communities is planning a community now called Heirloom. It is set to include roughly 8,500 single-family homes plus 3,000 rental homes and apartments as well as an array of commercial properties and other amenities.

The property, previously known as Hi View Ranch, is just south of the intersection of FM663 and FM875.

If built out as planned, Heirloom would undoubtedly be one of the largest communities ever constructed in Dallas-Fort Worth.

“This property is a big piece of property,” said Livingston, RREAF Communities’ president. “But the great thing is, it’s all going to be planned so it’s connected.”

The company announced the development in May 2022 after acquiring the bulk of the land a year before. The land holds a market value of about $22.3 million, according to the Ellis County Appraisal District. Livingston declined to provide the total development cost. Other master-planned communities in the region have had price tags in the billions.

Home construction is expected to begin about a year and a half after the project breaks ground. The first phase will have 580 single-family homes. By about the start of 2025, the company plans to start building a roughly 230-unit garden-style apartment complex and 175 rental homes.

Dallas-based real estate firm RREAF Holdings formed RREAF Communities in 2020 to acquire and develop large-scale communities in paths of growth. The new division also announced a similarly sized community between Austin and San Antonio last year along State Highway 130, south of Tesla’s manufacturing facilities.

Just 19 other communities in North Texas have or will have more than 5,000 homes, according to housing research firm Zonda.

Zonda found only three other communities have had plans or plats filed with jurisdictions for more than 8,500 homes: Walsh Ranch in the Fort Worth area, Reunion between Newark and Rhome and Emory Lakes in Waxahachie.

“It’s really amazing to think of that scale,” said Bryan Glasshagel, a senior vice president in Dallas-Fort Worth for Zonda. “It’s not just a master-planned community, but really a small town at that size.”

The vision

The RREAF team named the sprawling community Heirloom, a word Oxford defines as a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations. “I want this whole development to have that kind of impact on people,” Livingston said.

Some of the region’s largest homebuilders have shown interest in the community, Livingston said.

In addition to thousands of homes, rentals and apartments, the property will also have features such as green spaces, town centers, retail space, neighborhood services and police substations. It will have resort-like outdoor spaces for food trucks, music and other events. Hiking and biking trails will get residents from their homes to green spaces within minutes.

But the centerpiece will be a white sand beach to be formed on about 27 acres alongside a man-made lake made years ago by previous owners, where Livingston said there used to be a three-hole golf course.

“The goal is to do the best job we can to interconnect all that,” Livingston said.

Utility challenges

RREAF is waiting on a state process of creating two municipal utility districts that would help finance infrastructure work. Livingston expects that to wrap up by the end of the year and to get going with construction in 2024.

Municipal utility districts are separate government entities established by the state that provide utilities such as water, sewage, drainage, parks and roads, reimbursing developers for infrastructure improvements. Like other forms of government, they issue bonds and impose property taxes and fees on residents.

“They allow you to create enhancements inside the development that you may not otherwise be able to do,” Livingston said. “They are a method that you can utilize to recover some of the capital that you put into projects — because they’re super capital intensive over time — as long as the tax base is increased in those developments.”

Most of the property sits outside of city limits, so the company for the most part won’t have to navigate zoning processes. About 800 acres of the property sit in the city of Midlothian, with the remainder split between the extraterritorial jurisdictions of Midlothian and Waxahachie.

The development comes as Ellis County, Midlothian and Waxahachie have all opposed the formation of such districts without their consent. A March resolution by the Ellis County Commissioners’ Court said the districts incentivize high-density housing without say from local governments and threaten sustainable development in a time of rapid growth.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality handles the approval of municipal utility districts. The cities and county have contested the creation of Heirloom’s districts.

“Historically, they’ve been very difficult to fight; it was almost like a rubber stamp at the state,” said Waxahachie City Manager Michael Scott. “They can be so detrimental to cities that it’s worth fighting, at least trying to contest it and see if we can prevail.”

In March, city officials in Midlothian said the districts increase wastewater and drainage runoff, flooding and school overcrowding and create other strains on services due to high-density development. Midlothian City Manager Chris Dick declined to comment because TCEQ’s review is ongoing.

While the development is closer to the city limits of Midlothian than Waxahachie, Scott said his city has an interest in maintaining the quality of the water from the property that flows into Lake Waxahachie.

“It’d be detrimental to a small city to have [municipal utility districts] pop up all the way around them to where you’d never be able to grow, and you would never be able to expand our city, to provide police and fire and those type of protections,” Scott said. “There are some that we are strategically contesting, and we do what we need to to see if we can prevent them from coming into existence.”

“A lot of the cities are not supportive of much at this point in time,” Livingston said. “And there’s a number of them that are. At the end of the day, you just work through the process.”

 

This article originally appeared on The Dallas Morning News