Hundreds of acres of property north of West Cumberland Road could be developed in the next decade as part of a plan by a major real estate company in Tyler.

The Genecov Group, which specializes in managing a commercial real estate portfolio, owns 320 acres of property that stretches between South Broadway Avenue and Old Jacksonville Highway.

While most of it is currently zoned for agricultural use, the company has started seeking approval for changes on 18.2 acres to be able to use the land for residential space, commercial buildings and a combination of the two.

The long-term development, which the company says could take more than a decade, would include hundreds of new homes near the Hollytree subdivision plus dozens of acres of new commercial space fronting major roadways.

This would be the biggest development in the rapidly growing area since the city of Tyler built West Cumberland Road in 2016 to connect South Broadway Avenue with Old Jacksonville Highway and provide greater development access in what was once called the Cumberland Gap.

And it comes on the heels of public infrastructure built in the past several years to accommodate the growth: the addition of Jack Elementary School, the Faulker Police Station, and the planned fire station on Cherryhill Drive, among other facilities. 

Developers and officials with the city of Tyler say such development has been expected for years. But the situation came to a head at a Tyler Planning and Zoning Commission meeting this month when residents of the Hollytree subdivision said they were concerned about the changes and wanted more information.

“This goes back many years,” said Mark Priestner, the owner of Planning Concepts, which is working for the Genecov Group. “This was one of the premises of the city of Tyler getting Cumberland Road built and making the connection over to Broadway was to open up this area where it is ready for development, so we’re very excited.”

Planned development

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A map of the current and planned roads near Old Jacksonville Highway and West Cumberland Road in Tyler. Most of the undeveloped land north of Cumberland Road is owned by the Genecov Group. (Brian Crane/Tyler Morning Telegraph) 

The city of Tyler started building West Cumberland in 2014 with revenue from the half-percent sales tax, also called the half-cent sales tax, and opened it to traffic in the summer of 2016. The final pricetag on the road was $17.3 million.

“Four hundred acres can be developed into mixed-use centers due to being able to open this roadway,” city manager Ed Broussard said at a news conference announcing the road’s opening. “The demand is here. The demand is now. We are excited about getting this road open because of what it will do for the community.”

Ray McKinney, the president of the Genecov Group, said in an interview that his company, Roosth Properties, and a third company have owned more than 400 acres in the area since the 1980s. The land has since been divided up, leaving Genecov with 320 acres, he said.

“The property stretches out all the way over to Old Jacksonville,” McKinney said. “And basically the layout is primarily going to be — the commercial would be (what) borders those major roadways like Cumberland and Old Jacksonville, and then it transitions into the residential to protect that residential part.”

Heather Nick, the managing director of planning and economic development for the city of Tyler, said in an interview that her staff has been working on the Genecov Group project for a few months, and development of the area has been in city planning documents for more than a decade.

“The city has a vision for how the community would like to see the city develop,” Nick said. “It’s always helpful to make sure that you have a plan that you have a vision on how you want your city to develop.”

One city plan, which outlines where new streets should be built, calls for Hollytree Drive to be extended west until it meets Old Jacksonville Highway. The Genecov Group currently owns most of the land in question where that new road would be built.

The city’s plan also calls for the extension of Dueling Oaks Drive east to connect with Hollytree Drive; the extension of Cherryhill Drive north from West Cumberland Road to Dueling Oaks; and the creation of Maple Lane to run north from West Cumberland to Hollytree Drive.

One of Genecov’s subsidiaries, Genecov West Mud Creek LLC, and business partner Roosth Properties LLC, built the road in 2018, and it opened to through traffic in JulyCherryhill Drive is in the process of being extended 400 feet north of West Cumberland.

Another development company finished the extension of Dueling Oaks to Old Jacksonville as part of a project building homes on Old Farm Road, the southernmost road in the Hollytree subdivision. The extension was opened to traffic in September, according to the city. 

Nick said the Genecov Group’s proposed development near West Cumberland is a natural progression of building a major new road. The city requires new subdivisions to be facing roads, and once empty land is facing an existing road, it becomes developable, she said.

She pointed to the new businesses that opened on the Earl Campbell Parkway after it was built. A craft brewery, a health insurance company and a dialysis center are among the businesses that have opened on that road.

“It’s certainly a positive because you are furthering the economic development within your community,” Nick said.

Community reaction

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The extension of Dueling Oaks Drive is pictured west of Hollytree Drive on Thursday Jan. 31, 2019. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Ten residents spoke at and dozens more attended a Jan. 8 meeting of the Tyler Planning and Zoning Commission in opposition to a proposal to rezone the 18.2 acres of the property.

Most lived in Hollytree, an upscale subdivision north of Cumberland Road and south of East Grande Boulevard, where it’s common for single-family homes to sell for more than $500,000.

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An image of the Genecov Group's land proposed for zoning changes as provided in a zoning application on Dec. 3. 

