Private Wylie-to-Greenville Toll Road Will Displace Disabled Children on Horses

Meet Zoe, a 4-year-old Equest client with spina bifida, and her therapy horse Crunchie. Now imagine a highway bursting through the walls.
Meet Zoe, a 4-year-old Equest client with spina bifida, and her therapy horse Crunchie. Now imagine a highway bursting through the walls.

Equest CEO Patrick Bricker couldn't have designed a better spot for a new headquarters. The land, 238 sprawling acres of pasture just off Lake Ray Hubbard in Rowlett, checked all the boxes: close enough to the nonprofit's current home in Wylie to be convenient to its existing base of therapeutic riding clients, big enough to accommodate the climate-controlled arenas and riding trails that are part of its expanding mission, and inside Dallas County, which would make it eligible for proceeds from the Crystal Charity Ball.

The land was very nearly gobbled up by a 665-home subdivision. It had the zoning, a name (the Trails of Cottonwood Creek) and everything, but Equest elbowed its way in at the last minute and bought the property for $4.9 million at the beginning of the year.

"The property is just absolutely gorgeous, with rolling hills and running water," Bricker says. No longer will the disabled children and veterans who compose Equest's clientele be relegated to riding in tight circles, as space constraints in Wylie dictate. In Rowlett, they will have the space to explore a network of trails

Everything seemed perfect, save for one minor detail. Equest's pristine 238 acres lies directly in the path of a planned Wylie-to-Greenville toll road.

You've probably already heard about this road. It's the one being built by the Texas Turnpike Corp., a private company that for some poorly conceived reason has the power of eminent domain. The one that thousands of otherwise mild-mannered suburbanites are angrily shouting down by the thousands.. The one the toll-enamored North Texas Council of Governments is desperately making up numbers to justify.

You also might remember that no one is quite sure where exactly the road is going to go, leaving a broad swath of property owners unsure of whether their land will be condemned. Equest, though, is pretty sure. All three proposed routes cut through its new land. One of them also bisects its Wylie headquarters.

"That would put us out of business," Bricker says of the 30-year-old charity. The noise, the traffic, the fragmentation of the land -- it would be too much.

"They're not just disenfranchising the 400 volunteers a week that we have, or the thousands of riders who came through here and their families and such. They're actually disenfranchising the whole industry" because Equest trains therapeutic riding instructors from around the world, Bricker says.

Bricker says Equest was unaware of the Northeast Gateway, as the project is called, when it bought its property. The seller, Bricker is confident, was also oblivious.

But Neal Barker, project manager for the toll road project, said that their proposal has been discussed publicly for the past year-and-a-half, at various city council meetings, in newspaper articles, and at meeting of the North Central Texas Council of Governments. "I think there was ample opportunity" for Equest to find out about the project before it purchased the property.

Barker says engineers did their best to avoid Equest's Wylie facility out of respect for the work that they do, but as far as they were concerned, the 238 acres was open land. Only when Equest contacted him about three weeks ago did he learn they had purchased the property.

Which is unfortunate but unavoidable, Barker says. Detouring around Equest's new property will mean running a toll road through surrounding neighborhoods, something TTC is trying to minimize. The company has tried to reach a compromise, suggesting a route that follows the powerlines that cut through the property as a way to minimize their footprint, but Equest just doesn't want a toll road on its property.

Equest's plight isn't without irony. The nonprofit is one of the city of Dallas' two partners on the new Texas Horse Park, a multimillion-dollar project that involved the eviction of a grassroots horse nonprofit and the condemnation of a popular soccer field. The condemnations weren't Equest's call, and it is by all accounts a reputable nonprofit free of the cloud of animal-abuse and other allegations that hang over the city's other partner, River Ranch Educational Charities, but perhaps karma is unable to discriminate between entities that bear the taint of City Hall.

And even if Equest were somehow complicit in running off the Texas Horse Park's neighbors, that doesn't justify taking its land for a toll road whose necessity is questionable. Two bad condemnations do not make a good condemnation.

There are rumors that Equest has sold its land to make way for the toll road. That's not true. Bricker says Equest intends to stand alongside the bulk of the area's residents and fight the toll road. What makes Equest different is that not only do they share their neighbors' righteous indignation over the abridgment of their property rights, they have disabled children on horses. And now, a toll road's bearing down on them.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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