News Article | 6/26/2007

Westlake hangs on to heritage

When Barbara Griggs moved onto CowGirl Ranch in Westlake, she counted three families and several head of cattle as neighbors.

Flash forward 17 years, and today the number of houses surrounding her has exploded to about 100. She even sold off four acres of ranchland to a developer.

“It’s a bittersweet thing,” she said. “You can’t stop progress. All you do is learn to go with the flow.”

People looking for a slice of the country life are streaming into the northeast Tarrant County town. Westlake has grown from 185 residents in 1990 to a current population of about 700.

The town was incorporated in 1956 with the birth of the storied Circle T Ranch. The ranch became famous for its parties where movie stars would trot around the pastoral estate on Tennessee walking horses.

Ross Perot Jr. bought the Circle T in 1993. At one point, property disputes and lawsuits had the town’s future in question, but those were resolved.

Circle T, which remains a working ranch, has stayed in the limelight as a backdrop for print and television ad campaigns and in scenes for the 2002 movie Serving Sara. Meanwhile, commercial and residential developments have gone forward.

Fidelity Investments and Daimler Chrysler have offices there. But groundbreaking on the much-anticipated Shops at Circle T Ranch is on hold until a third department store agrees to anchor the upscale mall on State Highway 170, said David Pelletier, a spokesman for Hillwood Development Corp., Mr. Perot’s company. Hillwood and General Growth Properties already have commitments from Macy’s and Dillard’s.

A shopping center across the street is also still in the works, Mr. Pelletier said.

Westlake has perks beyond the picturesque scenery. The town doesn’t charge a property tax, and it started the first city-run charter school in Texas. Westlake is split among three school districts, but children are guaranteed admission to the school sought after for its college prep program.

Since the school opened in 2003, there has been a waiting list for children living outside the community. The list has grown to about 1,000 people, said Trent Petty, town manager.

Julie Timmerman and her family settled in Westlake three years ago because of the school. They were impressed by the progressive curriculum and vision of the town’s leaders.

She now is a member of the Westlake Academy Foundation, which supports the school her four children attend, and her husband, Bob Timmerman, is a town alderman.

The family is selling its home across the road from Ms. Griggs’ ranch and building another down the street. They’ll have more land and enough space for some chickens and maybe a horse.

For Mrs. Timmerman, who grew up on a ranch in South Dakota, the town situated a short drive from Dallas and Fort Worth is ideal.

“You are living in a rural setting, but if you want to hit a museum or any kind of entertainment, it is within a half-hour drive,” she said. “You kind of have the best of both worlds.”