THE BEST PLACES TO LIVE

Which suburbs are the safest, have the best schools, housing, environmental quality, and ambiance? We studied 41 communities and discovered the ideal places to live in the Dallas metro area.

The call of the suburbs once seemed simple: A two-car garage, good schools, and plenty of green space for the kids to play were the hallmarks of Dallas’ suburban style.

But phenomenal growth in the last few decades has made for oodles of living options. Today our sprawling suburbs come in all shapes and forms, from megaburbs like Piano and Carrollton to miniburbs like Murphy and Roanoke, and choosing among these, sorting the good from the bad and the ugly, is a complex process. It’s not as simple as finding a home near where you work: You want to know about schools, crime rates, tax rates, growth rates, and commute times. You want to know if there are potholes in the streets, if the houses are big, small, affordable, or custom-built. And you need to know about some of the more intangible qualities-community values and overall ambiance.

Each year, thousands of families move to the Dallas area, many of them choosing homes in the suburbs. And, of course, thousands more decide to move from one local suburb to another. For them and for you, D Magazine offers the most authoritative guide to the suburbs ever produced in the Dallas area. With research help from the tireless and capable folks at the M/A/R/C Consulting Group of Irving, we’ve assembled the facts and figures; we’ve rated and ranked; we’ve even addressed those more amorphous quality-of-life questions. The results of our scientific survey offer some surprising news on life in these 41 cities. Read on-and choose wisely.

THE TOP SUBURBS

1. Highland Park

Estimated 1994 population: 8,774 Average household income: $196,697 Average value of homes sold: $361,100 Median age of residents: 40.8 Downtown commute: 3.6 miles

Assuming money is no object, Highland Park is without question the most desired neighborhood in Dallas, and in Texas, and probably in the entire Southwest. Houston’s Rivet Oaks, living’s Las Colinas, and Texas’ other comparable upper-class areas are just that- areas. Highland Park is its own 2.2-square-mile town with its own police and fire departments, library, parks department, and (with University Park) its own nationally renowned school system.

Highland Park’s quality of life sets the standard tor our part of the United States, and it boasts two important characteristics-heritage and tradition-that newer upscale neighborhoods just can’t manufacture or buy. People in HP take these qualities very seriously, but rich folks looking to buy a big house there don’t understand why heritage should be factored in when they can buy twice the house for half the price in far north Dallas. A house is just a house, isn’t it?

Not in Highland Park. You’re buying the neighborhood. (And if D Magazine has anything to say about it, you’re buying a neighborhood where proportion and style count more than money and display.)

Like University Park to the north and like other small towns, Highland Park is a comfortable place to live and raise a family, where everybody knows everybody, the streets are safe to walk and jog, and the local schools are the center of village life. You won’t find more involved parents or more dedicated teachers.

And despite soaring prices, the pride continues in conservative F1P. Its snazzy new state-of-the-art police cars recently won a national design award. Its police and fire response times rank in the nation’s 99th percentile. There are 22 pleasant parks. And while new subdivisions may boast of their own neighborhood swimming pools and golf courses, Highland Park has the Dallas Country Club.

And there’s that unique multi-generational continuum. Millionaire grandchildren of die 1930s East Texas oil boom are scattered all throughout Highland Park; their grandchildren (and probably their grandchildren) are already wealthy enough to live there when they reach homeowner age. These people don’t wear their money on their sleeves, and that’s one of the greatest qualities of living in Highland Park. -Kirk Dooley



2. Trophy Club

Estimated 1994 population: 4,536 Average household income: 587,854 Average value of homes sold: $269,926 Median age of residents: 35.9 Downtown commute: 20.8 miles

Might Trophy Club be the “Park City of Denton County” ? The analogy works on two levels: Greenery abounds in the medians, the hills and valleys, and the parks; and the town’s home values stand behind only those two famous Dallas “inburbs.”

Most publicity about Trophy Club has focused on “the town built around the Trophy Club Country Club,” which takes up 17 percent of the town’s acreage. Though résidents and officials are proud of the club, built in 1975-including its Ben Hogan-designed golf course-they stress that Trophy Club, the town, is much more than golf and tennis. ’’There are still neighborhoods, and neighborhoods, by definition, are tough to find these days,” says live-year Trophy Club resident Steve Mace, news director of KLIF and KPLX.

