Bois d’Arc Lake Plan and Zoning Honored by APA Texas

As the North Texas population rapidly grows, the new Bois d’Arc Lake in Fannin County is crucial for meeting water demand for the new homes and jobs being created. Over the last decade, more than 1 million new residents moved to North Texas, including 158,000 in 2018 alone.

The lake is the first reservoir constructed in Texas in 30 years. Located northeast of the City of Bonham and just south of the Texas/Oklahoma border, Bois d’Arc Lake will serve the 13 cities that make up the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). Because the project is transforming a region of urban and rural areas, NTMWD partnered with Fannin County to develop a detailed framework governing development around the lake. Freese and Nichols worked with the County to create a comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance for the area within 5,000 feet of the lake’s shoreline the reflects the vision of public officials, residents and other stakeholders.

The comprehensive plan focuses on land use, transportation, and parks and recreation, and County Commissioners will use it along with the zoning ordinance to create a sound development pattern around the lake when construction is complete.

This the first known lake in Texas to have a comprehensive plan/zoning regulation in place before the lake has been filled.

Urban and rural needs often are portrayed as in conflict, but Fannin County’s experience shows how to bridge the divide so both areas can benefit.

Texas’ vast population and economic growth over the last decade has occurred mainly in urban counties, while rural counties have seen their populations declining. NTMWD serves the critical function of providing the water resources for one of the nation’s fastest growing areas, but to accommodate anticipated growth, the District worked integrally with rural Fannin County on the multiple components of creating the new reservoir.

The innovative partnership resulted in a dynamic relationship where both parties benefited from working together. A key example was NTMWD providing the funding to Fannin County for both the lake comprehensive plan and new lake zoning.

The partnership model serves as an example of good planning that other public entities can follow. In an era of limited resources, partners can share costs or transfer them from an entity with fewer resources to one with greater resources. Working jointly, both entities are able to promote public health, safety and welfare.

The land around Bois d’Arc Lake is expected to bring in new housing development along with jobs, and the lake could become a premier recreation destination. Planned recreational trails will connect to the Northeast Texas Trail, which will be the longest hike/bike trail in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States.

The plan and zoning regulations highlight how effective planning can lay a solid foundation for a high level of effectiveness over time.

Building momentum was important to the project’s success, with educating and listening to the public critical components of gaining public support. Some members of the community initially opposed the lake, but as momentum built and understanding progressed, concerned citizens accepted creation of the lake and focused on preserving the area around it. To achieve that, planning groups were established and worked to keep the natural and rural feeling that County residents valued and to prevent undesirable development.

The surface area of Bois d’Arc Lake covers approximately 16,600 acres or 26 square miles, which means the lake affects numerous public interests, including county residents who often are left out of the traditional planning process. While many county residents enjoy their rural connection to nature, they typically have little input on development that affects their properties. This project gave residents a voice.

Public outreach included stakeholder interviews, open houses, and online education and involvement. Those involved included nine school districts, three cities and the County District Attorney and Sheriff’s Department. During many planning projects, impacts on school districts (enrollment, tax base, etc.) and emergency responders can be overlooked, so it was important to take those into consideration.

The project gained public and private support as the planning progressed and residents understood more about what the comprehensive plan and zoning regulations could do for them and how they could have a voice.

For example, one chapter of the plan focuses on parks, recreation and trails, so a Fannin County Equestrian Trails Association was created to help develop the area as a recreational destination. A Lake Zoning Commission also was created to provide public planning oversight. And County staff now is dedicated to plan implementation and zoning management.

This planning and zoning process gave residents an extraordinary opportunity to help shape one of the largest projects ever to occur in their County — and the region. The comprehensive plan provided the vision for what lake area can become, but residents also needed the predictability of zoning and land use controls to guide the vision to reality.

Today, the lake comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance are being used daily by the County. And residents are actively participating in the zoning process. Residents receive notices of zoning change requests and have more information and control over decisions that affect their properties. During the development of the project, the County wisely selected members for the Lake Zoning Commission who represent the full range of opinions on zoning.