The city’s planning staff had recommended approval of Genecov’s requested zoning change based on the percentage of adjacent property owners who protested the zoning change — zero. The Hollytree subdivision is not adjacent. 

Texas law requires cities to send notices in the mail to anyone who owns property within 200 feet of a property seeking a zoning change. If a high percentage of those property owners protest, a supermajority of the City Council has to vote in favor of the change for it to pass. None of the mailed notices were returned in protest.

However, three of the five surrounding properties of the 18 acres are owned by Genecov West Mud Creek LLC, according to the planning documents. The fourth is owned by West Cumberland LLC, whose registered agent is the president of Roosth Companies, and the fifth is owned by Tyler Blue Ridge LLC, which sold some land in the area to Genecov and Roosth.

Hollytree resident Janna McClure, who said she was seeking to represent the soccer moms in the neighborhood, criticized what she considered a lack of neighborhood involvement in the zoning process, and criticized the city for having a vice president for the Genecov Group sitting on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“I really feel like it’s time that big corporations and committees like the Planning and Zoning (Commission) and City Council work with Tyler citizens and not commercial real estate groups in making Tyler better,” McClure said.

McClure added: “I really want all of us to work together and plan as a community what to build, and not just flippantly approve zoning requests that allow the businesses in Tyler to have the upper hand in establishing our culture.”

Another member of the Planning and Zoning Commission told McClure that the panel is independent, and city staffers said the members are valued for their expertise in their fields. 

The public testimony prompted the Planning and Zoning Commission to delay a decision on the zoning change for a month. The issue can be reconsidered again in February or at a future monthly meeting.

Nick, from the city, said Tyler seeks to give property owners more notice of potential zoning changes and development than Texas law requires. And she said the commission’s decision to delay a decision is proof that city officials do care about opinions of the general public. 

For example, the city sends out notices in the mail to neighbors five days before state law requires, and has its own requirement that a bright yellow sign be posted on the property 10 days before a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting so anyone driving by is alerted of the proposed zoning change, she said.

“They were there, and their voices were heard, and instead of that case being approved or recommended for approval, the Planning and Zoning Commission actually said, ‘OK, it sounds like they need more time’ and they tabled it,” Nick said.

She added: “Anytime that neighbors or surrounding property owners have an opportunity to meet with an applicant, to see the overall vision, that’s a good thing, because they can fully understand what’s being proposed, and they can have their concerns addressed.”

Moving forward

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A rendering of 320 acres of planned development north of West Cumberland Road in Tyler, Texas. (Courtesy)

The Genecov Group followed up with a community meeting at the Faulkner Park South Police Station the week after the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

Trey Brewer, the vice president of real estate for the Genecov Group, said Hollytree residents, city officials and Councilwoman Linda Sellers, who represents the area, attended the meeting.

Brewer said the company presented a more comprehensive master plan of how it plans to develop most of the 320 acres, including single-family lots south of Dueling Oaks Drive and north of an extended Hollytree Drive, and commercial property fronting Old Jacksonville.

“We had a really good conversation with them showing what our overall vision is, and I think they came out of the meeting a lot more comfortable with what our overall master plan is,” Brewer said.

John Hart, the president of the Hollytree Homeowners Association, said in an interview the board of directors hasn’t taken a position on the development yet. However, he said he has heard mixed opinions on the project from individual residents.

He said many of the residents were relieved when the Genecov Group agreed to limit townhomes near the Hollytree development to upscale townhomes with a maximum of two stories, and limit the closest commercial development to office buildings that are generally open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We’re not excited about the additional traffic, we’re not excited about having an additional building in what we perceive to be our residential area, but the proposed development is more acceptable and less onerous than other things that could be put in their place,” Hart said.

Brit Conner, who sits on the board of the Hollytree Homeowners Association, said his concern about the new project is the same as he had about Asher Park, an office space development near the intersection of Hollytree Drive and East Grande Boulevard to the north.

“We just don’t think the city should be putting densely developed residences and commercial properties inside what would normally be a residential neighborhood,” Conner said.

He said the city should "avoid setting up isolated commercial developments, and so they could keep commercial to the commercial and residential to the residential, and we don’t like the idea of it approaching into the residential neighborhoods with commercial establishments." 

Conner added: “The impression I have is that Genecov is an upstanding, really top-notch firm that if we’re going to have development we’ll probably have the best treatment from them, but we’re certainly very worried about what the city planners are doing.”

McKinney, the president of the Genecov Group, said the company kept track of ideas and feedback residents had on the proposed development during the community meeting and is seeking to incorporate some of those ideas where possible.

McKinney also commended the residents of Hollytree for their passion on the issue and how much they care about their neighborhood. “They’re very proud of it and they should be,” he said. “It’s a great development.

“They really care, and that’s important to us that they care,” McKinney said. “And we’re glad to see that, and that just makes us more excited about having a development or continuing adjacent development alongside those people.”

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Erin came to Tyler from Vermont, where she worked for VTDigger.org and previously the Rutland Herald. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also attended journalism school.

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