Superiority Complex

How Glenn Heights turned a debate over starter homes into a nasty small-town war

With the exception of the city limits sign, which sells Glenn Heights as the "Gateway to Southern Country," there is little to alert drivers bouncing down Hampton Road leaving DeSoto that they've entered a city of more than 6,000 residents confined to nine square miles of generally neglected territory. With the exception of the Jack in the Box and a Texaco station, there are few businesses to speak of. There had been a Dairy Queen, known locally for the gigantic Alaskan brown bear mounted in the lobby, but the restaurant has closed.

About a mile down the road are City Hall and the fire department, which share office space inside a brown metal building that abuts a horse-spotted field. If it weren't for the presence of a blazing red fire engine and a matching ambulance, the city headquarters could easily be mistaken for an oversize storage shed. Across the way, white-haired road warriors hibernate inside the Dallas Hi-Ho Campground, while their neighbors enjoy a slightly more permanent existence at the Oso Grande and Town & Country mobile home parks. There, rusty pickups dance a two-step with potholes that mar the streets like monstrous canker sores.

These mobile home parks have been here since Glenn Heights' beginning. In fact, they are the reason why the town was created in 1969. That's according to N.L. "Moe" Craddock, and he should know, since it was his idea to create the town.

Mary Coffman may go down in history as the first mayor in Glenn Heights' history to be elected out of office.
Mary Coffman may go down in history as the first mayor in Glenn Heights' history to be elected out of office.
Mary Coffman may go down in history as the first mayor in Glenn Heights' history to be elected out of office.
Mark Graham
Mary Coffman may go down in history as the first mayor in Glenn Heights' history to be elected out of office.

"I had an agenda then," Craddock, the former Dairy Queen owner, explains. "I had a mobile home park out here on Hampton Road. DeSoto was trying to annex us in and get rid of the mobile home park. We sued 'em and won."

Nowadays, Craddock is beginning to wonder if he should have bothered. And he's not the only one. A growing clan of testy townsfolk has recently concluded that Glenn Heights' elected officials are, in a word, incompetent. In the coming weeks, these citizens will partake in their first-ever recall election, in which the mayor and most of the city council members could be tossed out of office like beer cans from a pickup truck.

"We've got to stop 'em," Craddock, also a former mayor, says of his modern-day successors. "It's like a sore that's bleeding. You've got to stop the blood going out."

The incompetence, the recallers say, manifests itself all over the place. For one thing, there's the fire department. Or rather, there was the fire department; in December it was abruptly merged with the police department into the new Department of Public Safety. Some folks say the move was a cruel, if not illegal, maneuver designed to oust Mike Burgett, the city's popular fire chief. Burgett's departure prompted the entire fire department, staffed mostly by volunteers, to walk off the job, briefly leaving the city without fire protection.

But the bigger issue in town, the one that has split residents into two warring factions, involves housing. Specifically, the long-awaited plans of two developers to build subdivisions that would bring a new stock of single-family housing--and potential tax revenue--to a city that can barely afford to make its financial ends meet. Although the proposed houses would be equal if not superior to the city's existing housing stock, the anti-development faction--represented by the mayor and a slim majority of the city council--say that's not good enough for them.

Unless they take a stand and force developers to build more elite housing, Glenn Heights will become an enclave of "starter" homes. As part of their stand, city officials have enacted a series of zoning laws that have effectively blocked the proposed projects and, in the process, generated a string of costly civil lawsuits.

An early round of unfavorable court rulings, including one case that may end up at the Texas Supreme Court, prompted the election. The members of the recall faction say they similarly want quality housing in Glenn Heights, but they consider the proposed houses, which in one development would sell at an average of $110,000 apiece, to be a step up from the city's trailer-park past. They are also quick to point out that those who are most adamantly against the development happen to live in starter homes themselves.

What's more, this faction contends, the lawsuits, if lost, will generate legal bills that will drain the city coffers and may force the city into bankruptcy or, ironically, a merger with some neighboring city--like DeSoto. And that can mean only one thing, says recall organizer Jerry Lemons:

"There'll be no Glenn Heights."

The town's future may very well be at stake, especially if its residents continue to wage what has become a nasty battle of petty politics and personality conflicts. Indeed, the source of trouble brewing in Glenn Heights is a textbook case of small-town politics at its mudslinging best.

Stephen Pape didn't sign his name to the recall petition, but it doesn't take long to figure out what side of this debate he's on.

"To me, a $90,000 house next to a trailer park is an improvement," Pape says, referring to the proposed developments. "A lot of people see it as a starter home. At [one recent] council meeting, one lady even called it a ghetto."

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