The main streets-and there’s no more than one in any one area of town-wind through a pastoral setting, leading to modern homes ranging from upscale to palatial. The houses closest to Highway 114 are separated by 50 yards of grass and a ravine, ’] ’he golf course is never far away. At one end of town lies 13-acre Harmony Park. At the other is a three-story, somewhat dilapidated 19th-century red barn that houses an equestrian complex. History is further served by the Medlin Cemetery, a Texas historical landmark.

There are no stop lights, and only one small office building, masked by trees. The only other commercial entity is the offices of Beck Properties Inc., which owns much of the town.

No wonder Trophy Club attracts affluence and may be one of the few local communities where well-to-do people actually come to retire. “It’s the tranquillity of the lifestyle,” says Jim ( barter, the only mayor Trophy Club has ever had, “People move here to finish their working career and retire. “

-Dave Sorter



3. Highland Village

Estimated 1994 population: 9,290 Average household income: $71,903 Average value of homes sold: $122,600 Median age of resident: 33.8 Downtown commute: 27.3 miles

Highland Village’s name reveals its 1950s origins as a Lake Dallas summer retreat tor wealthy Highland Park residents, some of whose original A-frame cabins still stand on the hilly terrain near Clearwater and Highland Village roads. Today, however, this booming suburb is not just for summer people. With 96 percent of its residents owning their own homes (the highest number of any ’burb we surveyed), it’s a place people seek out-despite long commutes to Dallas or Fort Worth-for large yards and quiet streets, Four-bedroom homes on one-third acre lots start at S170,000. Larger homes in Highland Shores, a Mobil Oil development, offer lake access via private canals, start around $400,000, and go up, up, up near a million dollars for something like Dallas Maverick Roy ’Iarpley’s hotel-sized crib. The low crime rates {an average of just 13.6 nonviolent crimes per 1,000 residents, and almost no violent crime) are another attraction. Residents who return from a weekend away get a written report listing the number of times police officers checked on their property.

The town is bounded by Lake Lewisville on the north, 1-35 on the east, and Highway 407 (Lewisville and Flower Mound) on the south. As for the western boundary, ” It keeps moving,” says eight-year resident Bruce Hodman, as the town grows and annexes farmland. “Now it s Pilot Knoll Park, but-check again next month.” The question is whether inevitable growth will change the neighborly character of Highland Village. Last year, some 3,000 volunteers spent five days building Kids” Kastle, an elegantly crafted children’s play area. Residents kicked in $120,000 for the project while the city gave $30,000 and the land. “It functions as a kind of town square,” says Hedman, a construction contractor who helped build Kids’ Kastle. “It really brought the community together.” -Chris Tucker



4. University Park

Estimated 1994 population: 22,677 Average household income: $115,368 Average value of homes sold: $324,990 Median age of residents: 31.5 Downtown commute: 5.2 miles

When it comes to quality of life in the Dallas area, University Park residents humbly con -sider their community second to none. And that includes their better-known sister, Highland Park. Why did they choose University Park over Highland Park? The two towns share arguably the best public schools in Texas. They each have police and fire departments to die for. Crime is always down. Safety is always up. The homes and parks maintain a magazine-cover quality. And the folks here put a premium on the quality of their children’s upbringing. Life is good.

It’s true that you have to have more money than Midas to buy or build in the Park ( lilies, but most University Park homeowners will tell you thai-all things considered-you get a better deal for your dollar when you buy a home in UP. With the same schools and same atmosphere of excellence, as well as comparable police and fire departments, you can live in a larger Park Cities home on a larger lot in LIP for the same money you pay lor a smaller, older home in HP.

There are more kids in University Park than in Highland Park, and to many parents who could afford to live in either, that gives UP the nod. (It’s no fun living in a mansion and being the only kid on the block.) Many Park Cities kids are the children and grandchildren of former Park Cities kids, and outsiders would be shocked if they knew how many Park Cities families really struggle each month to keep their families here.

The challenges of living in University Park? 1) Dodging the killer Suburbans. 2) Living in a small cottage and having two new square skyscrapers looming over either side of you, 3) Nearby SMU kids who act like you did when you were in college. 4) Keeping up with the Joneses. Anyone bent on doing that in UP will quickly find it to be very expensive, stressful, and frustrating, especially if the breadwinner is not in the inheriting business. -Kirk Dooley



5. Piano

Estimated 1994 population: 153,071 Average household income: $76,559 Average value of homes sold: $157,100 Median age of residents: 31.1 Downtown commute: 18.2 miles

Piano’s roots are based in agriculture, as evidenced by the 100-year-old farmhouse that still stands on Coit Road, Hut just down die street, the sleek, nouveau Piano Recreation Center, with its triangular r?x>f that glows at night, is the symbol of what Piano is today- a well organized, modern, cil y that puts value on ils residents-and its tax base.

