Plano council members appear set for a decisive vote on a plan to guide development in the city’s Oak Point area, a guiding document for developers and city officials that has traveled a rocky path toward the finish line.
The Plano City Council on June 12 directed city staff to bring back the Envision Oak Point plan for a vote as early as the July 23 meeting. The decision came nearly a month after City Manager Bruce Glasscock initially withdrew the proposal from consideration, citing misinformation surrounding the plan and potentially “unresolvable” differences of opinion.
For more than a year, city of Plano officials gathered public input on the future of Oak Point, a 1-square-mile area east of US 75 that contains some of the city’s most prized public amenities as well as large tracts of undeveloped land and struggling shopping centers. City staff had crafted and tweaked the plan, which was intended in part to attract significant residential and mixed-use investment to a historically development-challenged area east of US 75.
“The purpose of a vision is to let those [developers] who want to come here know that we clearly have an idea of what we want our community to look like,” Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said. “If we don’t have a vision, the capital and those who want to invest will go to the place where there is.”
A plan in flux
If the plan were to pass, development projects in Oak Point would still face a series of political hurdles tied to the city’s zoning process and the difficult-to-gauge interest from developers, according to Community Impact Newspaper interviews with city planning officials, council members and local property owners.
Under the plan, the city would attempt to guide residential development to include a denser mix of large-lot homes, townhouses and apartments than the area’s current development trajectory is expected to support, according to the city’s study. City officials anticipate the plan, which would promote the development of a mixed-use district near the Plano Event Center, would result in more than double the economic output than that of the default path.
But the increased number of apartments the plan calls for—2,020, up from a projection of 1,460 without the plan—has concerned some council members and local advocates who campaigned on limiting apartment growth in Plano.
Even the small-lot single-family housing proposed in the plan to the west and south of the event center has drawn the ire of local anti-apartment advocates, said Allan Samara, spokesperson for Plano Future. Samara’s group endorsed the candidacies of apartment-skeptical council members Anthony Ricciardelli and Rick Smith, and is publicly supporting Council Member Tom Harrison ahead of his November recall election.
“They’re rental-unit starter kits, as far as I’m concerned,” Samara said of the small-lot housing outlined in the plan.
At the council’s June meeting, Ricciardelli proposed that before the plan is brought back in July, the staff should amend it to allow for fewer residential units and a greater daytime office population. But the mayor discouraged the staff from making such changes before the plan is brought to a final vote.
Developers watch intently, quietly
Supporters of the plan on the council, including LaRosiliere and Rick Grady, said they believe the city could miss out on critical opportunities to develop Oak Point if the council fails to pass a unified vision for the area.
“Developers will look at [the plan] and if they feel that it’s not something that Plano is willing to embrace, they will move on,” Grady said. “But they don’t return. They’ve then invested in some other place, location.”
At the heart of the city’s development hopes sits Lavon Farms, a family-owned dairy farm located near the Plano Event Center. For the city’s plans for a mixed-use area near the event center to come to fruition, the Moore family, which owns Lavon Farms, would have to develop the property or sell to an interested developer.
Todd Moore, who last year served as member of the Envision Oak Point stakeholder committee, said developers were watching the political process play out before committing to pursue projects, including on his property.
“They are all waiting on the [council’s] input before they show the level of interest,” Moore wrote in an email before the council’s deliberations in June. “That’s the frustrating part. Good plan, great potential development. Unfortunately, a political environment that is not conducive to progress.”
One of the Oak Point area’s other most prominent properties, Plano Market Square Mall off Spring Creek Parkway, is an almost entirely abandoned indoor shopping center. Owner Matthew Lowe declined to comment.
Two developers who wrote letters to the city expressing interest in building single-family residential uses in Oak Point—Plano-based Greenbrick Partners and Darling Homes, which has offices in Frisco and Houston—also did not reply to requests for comment.
A third developer, Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co., told the city it was interested in an unspecified type of development in Oak Point, but declined to comment to Community Impact Newspaper. The company specializes in a number of development types, from office, health care and retail to mixed-use developments near transit hubs.
In addition to the public letters, the city has also received calls from developers asking where the Envision Oak Point plan stands, city Director of Planning Christina Day said. Day said she was unable to share the names of those developers, but added that city planning generally plays an integral role in whether developers are willing to commit to long-term projects.