Daily Light staff writer

Second in a Series

One of the eight stated goals of the 2007 Waxahachie Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan calls for the protection of specific elements of the city, particularly its “open space, cultural landscapes, and natural resources, especially areas with topography change and/or indigenous tree cover and land prone to flooding.”

The plan’s primary focus is the protection of the city’s unique and rural character, including its scenic views of the land and the Ellis County Courthouse, Lake Waxahachie’s status as a recreational amenity, and protecting its creeks and waterways from the encroachment of any development.

And its recommendations for the latter are very important, city staffers say.

“The goal … is to preserve those ecological features of Ellis County and of Waxahachie,” parks and recreation director John Smith said. “Creeks play a major part of the natural landscape here, so we’re just looking at a way of preserving them.”

To help accomplish this goal, the plan proposes to establish a 200- to 500-foot buffer zone beyond the 100-year flood plain, land which would be used as linear park space for amenities such as hike and bike trails.

While the city would like to have the 500-foot buffer on top of the 100-year flood plain everywhere, “in some places, it really won’t be feasible,” City Manager Paul Stevens said, noting the leeway built into the master plan for the buffer zone.

“The 500 feet is a goal,” Stevens said. “It’s not necessarily what it will be.”

Not all of the space created by the buffer will be usable for the linear parks/trails due to cost constraints and other restricting factors, he said.

In the past, such issues came up when the city was looking at building the Hike and Bike Trail out to Brookside Road. However, to accomplish that, the city would have had to build a 90-foot bridge to cross the creek and meet construction standards, Stevens recalled, saying, “And due to the cost, we were unable to do that at that time.”

The city owns “a lot of property near the creeks that will never be developed because it’s in the flood plain,” Stevens said, adding that while the city will not be able to use all of the space as part of a continuous park or trail, the buffer zone created should help with storm water management throughout the city, particularly in places where the flood plains may have to be redrawn due to development.

“We’re taking into account the additional impermeable surface, though aesthetics will still be a primary issue,” Stevens said.

Decisions regarding the surface of the new trails have not yet been made.

“We have to look at all the possibilities,” Smith said. “While some people - like runners or older people - prefer a softer surface that’s easier on them, other people - like mothers with strollers - prefer concrete that they can always go down,” Smith said, explaining that some alternatively-surfaced trails can become muddy when it rains.

Decisions about new trails will happen after the completion of the Waxahachie Creek Corridor Study, which the master plan states will “form the basis for decisions to be made about floodplain reclamation and the establishment of a creek buffer in terms of quality and dimension.

“Ideally, no floodplain reclamation should be allowed and the utmost attempt should be made to discourage reclamation,” the plan continues in chapter seven, adding, “However, practical considerations including bridges may necessitate reclamation.”

The plan also calls for trade-offs to offset any reclamation that may take place.

Noting the plan calls for the city’s commitment to “revise the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, and subdivision and land development ordinance to make provision for the implementation of conservation planning and development,” Assistant City Manager Michael Scott said the city is looking at the plan to see what changes will need to be made.

“We’re looking at a number of take-aways from the plan that will affect our ordinances,” Scott said, noting the city’s new comprehensive plan is rapidly approaching the time when it can be adopted.

E-mail Anthony at Anthony.Trojan@waxahachiedailylight.com