Since Frito-Lay, J.C. Penney. Inc.. and EDS have built expansive headquarters here, and since Toll way construction has been completed to Legacy Drive, open fields are being replaced by Texas-size grocery stores, crowded subdivisons, a ne\v “restau rant row,” and hundreds of apartments that are popping up like dandelions. Despite an influx of singles, Piano remains a city of families, as witness plans by the school district to build three new schools this \ear ’for a [oral of 49 campuses) and the constant use, sometimes until midnight, of the144 athletic fields.

According to Piano Chamber of Commerce president Gene Ramsey, Piano’s popularity comes from the foresight of its lead-ers. Before Piano was chartered in 1961. community leaders established its witter supply knowing (hat Central I Expressway expansion would bring businesses and residents. They were right-Piano’s population has soared from 3,695 in 1960 to more than 150,000 today. To meet the demands of growth. Piano is spending tax money on lots of city services. Taket:he28″mileb.ikc/h)keu-ai) that connects some of the 65 parks. Or check out the city’s 86,500-square-foot convention center, public golf course (.and plans for another),, three pools, and three libraries, The money also buys road improvements-most are now three lanes to accommodate all the minivans.

In 1994? Piano:wnamed one of 10 “M America Cities” by the National Civic League for the strength of its programs tor families and its crime prevention efforts, which have become even more important to residents since the shocking murder in 1993 of 7-year-old Ashley Estelle. In fact. Piano has the lowest crime rate of any Texas city with a population of more than 100.000.

-Adrienne Ciletti



6. Flower Mound

Estimated 1994 population: 20,033 Average household Income: $35,571 Average value of homes sold: $122,600 Median age of residents: 30.8 Downtown commute; 23.4miles

The first thing everyone -wants to know about Flower Mound is the origin of its unusual name. “The Mound” really does exist, accompanied by much legend find lore, The most widely accepted explanation for the unusual 12 1/2-acre formation rising 50 feet above a prairie near am of the town’s major intersections is that it was a sacred ceremonial ground of Wichita Indians in the early 1800s. The Mound is now a preserved historical site.

Many suburbs claim to offer “the best of both worlds,” typically translated as quiet, country living with city amenities and access.. But Flower Mound may be Snore committed to the concept than most. Incorporated as a town in 1961. the young commuait) faced a bousing boon) in recent years that made it the fastest-growing city in Denton County. But conscientious monitoring of the city’s ability to handle such growth, resulted in a tempo-rary building cap limiting the number of per-mits issued to each builder. Flower Mound s efforts at merging environmental quality and new construction-namely its linear park and trail system-have been rewarded with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Enjoy Outdoors America” award for outstanding use of open spaces.

The community’s location, 23 miles northwest of downtown Dallas and 8 miles south of Denton, places it near major metropolitan areas, two large recreational lakes, several universities, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Students arc served by the Lewisville Independent School District.

-Lor: Fairchild



7. Colleyville

Estimated 1994 population: 18,041 Average household income: $121,962 Average home price: $235,427 Median age of residents: 36.7 Downtown commute: 13.7 miles

When Colleyville was first incorporated as a village in 1L)56, it was less than two square miles in size and had a population of 250 people. Today, the city of Colleyville sprawls over 13 square miles and boasts a population of approximately 18,000.

Despite Colleyville’s vigorous growth, residents of this primarily family community enjoy rural peace, safety, and charm. “There’s a lot of homes going up in Colleyville right now, but you still get that feeling of country living,” says Catherine Pavlicek, who has been a resident of the area since 1970.

Sandwiched between Southlake to the north and Bedford to the south. Colleyville’s main thoroughfare is Highway 26, which slices diagonally through the city and is accessible from state Highway 121. Off this route are modern schools, lovely parks, and quiet residential streets with medium-to-large homes. Many of the city’s homeowners are high-level managers and professional athletes who chose the area because of easy access to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “Anyone who lives here can be at the airport in about 11.3 minutes,” says Ed Baker, Colleyville’s mayor.

