Absent new information about a divisive plan to relieve traffic "hell" on U.S. Highway 380, tensions and name-calling have ratcheted up in Collin County.
One of the latest broadsides came from a Keller Williams agent at a recent McKinney City Council meeting. In his comments, he called Prosper residents "flat-earthers" because of their opposition to a suggested bypass route that would cut through a piece of their town to avoid McKinney homes and businesses.
Some residents were upset by Jerry Nelson's remarks and concerned about the perception that the real estate giant might be trying to sway plans for a potential route. Residents passed around video of Nelson's comments on Facebook, LinkedIn and by email.
But officials say they're not worried. Prosper Mayor Ray Smith chuckled at the flat-earther comment,
"As an elected person, you got to have a sense of humor," he said. "If you don't, you will be offended quite often."
Prosper wouldn't be affected much by the state's official draft proposal to relieve congestion on U.S. 380 as part of a feasibility study. The potential alignments either run along the current highway or create a bypass highway east of Custer Road, with some options bisecting the Tucker Hill neighborhood in McKinney.
But those proposals haven't sat well with some McKinney property owners. The Tucker Hill neighborhood's development company threw a contentious wrinkle into the debate when it circulated a plan that would run a bypass west of Custer into part of Prosper.
That idea has been met with rebukes from Prosper residents and its town council. They said at a packed town hall this summer that moving the road near them would hinder development in their fast-growing town.
Smith said both cities are fighting to do what is best for their communities and residents.
"You get emotions taken out of it, maybe there's a solution there," Smith said.
But the emotions are running high. Prosper residents don't like the idea of McKinney dumping a highway on them. Some McKinney residents unaffected by the possible routes have told their neighbors to suck it up because they knew the risks when they bought their homes and businesses. And those who will be potentially affected retort that they never anticipated a high-speed road cutting through their neighborhood.
During a McKinney council meeting, Nelson upped the ante when he called Prosper residents "flat-earthers" for not supporting the west-of-Custer option.
"We're asking TxDOT cut through Prosper, cut through the ranch land, don't go up 380 and cause a tremendous amount of problems," he said.
Nelson, who started his comments by saying he represented Keller Williams, later clarified that the opinions were his own and said in an interview that he's sorry he made the remarks.
Keller Williams said in a statement that the company does not have a position on the project and has asked Nelson to publicly apologize.
Tucker Hill neighborhood sits up against U.S. 380 in McKinney on July 20. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)
(Vernon Bryant/Staff Photographer)
But the realty franchise is a tenant at an office building owned by Jack Harvard, who also owns a stake in Keller Williams Realty McKinney North Collin County. Harvard has proposed an alternative route that also runs west of Custer Road and would save existing businesses — including possibly his office space — and higher-density neighborhoods of McKinney.
Harvard said he's personally not in favor of widening the existing U.S. 380. But he denies that his personal interests are a motivation. He said the county needs more roads to keep up with growth, but they ought to be built in less developed areas.
"Keller Williams represents everybody, and they sell houses and they don't get involved in politics," Harvard said. "That doesn't mean I, as a person, don't have opinions."
McKinney residents listen to public comments regarding a plan to expand U.S. Highway 380 during a City Council meeting at McKinney City Hall in July.
(Jason Janik/Special Contributor)
Collin officials have declared the road a necessity because the county is expected to double in size before 2030 and surpass the individual populations of Dallas and Tarrant counties by reaching 3.5 million residents by 2050.
County Judge Keith Self said upgrading U.S. 380 is the county's No. 1 priority.
Voters will decide on the Nov. 6 election ballot whether to pay for $750 million in transportation improvements.
City leaders have said they're at a standstill on a U.S. 380 solution for now. The transportation department plans to hold additional public meetings Oct. 4, 9 and 11 to discuss potential alignments.
Collin County resident Matthew Weyenberg speaks to the McKinney City Council about improvements to U.S. Highway 380 that could impact his property.
(Louis DeLuca/2017 File Photo)
McKinney's City Council has yet to take a firm stance on the route options. McKinney Mayor George Fuller said what he knows for sure is that driving on 380 now "is hell" and will only get worse. He said council members plan to discuss the alignments at an upcoming work session this month, and hopefully will come to a consensus.
Fuller said he understands people's passion when their homes and livelihood are at stake. But he said city leaders are waiting on more information from TxDOT and could revise the city's preferences in the future.
"There's a whole lot of positions being taken with a whole lot of information missing," he said.
McKinney Mayor George Fuller (right) and wife Maylee looked over maps of possible U.S. Highway 380 alignment routes during a public meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in McKinney in April.
(Stewart F. House/Special Contributor)
Ultimately, Fuller said he will support measures that mitigate the negative impact on McKinney. But if a bypass route is favored over an expansion, Fuller personally prefers the unofficial west-of-Custer option.
Fuller said he's received emails from people threatening to campaign against the county's bond if McKinney leaders do not support their position — whether for a bypass option or for widening existing U.S. 380.
"I don't say this without understanding the impact," the mayor said. "If my home, my family was there, and all of the sudden there's this potential of a freeway in my backyard, God, that would be horrible."