Legacy-area developer in Plano walks tightrope of competing visions

The Campus at Legacy West is an effort to redevelop the grassy slopes of the office campus formerly owned by J.C. Penney into a mixed-use development. (Daniel Houston/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Campus at Legacy West is an effort to redevelop the grassy slopes of the office campus formerly owned by J.C. Penney into a mixed-use development. (Daniel Houston/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Campus at Legacy West is an effort to redevelop the grassy slopes of the office campus formerly owned by J.C. Penney into a mixed-use development. (Daniel Houston/Community Impact Newspaper)

A developer whose plan to build hundreds of apartments near the former J.C. Penney headquarters in Plano was denied has said he is working to reach a compromise with nearby property owners by the end of the year.

Sam Ware of Dreien Opportunity Partners said he was optimistic he could address the concerns of nearby corporate property owners, some of whom came out publicly against his 795-unit proposal, arguing that it was inconsistent with their overall vision for the Legacy business park.

The city of Plano’s comprehensive development plan outlines two types of development that are desirable in the Legacy business area: employment centers with little to no proximity to residential buildings, and denser areas near the tollways that feature high-rise office and multifamily developments.

The J.C. Penney property straddles the line between the two. Part of the property falls in the denser designation, while the other part is on land set aside for an employment center. The result of this ambiguity has been a series of competing priorities for what the property should look like.

Ware purchased the J.C. Penney property in late 2016. He renamed it the Campus at Legacy West and pledged to fill its grassy slopes with restaurants, retail stores and apartment buildings.

But the residential components of the project attracted opposition from an unusual source: nearby corporations whose new office buildings now line the Dallas North and Sam Rayburn tollways.

Fehmi Karahan, master developer of Legacy West and president of the Legacy Association board of directors, has spoken out several times against Ware’s apartment proposal, most recently in October, just before the Plano City Council denied the plan in a 4-2 vote.

Karahan said allowing apartments at the Campus at Legacy West would be the start of slippery slope that could encourage more residential buildings springing up in the city’s corporate business park.

“[With] those companies, my role was to sell the land,” Karahan said. “I sat at the table with Toyota, JPMorgan Chase, Liberty Mutual and FedEx, and I told them what a great place Legacy business park is. And they chose it to be in the premier corporate park—not to be across from a residential development.”

‘A balancing act’

Ware said he sees his plan as an extension of what has been going on in the corridor for years.

The Legacy business area—which is bordered to the north by Sam Rayburn Tollway, to the east by Preston Road and to the south and west by Spring Creek Parkway—has been defined by a flurry of mixed-use developments in recent decades.

Plano’s Granite Park and The Shops at Legacy developments paved the way on the east side of the Dallas North Tollway. From 2015 to 2018, most of the massive, $3 billion Legacy West development came online, bringing more than 10,000 new employees to an increasingly busy corridor.

In that same time frame, developers have built nearly 2,000 new residential units in the area, according to records provided by the city planning department.

Apartment units, which consist primarily of multifamily apartments and condominiums, can serve the growing workforce and provide regular foot traffic for the nearby retail stores and restaurants that have accompanied all of the new office developments, Ware said.

The city has anticipated this path for years, Plano Director of Planning Christina Day said.

“It’s been intentional and planned that way as part of the business center development, dating back to Perot’s vision for the Legacy business park,” Day said. “It was always intended as a walkable, mixed-use center along the Dallas North Tollway—from the original design that was implemented in the late ‘90s, and with the initial Shops at Legacy that started east of the Dallas North Tollway and south of Legacy.”

But what the city staff found appropriate for the areas nearest the Dallas North Tollway and Sam Rayburn was not necessarily what it thought was right for the entire Legacy business park, Day said. Since 2015, parts of the business park farther from the tollways have been earmarked to become employment centers free of residential development.

Part of the former J.C. Penney property is currently considered an employment center, leaving only a portion to the northern side of the property eligible for zoning changes that would allow for apartment buildings like the ones Ware has proposed. That side of the property is where he has proposed building the 795 units.

In an effort to block Ware’s apartment proposal, Karahan warned Plano City Council members that these apartments being built would send a message to other developers who might want to build apartments on or near land designated as an employment center.

Karahan also questioned whether the former J.C. Penney campus could support new restaurants and retail stores, given that heavy development in Legacy West has brought economic pressure to businesses on the east side of the tollway.

“Jasper’s restaurant on the Legacy Town Center closed,” Karahan told council members. “Nicola’s closed. Gordon Biersch closed. Cafe Express closed. We have a lot of vacancies. So to say that they are going to get retailers and restaurants and say that they are going to create some sort of [mixed-use development] is just—well, you know what it is.”

But Ware said he believes all the new corporate employees descending on the Legacy area in recent years means there is a growing and unmet demand for housing nearby.