Residents also enjoy a low crime rate, low taxes, and an excellent school system (Grapevine-Colleyville ISD). These factors combined to vault Colleyville to a number one ranking in the 1993 edition of American Suburbs Ruling Guide and fact Book.

In addition to quality residences, pretty parks, and low crime rates, a lot of business development is taking place in Colleyville, with more to come. According to Mayor Baker, the city’s big push will be toward attracting more quality retail establishments while maintaining a rural flavor. The good news is that there is room for growth-meaning more people could eventually call Colleyville home. -Amy Sorter



8. Coppell

Estimated 1994 population: 22,825 Average household income: $78,917 Average value of homes sold: $149,500 Median age of residents: 30.7 Downtown commute: 18.2 miles

Coppell is a Realtor’s dream. First of all, there’s that “location, location, location” thing, Surrounded by state Highways 114 and 121 and Interstates 635 and 35, and bisected by Belt Line Road, Coppell’s location affords quick trips to the airport, Texas Stadium, and numerous neighboring cities and suburbs.

Then there’s that other residential real estate buzzword: “curb appeal.” Coppell’s neighborhoods-many of them boasting curving, tree-lined streets, neighborhood parks, and small lakes-offer an architectural variety not commonly found in Dallas suburbs. The average price of a home is $149,500, but a generous range of $100,000 to $900,000 accommodates most homebuy-ers’ budgets.

Another of Coppell’s claims to fame is its strong association with the Dallas Cowboys, who practice down the road at Valley Ranch. Some of the ’Boys also live in Coppell, and the Coppell Deli and Grocery is a favorite team hangout.

Although Coppell has a history dating to 1843 and a number of historical sites, the community predominantly has that “new look,” from its wide streets and new houses to its manicured parks and freshly built public facilities, including a new city hall and library.

City promotional literature cites a low crime rate and high community involvement as reasons for Coppell’s phenomenal ability to attract newcomers. Some 4,000 local residents pitched in three years ago to build Kid Country, one of the nation’s largest community-built playgrounds. -Lori Fairchild



9. Frisco

Estimated 1994 population: 8,891 Average household income: $52,577 Average value of homes sold: $118,200 Median age of residents: 28.4 Downtown commute: 24.1 miles

The intersection of Preston Road and Main Street in Frisco depicts Frisco’s past and present. On one corner is Brinkman Ranch, with cows grazing. Cross Main, and there’s a strip center representing the Chaining of American Retail. Across Preston are locally owned, older businesses mindful of the blue-collar small town of yore.

This diversity is evident throughout Frisco. The center city is the poor side of town, with wooden houses on small lots. Local businesses and historic houses dot Main Street. Hidden off Highway 121 are the Beverly Hills-like mansions of Stonebriar Creek.

Add the new, walled subdivisions sprouting up east of Preston, the larger new homes on very large lots at the northern edge of town, and the country-club-community anchors of Plantation on the southeast and Stonebriar on the southwest, and it’s obvious Frisco doesn’t discriminate by income level.

“It all boils down to the people,1’ says City Manager George Purefoy. “The ones who have been here have a strong sense of community, and the ones who are moving in want to get that strong sense of community.”

The trick will be keeping that community spirit. Mayor Bob Warren says he worries that newcomers who work in Dallas are doing their shopping in North Dallas and Piano. But, “we find that once people get involved in the schools and the churches, they become a part of Frisco,” he says. “We’re intending to keep that small, hometown atmosphere as long as we can.”

At 69 square miles, Frisco is about the same size as Piano. A mall is planned for Preston and Highway 121, and numerous developers are itching to start construction.

Why not? It’s not everywhere you can watch cows grazing as you’re gating your pizza from Pizza Hut and your videos from Blockbuster. -Dave Sorter



10. Roanoke

Estimated 1994 population: 1,925 Average household income: $36,876 Average value of homes sold: $106,000

Median age of residents: 30 Downtown commute: 18.2 miles

Roanoke’s most famous resident is golfing great Byron Nelson, whose 960-acre Fairway Ranch is partially within the city limits. Ross Perot’s Circle T Ranch, where buffalo and longhorn cattle graze on rolling hills, is to the south. Troy Aikman just bought a 30-acre ranch in nearby Westlake. But you don’t have to be rich and famous to live here. A quiet country atmosphere and very low crime rate make Roanoke an attractive suburb for young families buying their first homes or city dwellers looking for a few acres for that dream ranchette.

