Once upon a time, a decade or two ago, Farmers Branch was a sleepy suburb with older homes, older shopping centers, and older infrastructure. It wasn’t a bad place to live, but it wasn’t exactly topping the charts of vibrant cities in DFW.
The housing stock, in particular, was fraying around the edges and many aging residences needed a total overhaul. But Farmers Branch reached buildout in the 1970s, so if something new was to go in, something old needed to leave.
But then the city woke up. They adopted a forward-thinking, progressive approach, and builders and developers took notice. The city, which already had parks and green space, has started better utilizing those areas for residents and visitors. Shopping centers and other commercial buildings are getting facelifts, partially funded by the city. Dilapidated houses are being torn down on the city’s dime and the empty land sold to encourage better homes with a higher tax base. Multi-family developments are in phased developments to create a work-play-live, walkable atmosphere.
The result? A Renaissance, of sorts, showing up across all sectors of the Farmers Branch community. This suburb is sleepy no more.
Farmers Branch is an old city, first settled in the early 1850s and incorporated in 1946. Today, around 30,000 residents call it home, and part of the appeal is its location. It is is just 13 miles from DFW International Airport, 10 miles from Love Field, 14 miles from downtown Dallas, and close to Interstate 635, Interstate 35, and the Dallas North Tollway. They’ve also got a DART Light Rail station on the green line. Getting places is not a problem in Farmers Branch.
One of the city’s hubs is the Brookhaven Country Club, which prides itself on affordable memberships. With three full-featured 18-hole golf courses, 41 tennis courts, athletic facility, racquetball courts, three swimming pools, child development center, and more, Brookhaven plays a part in the social and recreation time of many Farmers Branch residents.
The availability of housing backing up to the golf course, or nearby, is part of the draw of living here. Then there’s also the cost.
“You can’t be this close to LBJ, the Tollway, and 35 on a golf course for this price point—it just doesn’t exist, except [in Farmers Branch],” said Hogan Jordan, senior loan officer with First National Bank and a Farmers Branch native. “People are seeing they can live on a golf course with a brand new custom house for well under a million dollars.”
How far under a million? Try $450K as a starting price for a truly custom home, from top to bottom.
Todd Bonneau, owner of Todd Bonneau Homes and a Farmers Branch native, was one of the first to jump into the custom market in Farmers Branch in the late 1990s. In one neighborhood called Branch Crossing, there are 60 new homes, and Bonneau built about 30 of them.
“People thought we were nuts, but I sold one a week before it was finished [back then],” Bonneau said. “In Branch Crossing, you’re near Farmers Branch Historical Park, the rose gardens, and Gussie Park, and I’ve built on creek lots here, too. Buyers can get a great value and they’re near so much.”
About one-third of Branch Crossing homes have turned over since then, part of the city’s demo/rebuild property tax rebate program. It encourages the redevelopment of existing single-family detached residential properties with the construction of new, higher value homes.
“When you’re built-out, you have to get creative, you have to revitalize — you can’t just build new everywhere,” said Allison Cook, Economic Development Manager for Farmers Branch. “A lot of demo-rebuilds are around the country club area — it’s scattered all over the city, but the majority are there.”
This program offers seven consecutive years of city taxes paid back to the homeowner plus up to $5,000 upfront to tear down the existing structure.
A second program has the city itself identifying and tearing down distressed properties, then selling the empty lot, essentially paying for the demo themselves and saving homebuilders the expense of doing it.
“Our ROI is over time – we started doing this in Branch Crossing in 1999, then it went on hold for a while and picked back up in 2010,” Cook said. “I [take] a loss because I tore down an asset I bought, but we get stronger homes, which means stronger property taxes for the city.”
This new development is having a big impact.
“People are rediscovering Farmers Branch—when I have an open house, I’ll have 50 to 60 people from all over Dallas,” said Doug Chitwood, a Realtor with Nathan Grace Real Estate and a Farmers Branch native. “New development is what’s driving the the new builds—it’s not just Brookhaven [Country Club].
The city also offers a program to rehab older commercial structures, like the shopping center at Valley View and Josey lanes, Branch Shopping Center, which has a new exterior. It’s called the Commercial Facade Grant Program, and any building owner can apply to revitalize older buildings on exterior. The city’s taxes are 80 percent commercial, so this is a big deal.
“Branch Shopping Center has had the same owner for 30 years, and when this program started about four years ago, we reached out to him,” Cook said. “For each asset or building, we award a matching grant up to 50 percent, up to $50,000. It’s good for anything exterior, and the amount depends on the scope of the project.”
The Branch Shopping Center owner got two grants for two buildings and put it toward exterior, signage, and it totally transformed the place. Another success story is the Texas Security Bank, an old industrial building on Belt Line Road, which applied and got a commercial facade grant and updated the exterior.
Another area of growth is in mixed-use development. Mustang Crossing is a just such a bright idea, within walking distance of the DART Light Rail station in Farmers Branch. It includes shopping, dining, sports, entertainment, and Mustang Station, a four-story building with 300,000 square feet in total, with 257 apartment units on the upper floors and 10,000 square feet on the ground floor for retail.
Nearby, the Farmers Branch Market is a farmer’s market just getting off the ground and attracting not only residents, but visitors, also. They’ve also got the new Firehouse Theatre, created from a decommissioned 1950s, city-owned fire station. It’s now a fantastic community theater getting rave reviews.
Farmers Branch is not trying to become like any other suburb, just become a better version of itself, Cook said.
“From an economic development perspective, you have to know what you have and who you are,” she said. “We can build on who we already are and improve that.”