County and state officials held a public meeting on the East Loop and its effects on the nationally-registered historic Byron Farmstead Thursday evening at Mary Martin Elementary School.
Chris Bosco with engineering firm Freese and Nichols first went over the initial stages of the West and East Loop projects.
“Back in 2003 and 2004, [Texas Department of Transportation] did a feasibility study for the entire loop and that study looked at both the west side and east side, and looked at multiple alignments. There were three public meetings during that process and at that time, it was called the Weatherford Loop Feasibility Study. Through that process the preferred alignment was selected for that route and then in 2008, the county had a bond program and based on that original study, the west side was recommended to be the first side that would go under construction,” Bosco said. “In 2008, as part of the other projects throughout the county, the West Loop was put on the bond election and voters approved that segment. The county went on to develop that project and it was later renamed Ric Williamson Memorial Highway.”
In 2012, the county started looking at the alignment study for the east side portion, Bosco said.
“Because development had occurred since the 2003 study, that’s when we started having public meetings related to the eastern segment of the loop and those occurred from 2012 to 2016 when the county put a bond election out,” Bosco said. “Among other projects throughout the county, the East Loop was included in that and voters approved that project. Since then we’ve been developing the project and the section from Interstate 20 to [U.S.] 180 is under construction at the moment — it aligns with the work on I-20 that TxDOT is doing, the Center Point Road interchange — and that is the first part of this loop.”
A brief history of the 85.5-acre farmstead shows Charlie Byron and his wife, Ashley, purchased the property in 1902 — the cabin was built on the property by Will and Ina Kerby in 1893. Byron was an English circus clown, among other things, and wrote the song “Diamond In The Rough,” which has been recorded by several artists, including Johnny Cash. Byron planted three black walnut trees on the property, which still stand today, to remind him of his native country, England.
Following Charlie and Ashley’s death, Ashley’s sisters started a successful dairy business on the property with 170 cows that operated from 1935 to 1983.
Emily Reed, architectural historian with Cox McClain Environmental Consulting, went over what their firm has done through the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106.
“This means that federal agencies have to consider the effects of their actions and their projects on historic properties. For this project, our team went out and the Byron Farmstead was already listed [on the National Register of Historic Places] and so part of our work was reevaluating that property and confirming that it still had its integrity and remained eligible for listing on the national register, which it did,” Reed said. “We also made a couple of recommendations about individual buildings that were not included in the previous nomination and some recommendations about what’s called contributing and non-contributing buildings.”
Reed said their team also scanned the area surrounding the farmstead, as part of Section 106, to ensure there were no other historic properties around the proposed East Loop alignment, concluding that the Byron Farmstead was the only property in the area with historic value.
“The next step is evaluating the effect that this project can have on that resource if it were to be constructed, so we’ve been working with the engineers throughout this process with a goal of minimizing the impact to the farmstead because the way the alignment is, it kind of ends on both sides of the farmstead, so we’re trying to find a way to get it through that path with the least impact possible,” Reed said. “They were able to avoid impacts to all the buildings on the property, but the proposed roadway would still bisect the farmstead. The next step is mitigation, so if this project is going to move forward they would need to come up with mitigation to kind of offset the adverse effect of going through that farmstead. Public input is a very important part of that and we want to hear from you about ideas you might have for mitigation.”
The Texas Historical Commission’s role has been similar to that of Cox McClain’s.
“The Byron Farmstead is on the National Register of Historic Places, so that being that it has qualified under that federal code, it’s our job to go in and review the plan that’s going to affect or not affect the national register property,” Texas Historical Commission Media Relations Coordinator Bailey Curwick said. “We do a study and review to see how strong of an impact that development would have and if it’s going to have larger effects or no effects, we complete that study and give it to the agency that’s doing the development and they have to take it under consideration as they’re doing their development.”
Residents were asked to fill out comment cards to turn in with their ideas for mitigation and feedback on the project, which will then be reviewed and considered by the officials involved in the East Loop project.
Parker County resident Ross Mullens read a speech he wrote aloud for those in attendance to hear, saying the Byron Farmstead should have never been considered for road construction.
“Every growing community faces similar challenges — how to balance the need to accommodate growth while serving the needs of current residents and preserving the past. Our identity includes our history. All 85.5 acres of the Byron Homestead matter. No amount of the Byron Homestead should have ever been considered for road construction. Our elected officials should know better,” Mullens said. “Rural Parker County residents are still important. I hope our history means more than a slab of concrete that will crack in five years’ time. The result of such direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on Parker County with regard to destroying or altering places like the Byron Homestead are only negative, negligent and irreparable. The Byron Homestead is one of the few hallmarks of our heritage still remaining. Protect it. Residents of Parker County don’t want to compromise these rare physical reminders of who we are. Do what is right by honoring our wishes.”
The United States Corps of Engineers required the county to go through this process to determine the impact on the Byron Farmstead before construction can take place.
“Because this is affecting a historic district that’s on the National Register of Historic Places and there would be an adverse effect through the Corps permitting process, we felt it necessary and public involvement is part of Section 106 and this is a big avenue for public involvement where we informally talk to concerns citizens about the project, inform them about the Corps of Engineers role,” Corps of Engineers Evaluation Branch Chief for the Fort Worth District Jennifer Walker said. “Our role is that Parker County, the applicant, has come to the Corps of Engineers for a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act because in conjunction with constructing this project it would have to impact waters that are regulated by the Corps of Engineers and through that process, we have to comply with other federal regulations and one of those is Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. We’re really hoping we get good comments and we’re hoping that our interaction with the public will allow us to understand the public’s views and see how to best move forward.”