Someone must be doing something right in Lake Highlands. How else to explain the windfall of development in and around the area?

There are at least four separate residential projects going on that can only serve to improve upon Lake Highlands’ reputation as a neighborhood overrun with more than its fair share of apartment dwellers.

They are:

  • Trimark Realty Investments – Headed by Bill Baldridge, Trimark is renovating two apartment complexes and nearly 80 townhomes at Forest and Abrams.
  • Urban Reserve – This project, by Urban Edge Developers, is near Royal and Central, bordered by White Rock Creek. They have yet to break ground, but when finished, it will be a Dallas’ first community of modernist homes in a low-impact, environmentally sustainable development.
  • The Heights of Lake Highlands – Lincoln Properties, of the ever-popular complex The Village apartments near Greenville and Lovers, recently took over management and is overseeing a $3 million renovation of this existing 280-unit apartment complex at Kingsley and Audelia, formerly called Highland Crest.
  • Dixon Branch – Little has been released about this David Weekley development at Plano Road and Northwest Highway, but it should be finished by sometime next year, says a David Weekley spokesperson.

All these projects have more than a few neighborhood residents thinking: “Finally!”

Sheryl Wesson, manager of Ebby Halliday’s Northeast Dallas and Lakewood offices and a longtime Lake Highlands resident, is one of those. Though projects like these have been a long time coming, Wesson says they make “perfectly good sense.”

“Lake Highlands has never gotten away from the small town atmosphere. People know people; they have a lot of pride in the neighborhood, and many are very community-minded,” she says.

She also thinks people are finally realizing that Lake Highlands’ location within Dallas is perfect.

“You only have to get on a freeway to go downtown, to go to the cultural events, to partake of the arts district or Fair Park or anything the city provides. Plus, you’re right by the lake and the trails.”

This development trend, she says, will continue to grow.

“Excitement breeds excitement, I think,” Wesson says. “We here in my office have been contacted by at least three other developers who want to find land in the Lake Highlands area to build quality homes.

“We’re an in-town location with what are now still affordable prices, and we’re a very cohesive community,” she says, “and I think we’re going to see a lot more in the way of development.”

For more on the Trimark, Urban Edge and Lincoln Properties projects, read on.

OAK TRAIL VILLAS OF LAKE HIGHLANDS/TRIMARK LANDING

Trimark Realty Investments Inc.

Near corner of Forest and Abrams

Bill Baldridge’s company, Trimark, leases around 7,000 units in Texas and Tennessee. But nothing consumes his time and attention right now as much as his Lake Highlands project.

Last year, this father-of-four native Dallasite bought two apartment complexes and 78 town homes from a Boston hotel operator after a friend alerted him to the deal.

“He knew I bought properties that had issues,” Baldridge says, “that I could turn them around and clean them up.”

And these were most definitely those types of places, says those who live in the area. It wasn’t uncommon to hear gunfire at night. The crime and transitory nature of many renters had many longtime residents packing up and heading for greener pastures.

When Baldridge met with residents and told them of his plans to renovate and rid the apartments of undesirables, they were “cynical,” says Emory Powell, two-time past president and board member of the Forest Meadows Neighborhood Association.

“There had been prior owners with those same plans, and no one else had succeeded,” he says.

But so far, Baldridge has made good on all his promises. In the first two days of ownership, he filed 75 eviction notices. By last fall, the apartments were down to 5 percent occupancy.

“I really forced anybody who didn’t want to follow my rules to leave,” he says. “It was just a matter of putting together a plan and implementing it.”

The two apartment complexes – formerly called Forest Springs and Fall River – have been combined and renamed Trimark Landing. They’ll be one gated community of more than 500 units, and residents will have to pass a criminal record background check, have good credit and agree to abide by Trimark’s rules. There will be a business center, fitness center and activities center. Baldridge also wants to attract families to the complex, so he’s putting in a kids’ club.

“Essentially, it’s a place for children to go that will be community-sponsored, to do things like have movie nights, to acknowledge kids that get good grades in school, to tutor kids that need it,” he says.

Around the corner from Trimark Landing are the Oak Trail Villas of Lake Highlands, 78 townhomes that Baldridge is renovating and updating with the help of neighborhood interior designers Vicki White and Kimberly Chumlea.

“We’ve reconfigured the townhomes to make them more livable today,” Baldridge says. “We opened up the kitchens so they’re light and bright. Put in granite countertops, hardwood floors, travertine floor tile, crown molding, new roofs, new water heaters, double-insulated windows and doors – basically, the only thing we left were the studs.”

Between the apartments and townhomes is a 1.7-acre green space that will become a residents-only park with a pond and picnic pavilion, surrounded by a wrought iron fence. Nearby, landscape architect Harold Leidner is designing a pool for Oak Trail’s residents.

It’ll be months before all the renovations are completed, but Baldridge already is confident of the outcome, and, though he’s not a neighborhood resident, says he’s “totally bought into the community.”

