Fort Worth Magazine, by Scott Nishimura | Tuesday, February 21, 2017 | Original article here
Developers begin to turn the 1,700-acre first phase of Walsh in West Fort Worth into model homes and urban-style amenities, with an eye toward the future.
Walsh, the planned 7,200-acre development on the former Walsh Ranch on Fort Worth’s far west side, represents a gigantic canvas that will take decades to fill in.
But it’s hardly a blank canvas. The first splashes of color are already on, even before the first model homes and community amenities, like a resort pool and hike and bike trails, begin to appear this spring and summer. Walsh’s development partner, the Republic Property Group of Dallas, is offering up a broad inventory of lots that take advantage of the existing greenbelts, hills, swales, and views of downtown Fort Worth.
Walsh’s developers, anticipating the long buildout, have also moved aggressively to “future-proof” it, working with 25 consultants, including a landscape architect to map out the project. They added a community-wide fiber optic network with high, upgradable internet speeds and urban-styled flourishes such as a co-working space for freelancers and a makerspace with tools to foster learning and innovation.
“It’s probably the most dynamic land plan we’ve ever developed as a company,” says Jake Wagner, co-CEO of Republic, which has been developing and building in North Texas for four decades. Its current projects include the master-planned communities of Philips Creek Ranch in Frisco and Light Farms in Celina. “This being 7,200 acres and developed over several decades, we hope this is a project that anchors West Fort Worth.”
Grand Opening: April 27
Republic has set a tentative April 27 grand opening of the first phase, when it will open nine model homes and a number of spec homes for sale, in a range of $300,000 to $650,000 or $700,000. Walsh Ranch Parkway, the main drag through the 1,700-acre first phase north of Interstate 30, is barricaded now, but those will come down around the grand opening. The models and spec homes are part of a larger model park that Walsh is building for the first phase.
“Our goal would be late April. We’ll open up all the streets; a buyer can drive the streets and see what it’s going to look like,” Wagner said.
The first phase features north and south sections divided by a recreational lake and 65-acre central village that will include a pool, fitness center, small grocery store, co-working space, and maker space.
The north section will offer 547 lots. Builders will offer homes between the low-$200,000s and close to $800,000. Walsh’s builders for the first phase, all production builders, are Toll Brothers, David Weekly Homes, Drees Homes, Highland Homes and Village Homes. “We’re working on potentially adding one more builder to that program,” Wagner said. The smallest lot in the north section will be 3,800 square feet, which would allow a home of 1,600 to 3,000 square feet.
The builders are currently picking lots, and the full north section of the first phase will be available for sale from the builders this spring, Wagner said. “There will be people living there this summer,” Wagner said.
The south section will offer 40 “estate” lots for custom homes. Republic expects to announce its custom builders by the April grand opening, Wagner said. The lots will range in size between 12,000 square feet and 0.7 acres.
Republic is working on the price range for the estate homes but expects them to go into the millions, Wagner said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see $2-$3 million homes there,” he said.
Republic plans a gradual release of the lots to protect values, Wagner said. “We’re going to stage releases,” Wagner said. “We have only 40 lots available, and we’d like to maximize values over time. We’re developing our strategy now for how we’re going to release them.”
Following the Fort
All of the builders will follow six architectural styles – Tudor, Craftsman, Mediterranean, Texas Vernacular (Hill Country-inspired), Transitional, and Colonial Revival – laid out in an unusual 130-page pattern book that the developers put together from an examination of Fort Worth neighborhoods. Builders will develop their own plans, but they’re subject to final review and approval by the developer before construction starts. “We’re reviewing them all,” Wagner says. All of the first-phase lots will be for single-family detached homes.
Found your perfect vista at Walsh that isn’t yet available through a builder? Republic isn’t selling lots directly to consumers, Wagner said. “We’ll take requests like that under advisement,” Wagner said. “We’ve got a lot of people talking about an empty nester piece,” he said, elaborating. “I can see us doing a neighborhood specifically for empty nesters. There’s going to be opportunity to have townhomes in future phases. Our intent in Phase 1 is to have product that meets the heart of the market.”
Walsh’s developers talk about “future-proofing” across their approach to the entire development. Wagner and co-CEO Tony Ruggieri visited 33 communities in eight states in planning the development. Future-proofing starts with the range in inventory.
“Do you want backyard views?” Wagner says. “Do you want a greenbelt? Do you want a really amazing view? Do you want to be really close to a school? Do you want to front on the park? Homes at Walsh will appeal to a variety of tastes. We want to create a place that still feels relevant 100 years from now.”
Lots in the east side of the first phase will be as much as 25 feet above a ring road. Other lots, such as ones in the northwest corner of the first phase, are positioned around greenbelts. The majority of lots are graded flat, but some lots feature grade changes of as much as 10 feet, and some lots feature 90 feet of fall from the property line to adjacent open spaces. “They are set in these locations because that’s the way the topography worked,” Wagner said.
The first phase will feature multiple parks that include play equipment, benches and other features. All first-phase homes will be within five minutes of a park.
Several lots face north and east onto a park, with no street in front marring access or views. Instead, the garages and backs of the homes open up onto a cul-de-sac, which functions as an alley, Wagner said. “You’re going to see the fronts of these amazing houses rather than the back of a garage,” he said.
