Near the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Tarrant County, TX, locals have a saying about the aircraft reverberations in the sky: “That noise is the sound of freedom.”
Despite the noise, the Joint Reserve Base forms a big part of the area’s identity and economy. The seven cities that surround the base—Benbrook, Fort Worth, Lake Worth, River Oaks, Sansom Park, Westworth Village, and White Settlement, TX—have a vested interest in supporting that economy, and in growing together as a region. In 2010, they came together to form the Planning for Livable Military Communities (PLMC) project, made possible by a Community Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The PLMC project builds on the seven cities’ 2008 Joint Land Use Study, created in coordination with Tarrant County, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and other transportation and housing stakeholders. The resulting Regional Vision Report offers a blueprint for advancing common economic and quality-of-life interests through collaborative strategies among the communities, with the five smaller communities also producing their own comprehensive plan visioning document that outline specific goals, policies, and actions to improve quality of life, economic development, transportation options, housing choice, intergovernmental coordination, and cooperation with military operations.
Real estate market analysis determined that aging buildings and disinvestment were causing a tax base decline in many parts of the study area. From this analysis, the seven communities came together to identify six catalyst sites for targeted reinvestment, which could together generate up to $41 million in annual revenues and add 9,400 jobs within the next 10 to 20 years. Additionally, they produced strategies for revitalization through business development, a new technology center, and branding an identity for the area.
The process’s housing analysis component revealed that the area had a noticeable lack of diversity in housing choices and a lack of mid-range value homes. Strategies developed to address the gap included expanding housing choices, particularly townhouse and cottage-style housing, and consideration of form-based codes or other development regulations to encourage quality development. Many area building codes were found on review to be outdated, including out-of-date sound attenuation standards in areas around the base with the highest noise levels.
Kendall Wendling, a lead transportation planner on the project, says that the level of coordination has been phenomenal. “Since the majority of these communities are of similar population size and demographics, they would normally be competing with each other, but through this process they have been collaborating–working together to attract growth that is compatible with the base.”
Since the PLMC project officially ended, some of the greatest action has occurred around enhancing transportation options, which are currently limited even as the area confronts rapidly growing congestion. Highway “reinvention” plans developed in 2012 are moving forward, as are pedestrian and bicycle improvements to enhance access to the base.
On State Highway 183, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) is working with the communities to produce a corridor master plan focused on economic development, context sensitive solutions, and multimodal transportation options. One goal of the master plan is the inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian amenities to reduce congestion along the corridor.
On State Highway 199, a much more heavily traveled corridor, $1,000,000 in funding for the corridor plan has already been secured, and the coalition-building process has brought onboard the Texas Department of Transportation and the Cities of Fort Worth, Sansom Park, and Lake Worth. Next, NCTCOG hopes to add a consultant to the team and move forward.
In Westworth Village, one bicycle and pedestrian project is already moving forward—the first in the base area since the completion of the PLMC study. Initial security concerns from the base were ameliorated by shifting the bicycle path to an off-street trail, and funding and construction will proceed in 2015-16. In response to feedback from residents, authorities are also exploring funding options to develop public transit service.
Thanks to the PLMC project, ongoing collaborative economic development efforts have been strengthened as well. The Northwest Tarrant County Economic Development Coalition, formed by area cities along with local Chamber of Commerce staff, meets quarterly to collaborate on attracting economic sectors to the area.
NCTCOG hosts a development review tool to encourage compatible land use with the base’s priorities. This tool is online, open, and its use is voluntary. The communities surrounding the base have embraced it: comments and project proposals submitted through the tool are included in community project meetings, generating feedback on whether potential land use changes are compatible with base operations.
Though the Planning for Livable Military Communities project closed out in 2013, its success in creating conversation, collaboration, and resources continues to reverberate. The combined efforts of the seven communities of North Central Texas provide a testament to what small communities can achieve working together as a region.