Texas Flower: HomeTown North Richland Hills
Destined to become the urban and civic focus of North
Richland Hills, Texas, HomeTown North Richland Hills -- called simply
"HomeTown" by the locals -- epitomizes what can be created when a progressive
municipality and a visionary developer join forces.
Originally the location of Mangham Municipal Airport 9 miles northeast
of downtown Fort Worth, the 300-acre grayfield site began its new life
with a DPZ-led charrette in 1998. Construction began in 2000 on this community-approved
project, which will include a mix of residential, commercial, athletic,
and civic land uses oriented around three lakes -- all within comfortable
walking distance of each other.
Although HomeTown is a marvel of stakeholder cooperation, systemic problems
cropped up early on, says Bill Gietema, CEO of Arcadia Realty, the project
developer. "We had three (mixed-use) buildings that were 87 percent leased
and ready for construction on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 -- we literally
had building permits. But the day after 9/11, those lessees started calling
and changing their minds. It's taken us three years to get back to where
we were -- in terms of getting the buildings back online to pull permits.
The pre-leasing is just getting started again."
In 2001, the first residential lot sales went through and Arcadia began
the process of building homes. Using a builder education program devised
by Memphis-based town architect Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, Arcadia
was able to achieve its vision for proper site planning and architectural
design. Overseen on-site by Arcadia's project manager, Dan Quinto, AIA,
phases one and two are now complete.
Three hundred homes comprise these first two phases of construction and
include a variety of single-family types, such as townhomes, garden homes,
manor homes, and township homes, which are garden homes sited on 40x110-foot
lots and targeted at childless households. Phase three is presently opening
up for sales; eventually, an independent living option will be offered
for retirees. "At build-out we'll have about 1,400 homes," says Gietema.
What makes these homes especially noteworthy is the state-of-the-art communications
electronics behind the traditional facades. "This is truly neotraditional,"
says Gietema, noting that Hometown was recently awarded the "Community
of the Year" award from the National Broadband Association. Every home
has six strands of fiber optics running into it for virtually unlimited
bandwidth. "The hardware to push that much information doesn't even exist
yet," says Gietema.
The system currently features Video On Demand, which allows residents
to access more than 3,000 movies from their TVs, then download and view
them for less money than a rental store fee. Every home enjoys Internet
access that's essentially twice the speed of a T1 line; in other words,
it's fast. Really fast. Plans for 2005 include the introduction of Voiceover
Internet Protocol (VOIP) that will allow residents to call anywhere in
the world for the price of a local call.
Arcadia is taking steps to ensure that the wonders of home technology
don't keep HomeTown residents indoors. "We've built a 28-acre linear lake
park, which includes 20 acres of lakes, waterfalls and a fountain, plus
an urban bosque -- a beautiful natural area," says Gietema. Other on-site
recreational destinations include an ice skating complex and a municipal
There is 340,000 square feet of retail space -- in a hybrid design --
connected to HomeTown's traditional main street. As for the main street
itself, the first building is up, with an additional six -- offering office
and residential over retail -- slated to begin construction in March 2005.
The city of North Richland Hills has also implemented a tax-increment
financing program that will help to fund three new civic buildings on
main street to the tune of $43 million. Soon residents will enjoy a new
regional library, a health and fitness facility, and a conference and
performing arts center.
But the headliner in Gietema's view is the HomeTown Elementary School,
the first modern instance of an urban elementary school in Texas and the
first school in decades to use a child-centric design philosophy. "The
building and the site plan are based on how to benefit children in terms
of their health, happiness, and enhanced learning rates," Gietema says.
Designed by Dallas-based HKS, the school prioritizes children, rather
than SUV-driving parents, says Gietema. "It has a nice street edge, on-street
parking, a philosopher's bosk, and classroom gardens. And they designated
the required fire lane behind the building as the drop-off point for kids
who are driven to school. That was a brilliant insight, since they estimate
more than 50 percent of the kids will either walk or ride their bikes
to school. It keeps the front of the building much more welcoming."
"In addition, the campus is wireless; every child is given a handheld
PDA or a laptop that they can take anywhere on the school site to learn
and interface with the world."
Gietema tells one particular story of city decision-making that should
rescue every struggling urbanist from utter despair.
The city had two major arterial roads that crossed through the HomeTown
site. At more than 65 feet wide and signed at 60 mph, "they were 'kid-killers,'"
says Gietema, "so fast and hilly that you could actually catch air while
The arterials were partially built, with about 3/4 of a mile complete
and another 1 1/2 miles yet to be done. "We actually reconfigured part
of those arterials," he says. "We cut a median into part of one to create
two 18-foot lanes and fronted homes on it where they would have been backed
with masonry sound-barrier walls. In another portion we cut it down to
an alley and backed new housing up against it. The portions we removed
were either ground up and used as base for new roads, or used as fish
habitat in the lake.
"By getting rid of those arterials, we were not only able to repair the
existing neighborhood, we were able to eliminate about $5 million of negative
infrastructure. We would have had several miles of intersecting, high-speed
corridors; now we have two very lovely streets that are pedestrian-friendly
and actually beautiful to drive along."
What makes this story so astonishing is how the city of North Richland
Hills responded to Arcadia's plan of attack for the arterials. "It's one
thing convincing a city to let you do a narrow street, but it's entirely
different for them to let you radically change what was already on the
ground and approved," says Gietema. "It shows a lot of courage and municipal
"The city of North Richland Hills has been a great partner. Going back
to 1998, we're at 51 consecutive unanimous votes together. Everything
from the library and park boards -- to P&Z and City Council. It's not
always smooth, but it's always polite and professional. We've always come
up with compromises that make sense."
The partnership is paying off for Arcadia, too. Homes are selling at between
80 and 100 units per year, with home prices running about 30 percent higher
than expected, says Gietema. "People are spending additional money on
expanded porches, granny flats, and enhanced landscaping because they
understand and want the traditional place we are building together"
Location: North Richland Hills, Texas
Size: 300 acres Developer: Arcadia Realty
Designer: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.
Birthdate: 2000 Percent complete:
Residential 25%; Civic 0%; Main Street retail 25% in progress
Population: 250 occupied homes
Custom home prices: $450,000 to $600,000 Townhomes: $120,000 to $180,000
Getting there: HomeTown North Richland Hills lies 9 miles northeast of
downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Visit www.hometownnrh.com
to view a map and get driving directions. For more information, call 972.774.9110
or visit the web site.
Jason Miller is a new urbanist freelance writer, editor, photographer,
and plan book publishing consultant based in St. Paul, Minn. Contact him
at goodwords [at] juno.com or 651.646.7021.