— By CHRISTIN COYNE
WILLOW PARK – Facing a packed room and annexation supporters that included church members, developers and a chamber of commerce representative, the Willow Park City Council approved a request Tuesday night to annex a 10-acre tract of land into the city.
The annexation is the first step in a process that two contract-purchasers hope ends with a skilled-nursing facility and an assisted-living facility off of Crown Pointe Boulevard within the next year and a half.
On the heels of other annexation requests that became heated issues between developers and some members of council in recent years, the request appeared to be regarded with hesitation by some city council members. However, the council voted unanimously to grant the request to add the area, currently owned by the Willow Park Baptist Church, to the city.
An apartment complex is currently being built on neighboring property and Trinity Health Resources has presented information to the city indicating they hope to build a medical facility and future hospital at the corner of Crown Pointe Boulevard and the Interstate 20 service road.
Some city council members, including Amy Podany, Dan Stalling and Bernard Suchocki, have expressed concern about the impact of the proposed developments on the city and the ability of the city to provide services.
The issue was delayed during two prior meetings, with staff asked to do more analysis of the impact and to allow error, which left out a small piece of area needed for the future roadway, to be corrected.
Several spoke during the public hearing Tuesday night.
Robert Cramer, the owner and operator of College Park Nursing and Rehab in Weatherford, presented brochures with pictures of the planned 54,000-square-foot building to council members.
They hope to build a 128-bed facility, providing both rehabilitation and long-term care services, he said.
They expect to pay a total of more than $100,000 in taxes each year, according to Cramer.
The Weatherford facility has been open for four years and Cramer said they see a demand for rehabilitation services and long term nursing care in the area.
College Park Nursing and Rehab, one of several similar facilities in Weatherford, is full, has a wait list and has to send people to facilities in Fort Worth or other locations, Cramer told the council.
“The demographics are probably better here than any place we’ve built,” Cramer said.
Tami Fitzgerald, the facility administrator for College Park Nursing and Rehab since it opened and expects to be involved in opening the Willow Park facility, said they expect the business to add at least 120 jobs, most of them skilled, licensed staff.
They are ready to move forward with their plans and hope to begin adding residents in the building by December or January, Cramer told the council.
Dr. Sanjeeb Shrestha, a practicing gastroenterologist in Weatherford, told the council that he sees a great need for assisted-living facilities in the area as many residents are sent to other cities.
He hopes to build a smaller facility with total of 50 beds and expects the business to add 20 to 30 jobs in the area, Shrestha said.
“If we have the facilities here, our parents, grandparents can be in a very friendly environment,” Shrestha said.
He and other investors have been working on the assisted-living facility project for about a year and most of their plans were at a standstill because of the annexation issue, Shrestha said.
Willow Park Baptist Church’s treasurer and finance committee chair told the council that they purchased the 82-acre area to build a church campus and hoped to move forward with the annexation of the 10 acres Tuesday night, so the church could sell a portion of the property to help pay off the church’s debt.
Lisa Flowers, president of the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce, said she met with a developer and the skilled nursing facility two years ago and just assumed all of it was taken care of and approved.
“I would like to encourage Willow Park to bring more commercial business to the city in a more timely manner,” Flowers said. “Secondly, the chamber’s here to promote businesses that will add value to our community and we are in favor of an assisted-living facility in East Parker County.”
“So I would like for y’all to pass this,” Flowers said. “Let’s move forward. I think it would be good for the community.”
Pat Martin, a neighbor, church member and area title company businesswoman, also spoke in favor of the annexation.
“It’s amazing how one stumbling block can keep these things from going through,” Martin said.
She said the city needs to be encouraging businesses to come.
City building inspector Jason Peninger told the council that the church’s application was technically complete and the city had everything viable for the annexation to occur.
After the vote, Suchocki made a statement saying he is concerned about whether the city can supply water to the developments and is concerned about the city’s debt service.
“There’s a lot of underlying problems and I think these are getting fixed,” Suchocki said, adding that he’s anticipating that they will with the new council.
Given that, and having facilities in Willow Park and the ad valorem taxes from the area, Suchocki said it was close vote for him.
Zoning and site plan requests from the developers are among the additional issues that are expected to come before council in upcoming months.