Thirty-five miles of hike and bike trails will connect the first phase. “We want to have hike and bike trails that go somewhere,” Wagner says.
The first phase and two-thirds of the entire development are in the fast-growing and high-performing Aledo Independent School District, and the rest is in the Fort Worth school district. The Aledo district is building its first planned school in the development, an elementary planned to open this fall near the community village, with the site donated by Walsh. The next phases are to the west and south of the first, and “that school is going to be centralized,” Wagner says.
The development could feature as many as eight elementary schools, a few middle schools and a high school at buildout, Wagner says.
Republic focused on technology as a “fourth utility,” after water, gas and electricity. It’s installing two gigabit internet speed in every home and school as the minimum connectivity standard. Residents won’t be billed for the fiber service, which it bills as twice as fast as other fiber internet providers in the area. The costs for the service will be covered by Walsh homeowner association dues, which Republic is finalizing and will cover front yard maintenance, the two-gig internet service, community maintenance, use of the common amenities, and access to activities.
Walsh and its provider Frog will make 10-gigabit service available to corporate campuses in future phases of the development; it’s also available to residents who want to upgrade their two-gigabit service. The entire fiber service will be adaptable to new technologies and able to add bandwidth.
“We want to make it very easy,” Wagner says. “The importance of the internet really can’t be understated with this place as it grows. We wanted to future-proof it to the technology.”
Mayor Betsy Price says Walsh’s technological investments should prove to be a strong economic development tool for the region. “Forward-thinking investments in technology like those seen at Walsh will be a great economic catalyst for creating new jobs and attracting corporate relations in Fort Worth,” she said.
Walsh is also contemplating what flourishes it can add to the community’s waste service. It will provide a concierge waste service to all homeowners. Homeowners will bring their carts curbside for pickup days; waste collection crews will bring them back up to the garages. “Minimally, we know we’re going to do that,” but Republic is considering other related services, Wagner says.
The village will be “the heart” of the first phase, Wagner says. The pool will include a resort-style pool for families, with cabanas and slides, and a separate Junior Olympic pool that is tied to the village’s 10,000-square-foot fitness center. The developer expects construction on the fitness center and pools to finish in early summer. The fitness center will include a daycare.
Construction on the recreational lake will continue into the early summer, the Walsh developers say. They’re working on a stream realignment to preserve as much natural landscape and grounds as possible. Residents will be able to use float kayaks, canoes and paddle boats on it.
The grocery store will be fashioned like an urban market to be operated by Republic with a management partner. “It’ll be something where you can get your staples, your milk, and your eggs and a bottle of wine,” Wagner says.
Republic went the route of operating the grocery store itself to protect its brand, Wagner says. “We’re very hands-on,” he says. “You lose a little bit of the ability [to control quality] if you lease it.”
The coworking space will open at 2,500 square feet and is aimed at appealing to the fast-growing community of independent contractors. With “more and more freelancers, coworking is becoming part of the larger trend,” Wagner says.
The 3,000-square-foot Makerspace at Walsh will open with a woodshop, computer design software and 3D printers, laser cutters, robotics, and an electronics lab. It will open with an “imagination playground,” and it will eventually have a garden where children can learn how to grow food. Mark Hatch, author of the best-seller The Maker Movement Manifesto, joined Republic for the Makerspace’s recent announcement, which included hands-on construction of some of the community buildings.
The space is designed to foster learning, entrepreneurship, and small business incubation, and it could also host HOA meetings early on, along with the co-working space.
“You see makerspaces built as part of public libraries,” Wagner says. “We want to get kids back to nature. We want to teach kids how to make things again. We want to be a catalyst for education and innovation.”
“The team at Walsh has truly embraced the spirit of the makers movement, giving people the tools and teaching them to build with their own hands,” Hatch said. “The Makerspace at Walsh will serve as a gathering place for adults to hone crafts or hobbies into skills, into second careers, and a source of inspiration for children as they learn to design, create and make the next generation of big ideas.”
Walsh’s plans for the Makerspace include year-around programming and classes open to Walsh residents, community groups, and businesses. The Aledo schools will host regular programs at the Makerspace, including summer camps.
The first-phase amenities could grow in size and offerings as more residents move in and the development continues to build out, Wagner says. “It can grow and evolve,” he said. The village, for one, will eventually have a large green space for concerts.
In future phases of the development, to the west and south of the first phase, Republic expects significant opportunity for commercial development, with the numbers of residences coming. Across all phases, Walsh expects more than 15,000 homes and 50,000 residents.
Highway access and the school district are also big pluses. Cook Children’s has already announced plans for a facility. Walsh is also interested in being in on discussions about future light rail and other transit options.
“Walsh has some amazing commercial opportunities,” Wagner says. “We’re hopeful we’re going to attract and create thousands of jobs. We can tailor a site to a large commercial relo.”
Republic sees the potential for 8 million square feet of retail, he said. But first things first. “Let’s get the residential out there, let’s build the value, and let’s look at the commercial opportunities as it matures,” he says.
All photos courtesy of Republic Property Group