And Powell and other residents of Forest Meadows and other surrounding areas say they’re already pleased with Baldridge’s efforts.

“We like what he’s doing. In the long term, we hope it will be a positive contribution to our neighborhood,” Powell says.

And if it is?

“It all propagates,” he says. “One guy upgrades one place, the next guy upgrades the next place, and the whole area starts coming back around to what it was.”

Baldridge, who says the community has been supportive, agrees.

“It’s really beautiful land, a great community and a great location. And I think most of the growth and development in Dallas is going to be east of Central in the next five to 10 years,” he says, adding: “I think the dominoes are really starting to fall.”

For information, visit trimarkrealty.com. To view photos of the town homes, visit oaktrailvillas.ebby.com.

URBAN RESERVE

Urban Edge Developers

Just east of Central off Royal

“There are some very magical things about the piece of property” this development will be built on, says Catherine Horsey of Urban Edge Developers.

“It’s got some enormous trees on the northern part of it, and the southern part is more grassy, but it still has a lot of trees – I’m talking trees that are four feet in diameter or larger.”

Also, Horsey says, its topography is typical of many areas in Lake Highlands.

“There’s 45 feet of drop between its high and low elevations, and that makes it kind of interesting.”

Finally, she says, it’s about “five feet away from White Rock Creek Trail,” which links up with the Cottonwood and Preston Ridge trails up north and the KATY Trail down south.

“That’s very attractive to a lot of people,” Horsey says.

Add to all that the concept for Urban Reserve – a low-impact development with modernist design guidelines for the homes that will be built there – and you’ve got one of Dallas’ most unique residential developments landing in Lake Highlands’ back yard.

But just what does “low impact” mean?

“We mean houses that will use a few natural resources – in their development and their ongoing operation – as possible,” Horsey says. “It’s been done in a lot of other places, but it’s never been done here in Dallas.”

So paved areas will be limited to avoid excessive runoff and erosion, front yards will be landscaped with native Texas plants that require little watering, and houses must be 30 percent more efficient than code requires. They’re also hoping to use 100 percent wind-generated electricity and planning to promote trail and DART rail usage among their residents.

Also, the streets will be bordered by what Urban Edge is calling “rain gardens.”

“The idea is to take runoff from the street and from yards to some extent, and channel it into these rain gardens, which will filter the water and then route it to some ponds that will then be used to irrigate the front yards and common areas of the neighborhood,” says Horsey, who adds that such systems are more common in places such as Seattle.

And that modernist design?

“We want architecture that is current and cutting edge,” she says. The example below was rendered by architect Robert L. Meckfessel, AIA. “We think that folks ought to be able to live in architect-designed houses at a reasonable price,” Horsey says.

When ready, lots in Urban Reserve will range from just under $100,000 to around $300,000.

“And prices of the houses will vary from less than $300,000 up to we don’t know what,” Horsey says.

Lot of folks have already shown interest, she says, but there are only 53 lots available, ranging in size from 5,000-14,000 square feet.

And the neighborhood has been supportive, she says.

“Lake Highlands is a great area. It has great schools, and people will naturally want to live there,” she says.

“I’m telling you,” she says of the development, “It’s cool – there’s no doubt about it.”

For information, visit urbanedgeusa.com or call Urban Edge Developers at 214-741-1600.

THE HEIGHTS OF LAKE HIGHLANDS

Lincoln Properties

Northeast corner of Kingsley and Audelia

Lincoln Properties – owners of The Village Apartments – is about to debut its first Lake Highlands-based complex.

Lincoln doesn’t own The Heights of Lake Highlands (formerly Highland Crest), but they’ve been brought on board by the owners to clean the place up.

That’s good news for neighborhood residents.

“Of all property managers, they are primo,” says Ebby’s Sheryl Wesson.

Highland Crest hasn’t had a very good reputation as of late. With Lincoln’s help, the owner plans to change that.

“It’s a little over $3 million rehab project,” says Lincoln’s regional manager Mary Beth Scherrey. “Sixty percent of units will be completely redesigned on the exterior and interior.”

Included in the interior updates, she says, are new appliances, new faux hardwood floors, new fixtures, and new hardware. The exterior facade’s wood will be replaced with Hardiplank, the chain link fence will be ripped out and replaced with a black, wrought iron fence, and balconies and patios are being rebuilt.

Work started in October, and Scherrey says Lincoln Properties hopes to have a grand opening in early summer.

“It really is going to be very nice.” she says.

But what should hearten neighbors even more are plans to install a remote-control access gate and screen the criminal and credit backgrounds of current and prospective residents.

“If they pass, they can stay,” Scherrey says.

Also in the works? A plan to open the complex’s large clubroom to the Dallas Police Department.

“We’d like to be their community center – a place for them to take breaks and use our facility when they are out on call,” Scherrey says. “We want to be the leader in deterring crime in that area.”