“There’s this vast movement to dissuade more multifamily [development], and the reality is we lead the country in multifamily [project] starts because of our job growth,” Ware said. “They go hand-in-hand. There’s a very distinct correlation between occupancy, job growth and multifamily [project] starts.”

As Ware continues to work with nearby property owners to address their specific concerns, which he said amount mostly to minor standards issues that would be simple to address, he plans to move forward with construction on the other portions of the property.

“We’re still having dialogue with everyone that had concerns,” Ware said. “We have actually been asked to make a few concessions, which we are going to do because the concessions are negligible.”

The grassy hills in front of the J.C. Penney offices have already received city approval for hotel, retail and restaurant uses. As of this paper’s Nov. 15 press deadline, crews were expected to begin draining the property’s pond before the end of the month in preparation for some of the construction, Ware said.

This project, including the apartments and other uses, has been more difficult to navigate than most, Day said, due to the differing land-use guidelines and the limited amount of space with which to work on the north side of the property.

However, the idea of dense development with residential is already largely in effect near the tollways and is likely to continue as the remaining land in that corridor is built out or redeveloped, Day said.

The Plano Tomorrow guidelines that prompted the city’s decisions when Legacy West was being proposed were based on community feedback for that part of town, she said.

“Overall, the Legacy West development was largely supported by the community,” Day said. “Again, it’s always a balancing act on these things where you’re trying to look at layers of information and make the most of what you’re given.”

This article ran in the November 2019 edition of Community Impact Newspaper in Plano. Read the full e-edition here.
By Daniel Houston

Daniel Houston covers Plano city government, transportation, business and education for Community Impact Newspaper. A Fort Worth native and Baylor University graduate, Daniel reported previously for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City and The Dallas Morning News.


Victory Lane Quick Oil Change opened in October under the ownership of Jim Oberhofer. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Drag racing crew chief returns to Plano with Victory Lane Quick Oil Change

Victory Lane Quick Oil Change opened in October under the ownership of Jim Oberhofer, crew chief and vice president of operations for Kalitta Motorsports, a champion drag racing team.

Eastside Dojo officially opened in its new space Jan. 25. (Courtesy Eastside Dojo)
Eastside Dojo relocates in Plano

Eastside Dojo officially opened in its new space Jan. 25 at 2655 Premier Drive, Plano.

SizzleIt opened Dec. 7 in Plano. (Courtesy SizzleIt)
Plano's SizzleIt offers unique Asian-American foods

SizzleIt opened Dec. 7 at 1820 Coit Road, Ste. 138, Plano.

A camp hosted by Outcry Theatre is one of dozens of spring and summer camps offered in Plano this year. (Courtesy Outcry Theatre)
31 activities for kids: A list of spring and summer camps in Plano

A noncomprehensive list of spring and summer camps for children in Plano.

Eliseo Figueroa opened Lima Taverna in 2017 across from the former Macy’s location at Collin Creek Mall in Plano. (Daniel Houston/Community Impact Newspaper)
Owner of Plano's Lima Taverna restaurant shares love for Peruvian cuisine, culture

The restaurant serves dishes ranging from marinated fish served with Peruvian sides to a stir-fry made with beef tenderloin.

Level III ballet students take part in stretches during class. Before reaching Level IV, students must master technical skills and prove their physical and mental focus, according to the academy's syllabus. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
'The art of ballet': Couple runs Plano studio with focus on performance

Hathaway Academy of Ballet is all about the fundamentals and principles of ballet technique, according to Kirt Hathaway, who runs the studio with his wife, Linda.

Market data: Plano home prices rise in December in all but one ZIP code

See the latest Plano housing market statistics in this infographic.

A new Plano police substation will be completed this spring at the southwest corner of McDermott Road and Robinson Road. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plano police, fire gear up to prepare for growth in changing northwest Plano

Plano police and fire departments have improved their response times in recent years even as they handle a rising number of calls from a growing city population.

The Shops at Willow Bend is continuing with a $125 million expansion project that includes the mall's now-open restaurant district. (Daniel Houston/Community Impact Newspaper)
Developer stays course in Willow Bend mall expansion following prominent departures, late payment

The owner behind a multimillion-dollar project to expand Plano’s only remaining indoor shopping mall is looking to extend and restructure its financing as it prepares for a new stage of office and residential construction.

The district has lost roughly 1,900 students in the last four years, according to a presentation at a  Feb. 18 work session, and the trend is expected to continue. (Gavin Pugh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plano ISD enrollment expected to continue dropping in next decade

Enrollment at Plano ISD is expected to continue to decline in the next decade, according to a report from a Feb. 18 work session.

A proposed construction project at Williams High School may cost roughly $14 million and be financed via remaining funds from Plano ISD’s 2016 bond. Members of the Plano ISD board of trustees were given a tour of Williams High School at a work session Sept. 17. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plano ISD focuses on possible $14 million project for Williams High School

A proposed construction project at Williams High School may cost roughly $14 million and be financed via remaining funds from Plano ISD’s 2016 bond.

Back to top