Roanoke boasts only one grocery store and a handful of cafes. But times they are a-chang-ing. Within 30 minutes of Dallas, Denton, and Fort Worth, and only a few miles from both Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Alliance Airport, this sleepy little town is poised to be one of Dallas/Fort Worths fastest growing suburbs. The area’s first NASCAR race track is going in on the outskirts of town, and big employers such as FedEx, Ridell’s sportswear, and Nokia, maker of cellular telephones, are building large facilities nearby.

Slowly, the town is beginning to spruce itself up. Recent additions include a new elementary school, a public library; and a community center where blue-grass players converge one Saturday a month. On weekends, people come from miles around to Babes Chicken House for chicken, chicken, and more chicken.

In the downtown area young couples are renovating small bungalows or tearing down old frame houses to build cute gingerbreads. While some areas of town have sections of manufactured housing, developers are buying up old ranches for planned developments of entry-level homes. When people with expanding incomes move in, amenities are sure to follow.

“A lot of people like Roanoke the way it is,” says Mayor joe Grace, who moved to the area five years ago from Detroit after retiring. “I do, too. That’s why I moved heir. But Roanoke is going to grow. ” And many of those moving in are two-income couples with one foot in Tarrant County and the other in Dallas County. The “kid” across the street from Grace works for Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth; the young man s wife works at the Dallas Apparel Mart. For them, Roanoke is a good middle ground.

-Glenna Whitley



11. Murphy

Estimated 1994 population: 2,032 Average household income: $79,304 Average value of homes sold: $157,100 Median age of residents: 34.7 Downtown commute: 21.5 miles

The residents of tiny Murphy know the country ambiance chat brought them here won’t last forever, but for now, serenity and space continue to lure families in search of an escape from city life. Some come looking for property conducive to the equestrian life, while others covet the elusive combination of a quiet bedroom community with city-style conveniences just a fast gallop away.

A 1938 school house, now home to Murphy’s community center and city hall, offers one of the last remaining glimpses into the town’s early history. Bumpy, narrow roadways are being replaced by smooth, expanded thoroughfares to accommodate the growing trail of traffic finding its way to and through Murphy each day. An extension of Renner Road provides a convenient new source of access. Sparkling new suburban residential developments now complement sprawling ranch-style homes on acreage,

But commercial activity is practically nonexistent in Murphy, which is just fine with many of its long-time inhabitants. With booming Piano next door, every imaginable retail need-from basic grocery staples to trendy fashions and computers to home furnishings-is quickly and easily mer.

While growth and progress can’t come fast enough for many suburbs, Murphy seems content to take its time. The annual country fair and the Murphy Women’s Club Christmas party are time-honored traditions. New streets already shown on the Mapsco literally dead-end into open fields. And road construction hasn’t yet claimed the faded signs at the town’s entrance points, which still announce “Welcome to Murphy, Country Living at its Best.” -Lori Fairchild

12. Lewisville

Estimated 1994 population: 52,484 Average household income: $43,374 Average value of homes sold: S 122.600 Median age of residents: 28.8 Downtown commute: 20.8 miles A striking blend of old and new, down-home and uptown, can make a drive through Lewisville a schizophrenic experience, or maybe a trip in a time machine. Storefronts along the honest-to-goodness traditional Main Street advertise antiques, Western wear, even feed for your livestock. Doors are propped open, adding to the laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. Then, suddenly, you’re in the bustling industrial district straddling state Highway 121, with brand new residential and retail developments just around the bend, including the area’s largest shopping mall, Vista Ridge (no feed stores here).

Its proximity to D/FW Airport and major employment centers makes Lewisville an Community Comparisons: How We Did It

Community Comparisons: How We Did It

IT’S ONE THING TO GATHER MEGABYTES of data on 41 cities, towns, and villages in the Dallas area. But how do you compare, say, Piano with Southlake? Flower Mound with Forney?

Very carefully. Our ratings were based on nine key variables identified in a national survey conducted last year by Money magazine. When thousands of Americans were asked what was most important to them in choosing a place to live, they named: Safety, Education, Environmental Quality, Housing, Ambiance, Property Taxes, Commuting Distance, Insurance Costs, and Growth Rate.

