An equestrian center will not be displaced—for now—after Keller City Council on Aug. 15 decided against an amendment for a planned development.

Keller City Council voted 5-2 in approval regarding an ordinance centering on a planned development amendment and rezoning a portion of land—11.94 acres—to single-family residential for The Birch Racquet and Lawn Club on 26.99 acres at 660 Keller Smithfield Road. The location is near the intersection of Keller Smithfield Road and Johnson Road.

However, the item required a supermajority vote of 6-1, and because it did not receive that vote, the amendment failed. Council Members Sean Hicks and Ross McMullin opposed the amendment with Hicks wanting to see whether the land that holds equestrian center Rocky Top Ranch could be sold and thus avoid being closed. McMullin said he wanted to see Rocky Top be a part of the planned development.


Council needed a supermajority vote because city staff received letters of resident opposition from nine properties within the 200-foot buffer around the subject property, totaling 20% of the property within that buffer and thus triggering a supermajority vote, Keller Community Development Director Sarah Hensley said.

Later, in an interview after the meeting, Hensley said there is no contract with the homebuilder for the property. She said there is no time limit for the applicant to come back to the city, so the applicant could modify the submittal or decide to take other action.

The background

Information from the city on the agenda item stated the applicant—Taylor Dent, owner of The Birch Racquet and Lawn Club—wanted to reduce the size of the planned development from 26.99 acres to 15.05 acres for the Birch tennis facility with the remaining 11.94 acres proposed for single-family residential development. The remaining 11.94 acres would no longer be a part of the planned development and are intended to be developed as a 14-lot single-family residential subdivision under SF-36 zoning guidelines. Council approved a planned development for The Birch in 2016 and an amendment to the planned development in 2017.

Dent spoke to council about the amendment and said his company has tried hard to make Rocky Top work, but he is losing money from the operation, which has 37 horses on property from several different owners. Dent did not respond to messages about the ownership and operations of Rocky Top.

“We can no longer operate the horse ranch,” Dent said, adding it’s operating at “a big loss” and that people would have until the end of September to move their horses.

What they're saying

Sixteen people spoke during the public hearing with most pointing to the positive effects Rocky Top has had in the community and desiring its preservation.

“I feel it is a unique and much-needed resource for our riders, particularly our young riders,” said Kellie Abbee, who was with her daughter Kate Abbee—who showed a picture of her horse.

Kellie Abbee said her family boards the horse at Rocky Top, where they have been for about a year, and their family has been at other barns. Her daughter has thrived at this place and learned a number of values and skills, such as hard work, sacrifice, independence and grace.

“I would hate to see it go,” Kellie Abbee said about Rocky Top.

Rocky Top Assistant Manager Ann Pruitt spoke in favor of the preservation of the facility and lauded Dent’s management. She said she hopes a plan can save the facility and help Dent.

Amy Galillo said she drafted a letter of intent with a company to buy the property and would seek Dent’s consideration following the meeting.

The planned development that was approved in 2017 did not include an equine component, and there is no way council can legally compel Dent or others to continue operations, Council Member Tag Green said. He said council did not oppose Rocky Top or having horses boarded there. Green added if the measure had passed, he told Dent he hoped he would consider an offer on the property.

Dent said he would consider an offer, and he hopes the center can stay afloat with a purchase of the property.