Community and Development: A Critique

Rowlett Texas

On May 13th, the Rowlett Community Center played host to one of the most amazingly bizarre spectacles I’ve seen in my 12 years in architecture.  A developer, Community Retirement Center of Rowlett, LLP, has chosen a location in Rowlett, TX (a sleepy little bedroom community, just outside of Dallas) in which to locate a TDHCA tax credit senior living development.  Now, to be clear, this is not managed care or a nursing home, these are apartments that are intended to cater to low income seniors (55+ yrs old).  You cannot get into the development unless you are at least 55 (or as young as 45 if the spouse of a someone 55+).

The developer started out with an adequate, if graphically underwhelming powerpoint that explained the TDHCA tax credit process, how Rowlett was rated by that organization as a 5 out of 6 on an internal scale of ‘need’ for this sort of facility, and about the requirements of the residents.  The age restrictions are noted above, and if I remember correctly the income levels for the 16 low-income units were +/-$14,000 for a single person, +/-$19,000 per year for a couple.

It was at this point that the crazies came out of the woodwork.  One of the first questions to the developer, interrupting his presentation, went as follows (as I did not audio record this event, the following verbal exchanges are paraphrased to the best of my recollection.  If anyone who was present would like to offer addendum, please do):

Question #1

Resident: “Now wait a minute.  You said that this facility would server the ‘area’?  Do you mean that people outside of Rowlett would be allowed to live here?  Just anyone from Garland or Sachse or Rockwall could just move here?”

Developer: “Yes.  We cannot, by law, restrict anyone from moving here to live in the development.”

I’m not sure if this resident is actually aware of the freedoms we appreciate in this country, but one of them is certainly to be able to move any live anywhere we chose.  I thought that would have been obvious, and the least of the community’s concern.

The developer then proceeded to innumerate why this site was chosen.  Using the above calculation by the TDHCA as a launching point to chose Rowlett from the plethora of cities in this region.  Their planners, following the TDHCA guidelines, searched for a site that was within a one mile radius to a pre-defined list of amenities (shopping, health care, etc.)  Once they found the site, they then proceeded to perform a demographic study of the area to better understand the project’s viability.  This then lead to more questioning:

Question #2

Resident: “What was your demographic area, specifically?”

Developer: “Rowlett and nearby cities.”

Resident: “So you’re saying that you included cities outside Rowlett in your demographics?  Which cities did you include?”

Developer: “We included several cities, Rockwall, Garland…”

Resident: “That’s what I wanted to know, you’re planning on people from Garland moving here.  We don’t want that.  Let’s be honest here, Garland is the problem.”

The fervent nature of this resident’s opposition reminded me of the kind of xenophobia that accompanies two adjacent countries, not neighboring suburbs within the same Metroplex.

A little rattled, but pushing forward, the developer continued to describe the project’s design, which as sited, avoided a nearby flood plain, provided access to a city easement, and preserved an existing tree  grove as the central courtyard feature of the complex.  This then lead to the following:

Question #3

Resident: “Is your project handicapped accessible?”

Developer: “Yes.  The entire site will be accessible, the building will be accessible, as will each unit, with 8% of the units being specifically designated as handicapped units.”

Resident: “So you’ll provide transportation from the parking lot?”

Developer: “What do you mean?”

Resident: “You’ll provide transportation like a golf cart shuttle which will pick handicapped residents up at their car and drive them up to the building.”

Developer: “No, we’re not required to provide that.”

Resdient: “Then you aren’t truly handicapped accessible.”

It was here that I felt a little for the developer.  I’ve been on his side of this scenario on many occasions, and I rather felt like I should say something just to afford some sanity to the situation. I didn’t, however, this was his rodeo and I wasn’t going to excite the livestock.

Appearing as perplexed by all this as I was, the developer continued despite all, moving on to speak on the project amenities.  He delineated a standard list of what you would expect in such a community, but this still illicited an array of additional question:

Question #4

Resident: “In your amenities are you going to fence the property?”

Developer: “Yes, the property will be fenced.”

Resident: “Because we don’t want random transients running rampant through the property.”

I’ve lived in Rowlett for almost a decade, and I have never once seen a single transient anywhere near the city.  I’m not entirely sure what this resident was concerned about, but clearly she felt that low tax credit senior housing somehow has a higher proclivity towards transiency than a currently empty lot.

Continuing on the subject of amenities, however:

Question #5

Resident: “I have here a list of the amenities provided by the comparable property you cited in Rockwall. [Proceeds to run off a list of apartment amenities including a swimming pool that this proposed property in Rowlett did not offer].  Are you providing a pool?”

Developer: “No, we’re found pools to be a maintenance issue and rarely used by residents.”

Resident: “Did you know that at that same facility, I know, I called and asked, that of the ten low-income units they have, seven of them are inhabited by people not from Rockwall?”

Developer: “No, I did not know that.”

I believe the resident was trying to make a point that this was somehow a lower-quality establishment in comparing it’s amenity package to that of Rockwall, and clearly reiterating apparent regional xenophobia some residents feel about neighboring communities.  It has been my experience that developers tune their amenity package to several factors, including their facilities management capabilities and the demographic, but I’m not sure that I’d support a wholesale disparagement of the design simply because the amenity package was less opulent.

Honestly (and possibly unfortunately) I could go on, but I think the point has been made.  The amount of people from this particular community that have very clear prejudices against outsiders, have in their minds linked tax credit development to a drop in home values, and a generally complete misunderstanding of the law and the development process, was truly disconcerting.