Obviously, not all of these nine variables are of equal importance. It’s nice to pay low property taxes-but not if you’re paying them while living on unsafe streets in the middle of a surging crime wave. So we weighted the variables based on that order of preference. Safety, Education, and Environmental Quality were given die highest weight with 15 percent each, Housing and Ambiance contributed 12 percent. Property Tax accounted for 10 percent. Commuting Distance and Insurance Costs came in at 8 percent, and Growth Rate made up 5 percent of the score. Once the total score was calculated for each of our 41 communities, they were ranked accordingly.

Many of these variables were based on several factors. For example, the Education rating was derived by examining TAAS test scores, SAT scores, and instructional spending per pupil in each of the 41 suburbs. For each factor, cities received between one and seven points, based on how they compared with their peers. Numbers were assigned based on how far the city deviated from the average score, which was four. The cities garnering the highest ranking in each category-whether it was a four, a six, etc.- were then assigned a score of 100, and the others were given correspondingly lower numbers.

The highest overall score possible, for a city that attained perfection in every category, would be 100. Highland Park came the closest with 83.2, proving that, despite recent problems [“Who Ruined High] and Park?” D Magazine, October], the old town remains a desirable place to live.

For a more detailed description of the nine variables used to determine our community rankings, EDUCATION

To evaluate educational excellence in our -41 communities, we used die most recent data available, the Snapshot ’94 School District Profiles as reported by the Texas Education Agency Division of Performance Rating. In so doing, we’re keenly aware that there is far more to the quality of a school than spending and test scores. No statistics can measure the impact of a dedicated teacher who stays after school to help a puzzled child. However, this was the most accurate information available across all of the school districts in question. In cases where a community is served by more than one district, we used the scores posted by the district which the majority of the students attend. Students in the northern part of Balch Springs, for example, attend Dallas schools, but the majority attend Mesquite schools, so Balch Springs shares the tanking given to Mesquite.

Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (Percentage Passing All Tests Taken): For grades 3 through 8, grade 10, and all subject areas, we considered the total number of students who passed all the tests they attempted, expressed as a percentage of the total number of students taking one or more tests.

SAT Mean Total Score: The sum of the mathematics and verbal portions of the SAT divided by the number of students tested. A perfect score on the SAT is 1600. Scores are reported for 12th graders who expected to graduate during the 1992-93 school year.

Percentage Tested (Class of 1993): This counts the number of students expected to graduate who took either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the enhanced ACT of the American College Testing program at least once prior to May 1993.

Total Instructional Expenditures Per Pupil: Budgeted instructional expenditures divided by total students.



SAFETY

To calculate the crime rate for a suburb, we used data on violent and nonviolent crime supplied by the Texas Department of Public Safety Uniform Crime Reporting Bureau. We looked at the number of violent offenses (murder, rape, robbery, and assault) and nonviolent offenses (burglary, larceny, and auto theft) per 1,000 residents. An average of 1993 and 1994 figures was used. For obvious reasons, we gave violent crime twice the weight of nonviolent crime. It is important to remember that some communities are at a disadvantage due to their profile and location. For example, Addison has fewer than 10,000 residents, but more than 50,000 people work in the town each day. As a result, the number of crimes committed in Addison is divided among a much smaller base of residents.



PROPERTY TAX

For our raring, we compared each community’s property tax rate on a hypothetical home appraised at $150,000. The tax rate included school taxes, city taxes, county taxes, and any other property related taxes, such as road taxes, that would be assessed based on the residence’s property value. The rates were obtained from the various county appraisal agencies.

Each city received a rating based on bow far it deviated from the mean for all communities. Those towns that had higher-than-average taxes received one, two, or three points. Those with lower-than-average taxes received five, six. or seven points depending on how much better than the average their rates were. For example, Rockwall’s taxes were the lowest of all the communities surveyed, so it received a seven. Duncanville’s high city- tax, however, contributed to that city having the highest property tax rate-it received a one. A similar method of assigning scores was used for all of the variables.



ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

Our Environmental Quality Index incorporated data provided by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the North Texas Municipal Water Supply, and the various landfill operating agencies for each suburb. Specifically, the index included EPA-designated Superfund Sites and other sites slated for clean-up; cities where toxic chemicals are used in local manufacturing; the number of landfills in the town; and the quality of the water supply. Cities obtain “superior” water quality ratings based on an application process. The communities were ranked higher or lower based on whether or not they had this rating.

For this variable, we considered die size of die community as we assigned a score. For example, Irving has 12 CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Responsibility, Compensation, and Liability Act) sites while Red Oak only has two, so it might seem that Red Oak should have a higher rating than Irving. However, Red Oak covers only 2.7 square miles while Irving is 67.6 square miles. When the actual size of the town is considered, Irving receives the better score. This adjustment prevents the larger towns from being penalized for their size.

