Neighbors question home developer’s clearing of land in far north Fort Worth

By Sarah Junek
Ft. Worth, TX (September 23, 2009)- A bulldozer clears the land near Ray White Road and Heritage Trace Parkway where 78 new homes will be built. Neighbors say they are disappointed that most trees were removed. Gabrielle Gordon sees less green on her morning drive than she did a year ago. Gordon, who lives in the Ranchette Estates subdivision, drops off her daughter at Central High School most days. When classes began last month, a significant number of trees kitty-corner from the campus had been removed, leaving Gordon asking herself, “Why can’t bulldozers go around a few more?”

Construction crews took out many large, native oaks while thinning the belt of trees that two months ago covered 30 acres northwest of Ray White Road and Heritage Trace Parkway, a dismayed Gordon said. Many of her neighbors in far north Fort Worth are “disappointed” with the clearing, she said. “We know the area is changing, but it is so sad that so many large trees are taken when they could easily go around many of them,” Gordon said in a recent e-mail. “One need not to be a tree hugger to appreciate old growth trees.”
A spokesman for the developer of the site said significant, mature trees are included in his company’s design plans. Only smaller trees, like mesquites, and brush have been removed, said Dave Pelletier, whose Hillwood Residential is building 78 houses in The Bluffs section of Heritage. Heritage is a 2,300-acre community, part of the 17,000-acre Alliance, Texas, which also includes Alliance Town Center, Circle T Ranch and the Alliance Global Logistics Hub around Fort Worth Alliance Airport.
About 2,600 houses have been built in Heritage, and 232 were started over the past year. Dirt work for The Bluffs began in August. “This next phase will allow us to work with our builders to meet the demand of buyers looking to locate in the highly amenitized Heritage community,” Hillwood president Fred Balda said in a recent news release. The 78 new houses will be priced at $300,000 and up. Heritage homes for between $164,000 and $500,000, with an average price of $230,000.
Large trees are among the natural features that attract prospective home buyers, Pellitier said, adding that his company has planted about 8,500 trees in Heritage and 27,500 in other parts of Alliance. “By the end of the day it looks a lot better than it did before we got there,” Pelletier said. But some of Gordon’s neighbors aren’t convinced. “Within the last few years, we have seen such wholesale destruction of mature forest on three sides of our Ranchette Estates home,” Rex Burkheimer said in a recent e-mail, pointing to a “garish” storage facility and “yet another barren subdivision of tract homes” nearby.
Though a few clusters remain, Pellitier declined to divulge numbers and types of trees that have been removed for The Bluffs. A tree preservation plan was not filed with Fort Worth planners as of Monday, said Tonda Rice, an urban forestry compliance officer for the city.
Preliminary development plans were filed in 2006, a year before the latest version of Fort Worth’s tree ordinance took effect, Rice said. That version contains more stringent protections than its predecessor, she said. Such protections include numbers of trees that can be removed from a site as well as types of trees, including several oaks that cannot be cut down.
Rice, whose department monitors compliance with the ordinance, said she had not heard about Hillwood’s tree clearing and would check into it. “You can’t save all the trees, but at least take more thought into saving some of the bigger ones,” Gordon said. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
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