Just to emphasis the point, I’ll offer this analysis of the meeting by the self proclaimed “Texas Fred” who wrote the following in his blog the next day:

“There were some excellent questions asked by the residents of Rowlett, serious, thought provoking questions. Well formulated questions that were well thought out and presented in a professional manner.

The answers TO those questions were, shall we say? Less than professional? All in all, Mr. Holcomb and Company handed out a HUGE line of B.S. at this meeting.

In MY opinion, this was the most unprofessional BUSINESS meeting I have ever seen, these clowns brought a steak knife to a gunfight! As ANY gun person can tell you, you just don’t take a knife to a gunfight!”

Not that I encourage it, but you can read the entire article at Texas Fred’s blog here.

A counter to this is the following letter (provided by an anonymous source) written to the Civic leadership which, while taking exception to the development, was very clear, concise and respectful:

“It is interesting how two people attending the same meeting, which was paid for by the developer, can come away with amazingly different opinions about what occurred.

I was embarrassed for the city: its citizens were not just rude to the presenter but also to each other, trying to establish poorly framed positions against the Creekside development. Nearly every question was filled with characterization like TexasFred’s, most often without ANY concrete info or data, which fed the usual fears about the “wrong element”.

Whether it was a question like TexasFred’s [blog post] about the possible decline in residential property value if such an apartment development were built and asking “for Black and White evidence” for proof to satisfy his theory, which I would think it would be incumbent on him to provide some evidence that might happen…all the while complaining about the “politics” of the situation.

While Creekside has a legitimate economic story to tell, and told it reasonably well, the audience appeared to be filled with egos unwilling to listen and only interested in expressing their questions, whether based on unknowing fears and anxieties or just a prejudice against folks with lower incomes who might reside in Creekside.

Having said this, I believe Creekside not a good development for Rowlett for several reasons. I also believe the developer is trying to realize as great an economic advantage as possible with the least capital possible which results in a development that does not offer an appropriate level of quality for the future of Rowlett. He’s just cutting too many corners, whether is is the location or elements of the buildings and the services for the residents.”

Personally, I heard two very relevant (if circumlocutively communicated) points that the residents brought up and the developer did not answer:

1. What is your track record?

While the developer showed other comparable 3 & 4 story projects in the area, he did not bring any images of their own previous development.  His defense was that they were all 1 and 2 story, and would be like comparing “apples to oranges”. While this is true so far as the scale is concerned, the residents were concerned about quality too, and a confirmation of the developer’s track history as to the quality of their developments would have been welcome.

2. Is a tax credit senior facility really the correct senior living option for Rowlett?

While the developer could quote the TDHCA figures for why Rowlett was a good candidate, it doesn’t feel like, in Rowlett itself, there is a large enough population of individuals who would qualify for the development.  While anyone from anywhere else would certainly be welcome, it would be beneficial if the facility really did target the local demographic.  It may, there just wasn’t enough evidence presented to validate that.

In the end, I am rather ashamed of my community.  We are on the verge of having the new George Bush Freeway completed, the Rowlett stop of the DART light rail system constructed, and the city is attempting to organize some very substantive development along the lake shore.  The [hopefully] vocal minority appears to be in fear of the city transitioning into anything but the sleepy little bedroom community they want it to remain.  Things are changing, whether they like it or not, and posing xenophobic and prejudicial opposition to that progress is at best, counterproductive, and at worst…well, I don’t want that in my community.

There were some excellent questions asked by the residents of Rowlett, serious, thought provoking questions. Well formulated questions that were well thought out and presented in a professional manner.

The answers TO those questions were, shall we say? Less than professional? All in all, Mr. Holcomb and Company handed out a HUGE line of B.S. at this meeting.

In MY opinion, this was the most unprofessional BUSINESS meeting I have ever seen, these clowns brought a steak knife to a gunfight! As ANY gun person can tell you, you just don’t take a knife to a gunfight!


05 2010
  • TexasFred

    LMAO… Thanks for the link… I’ll bet I get a ton of hits from YOUR blog… Excuse me if I reject your *trackback*, I mean, since you don’t encourage folks to actually READ my commentary, I really don’t know why you linked it…

    Fred Witzell
    aka: TexasFred

  • TexasFred

    Killarney Ln,Rowlett, TX 75089-7851

    I am guessing that places you far enough from this project to afford you a bit of *insulation* perhaps??

  • Jonathan Brown

    Mr. Fred,

    I refer them to your blog merely as a point of reference from whence I quoted you. I, personally, believe in free and open thought, and I believe people should be allowed to make up their own opinion about what they want to read, just as I believe they should be allowed to chose where they want to live.

  • Jonathan Brown

    This piece of land just outside our community is zoned commercial, and has a strip mall slated for it that is bound to offer little more than yet another nail salon and dry cleaner duet.

    View Larger Map

    I would be happy if a developer came in with the intention to diversify the area and offer something like affordable senior housing.

  • Jerry Berggren


    I wanted to provide you with a little additional information that you did not have for your latest post about Creekside Village.

    I was given a series of photographs of one of the developer’s recently constructed projects in Aransas Pass, TX by a Rowlett citizen. I have put those pictures online for your convenience, at the following link: Aransas Pass Photos

    I also pulled a photo of the developer’s project in Kingsville, TX off of Google Maps.

    Feel free to distribute or post these photos as you see fit.

    Also, since I am one of the candidates for City Council, if you are willing, I’d love to speak with you about Rowlett’s architectural future. Feel free to give me a call at 972-345-1378.