As with [he other factors in this study, the communities were assigned points based on how far they de\iated from the average. Once the scores were assigned, we gave a 30 percent weight to RCRA/Superfund sites, 25 percent to CERCLA sites and landfills, and 20 percent to the community’s water supply rating score. This weighting combined to create the overall Environmental Quality rating. The highest scoring municipality was then given a “100” and the remaining communities were indexed accordingly.



HOUSING

Our Housing scores were based on two numbers: the percentage of owner occupied housing and the appreciation shown in the average sales price of homes from 1993 to 1995 as reported in the Dallas and Metroplex Regional MLS listings. Cities with a high percentage of owner occupied housing also received high marks, based on the well-founded belief that those who own their home are more likely to maintain it and improve the quality of life in the area.

In this analysis we gave price appreciation a weight of 60 percent and owner occupied percentage a weight of 40 percent.

Note: In some areas, the MLS “zones” report the same average prices for contiguous communities: Lewisville and Flower Mound, for instance, are in the same MLS zone with an average price of $122,600.



AMBIANCE

This is perhaps the most difficult-and potentially controversial-of our nine variables. It demands some slippery, admittedly subjective judgment calls. We even thought about skipping this one, but how could we? A town is more than numbers and averages, rising and falling prices. “There’s just a certain feel about the place,” says one longtime resident of DeSoto. “It may not be Paris or New York, but 1 wouldn’t give it up.”

We all know what he means. Trees, lakes, parks, peace and quiet have a value incalculiable in dollars. So, taking a deep breath, we visited each of the towns and rated them on characteristics such as green space, home selection, current or potential highway or airport noise, attractiveness, zoning, road congestion and livable neighborhoods. In addition to these subjective measurements, we gave the greatest weight to attractiveness, livable neighborhoods, parkland per 1,000 residents, and arts funding.

Note: We requested that each city provide the level of arts funding from public fluids. Those communities that did not respond were assumed to have no such funding. The park acreage estimates were obtained from the various parks and recreation departments.



INSURANCE COSTS

Insurance has become increasingly expensive in die Dallas/Fort Worth area following several violent storms such as the one this past May. As a result, we incorporated the cost of insurance into our overall quality of life index. To determine the appropriate insurance rates for the various cities, we asked agent Kevin McGovern of Allstate Insurance to provide the annual homeowner’s and auto premium for a family of four, with a 48-vear-old male, 43-year-old female, 17 -year-old son with a B+ average m school, and a 10-year-old daughter, living in a $140,000 home. All three drivers in the family have perfect dri\Tng records {it’s a mythical family, remember) and drive the family’s 1995 Toyota Canary and 1990 Ford Taurus.

Insurance rates for automobiles and homes do not vary significantly within a particular county, all other things being equal (i.e., similar home, family, and auto profile). As a result, our index shows no insurance cost differences between communities within the same county.

For the car insurance quote, it was assumed that both parents worked, the son had completed a driver’s safety course, the vehicles included passive restraints, and the family had the minimal amount of liability coverage. For the home insurance cost, it was;’assumed the house was five years old and made of brick, and the family chose a $500 deductible and minimal liability coverage.



COMMUTE DISTANCE

Using figures provided on Mapsco’s 1995 maps of the area, we measured the distance from the geographical center of each community to either downtown Dallas or Fort Worth, whichever was closest. {When possible, the location of die city center was provided by a member of the city’s staff). For the. most part, that meant that suburbs east of the D/FW Airport were measured to Dallas and those west of the airport were measured to Fort Worth.

A few caveats here: Obviously, measuring from the center of a very large suburb like Carrollton yields a longer commute than is actually faced by a Carrolltonian who lives near the city’s border with Dallas. Second, we’re well aware that many in large suburbs like Grand Prairie and Plano work right there athome,butyouhaveonlytolookatthehigh-ways each morning around 7:30-or ask your neighbor, who may log 100 miles à day behind the wheel-to know that commuting is a fact of life around here.



GROWTH RATE

There are benefits to a growing population base-diversity, increased tax base, business vitality, and greater housing appreciation. These benefits, however, are not without drawbacks. For example, a community’s infrastructure may not be prepared to cope with rapid population expansions. Roads may be congested, there may be insufficient shopping outlets for basic necessities, water and sewage systems can be overloaded, and schools may be pressed beyond capacity. Resolving these problems may take years of effort-and lots of tax dollars from the suburban dweller.

We analyzed the compounded annual population growth from 1990 to 1995 for each of the 41 cities. Communities with a growth rate near the average (3.9 percent) were assigned four points. Towns where the growth was viewed to be too rapid or virtually flat were given lower scores. No town earned more than four points, though.



THE CREDITS

A number of people helped contribute to the aft; ation of these ratings by guiding us to the right information and lending insight on how it should be interpreted. They include:

KEVIN MCGOVERN,Allstate Insurance-Agent

J.P. FOGLE, Arlington Landfill Operations Manager REGAN COOK, information Officer for the North Texas Municipal Water Supply

JOHN SILVERWISE, Collin County Central Appraisal District

JIM KLSER, Greater Dallas Association of Realtors

ROSE CRAWFORD, Denton County Board of Realtors

EVAN GRIFFITHS, M/PF Research

REGI PUTHENVEETIL, M/A/R/C Consulting ANN BARRICK, M/A/R/C Library Services

Numerous county appraisal agents, parks and récitation staff members, and city secretaries and clerks.

BEST DEALS ON QUALITY OF LIFE

HERE’S ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE MOST DESIRABLE PLACES TO LIVE. FROM our 41 suburbs, we took the 12 that scored highest on our Quality of Life Index (page 70). Then we looked at the average price of homes selling in those towns last year-the price that a newcomer to that community might expect to pay Wanting to find out where a homeowner would pay the least for the most quality of life, we divided the average home price by the quality of life points. Then we ranked the 12 communities by their score. The chart below tells which are the most affordable and least affordable places when quality of life is factored in.

The results are surprising. Not everyone can afford the cost of the average home in Highland Park, which was our highest-scoring community (83.2). Because the average home in Highland Park sold for $361,100 last year, a new homebuyer would pay $4,340 per quality of life point to live there. ($361,100 * 83.2=54,340.) Contrast that with, say, Roanoke, where housing prices are much lower. There, each quality of life point costs the homebuyer $1,368.

Balch Springs: The View from the Bottom

Estimated 1994 population: 19,587 Average Household Income: 537.111 Average values of homes sold: $48,300 Median age of residents: 28.1 Downtown commute: 10.7 miles

IN THE 1950S AND ’60S, BALCH SPRINGS was unofficially called Zipp City, “because people would sit on their porches and watch the world zip on by, ” explains Mayor David Haas. Wedged between Dallas and Mesquite, it’s still a backwoods, blue-collar town. But now, crushed 16-ounce cans of Budweiser and Natural Light litter the streetsides while expanding potholes, declining home values, and a surging rate of violent crime plague this suburb, which ranks #41 out of our 41 cities. The mayor reluctantly admits that “No, I wouldn’t walk the streets at night right now.” But he insists that positive change is happening.

For one, the newly remodeled WalMart and expanded KMart have been a boon to the city, making it a shopping destination for folks from the likes of Seagoville, Crandall, and Wilmer. Construction has begun on a new police and fire station and on a public recreation center. And for four years, Balch Springs has been operating under a charter approved by voters who were tired of a city council run by feuding good-ol’-boys. As the municipality tries to rebuild, the current city government has been cleaning up Balch Springs; in July a new ordinance prohibited parking a car on the front lawn.

Meanwhile, a lot of people do choose to live in Balch Springs, including one wealthy man whose 60-acre Peruvian horse ranch is considered a city gern. “We think it’s a pretty nice way of life out here,” says Mayor Haas, who receives many waves from citizens while driving through some of the area’s newer developments of custom brick homes with well-manicured lawns. For those who want the flavor of the country, there are also houses sitting on five- and 10-acre lots-plenty of room for residents who keep livestock as pets. Roaming one family’s yard is a mule that has become famous in the neighborhood since he nabbed two would-be burglars. (Now there’s a layer of security even Highland Park can’t provide.) Yet the big cityis easily accessible from Balch Springs, which is split up the middle by 1-635 and borders on 1-20.

Of course many locals have little need to leave, being that they’ve got two feed stores, a library, a Harley shop, and a go-kart track called the Balch Springs Speedway in town. Despite its urban problems, the people of Balch Springs love its rural charm. -Dan Michalski

Newsletter

Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Comments