Getting folks to agree with each other is an art, not a science. Bobby Little Bear had the more agreeable townsfolk get with him first and laid out his ideas to them. They pretty much agreed with Bobby and made some helpful suggestions. That all served as a foundation for getting with the town’s more contentious land owners.
Betty Kay Epps and Vernon Parks ain’t bad people, let’s get that straight from the start. They just don’t get along much with each other. But being that we can’t be in a consensus with major holdouts, we needed them on the same sheet of music as the rest of the town. And that’s why we met with them separate from the others.
Other folks in town just owned their own home or that and the empty lot next to it. Some owned acreage outside the streets of Buckner. Betty Kay and Vernon owned much more than that and either one of them could take our plans for growth and knock ’em all cattywumpus. We needed the both of them on board.
I asked Bobby, “So why have them in the same meeting together and have our hands full tryin’ to keep ’em from killing each other? What about just meeting them one at a time?”
Bobby said, “They’ll suspect each other and disagree unless they see with their own eyes that they agree with us and each other. It’s gonna be tough, but it’s the way forward with Betty Kay and Vernon.”
When they came in, we were glad Vernon didn’t have his MAGA hat on, but Betty Kay’s Ann Richards do was still something of a partisan statement in the eyes of Vernon. Then again, the way Vernon breathed seemed to set Betty Kay’s teeth on edge. It was some kind of personal thing with those two. And if the both of them heard me say that, neither one would disagree, that’s just the way it is.
But they respected good manners, especially when guests in someone else’s home. They sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of iced tea and we got to talking. Growth was coming to Buckner, and developers would want to build out on their lands. I asked, “What kind of growth do you want? Big city sprawl that makes it where locals can’t afford property taxes or something that lets the folks here stay here?”
Vernon said, “Before I answer that, let’s be clear. Ain’t a one of you going to make me do anything with my property that I don’t want to do, savvy?”
Betty Kay said, “Oh hell no, here we go! Vernon, nobody’s telling you nothing! They’re asking you. Get off your high horse and listen to ’em, why don’t you?”
Vernon said, “Where did I say I wasn’t gonna listen to them? Geez, woman, tell me about a high horse, why don’t you? I just wanted to settle some ground rules for the discussion that we’re about to have, that’s all.”
Betty Kay’s eyes said, “Fine, whatever.”
I asked Vernon, “Well, what do you see happening in the next 10 years? 20?”
“I’d like it to be the same.”
“Me too, but we both know that’s not happening, with folks asking about buying property here. We’re about to be another suburb of greater Fort Worth.”
“Well then, why not just let things take their course? Let the market drive prices and see what the market will bear.”
“That gets a big ol’ Walmart where Hank Kleinschmidt’s house is now and most everyone here getting a check for their property and a moving van out of here.”
Betty Kay said, “They can build skyscrapers on Vernon’s property, I’ll make everything I own into a nature preserve.”
Vernon groaned. “Good… Lord! There ain’t no skyscrapers incoming and you know your kids wouldn’t sit for inheriting a nature preserve. Can we keep things reasonable in this discussion?”
Betty Kay’s finger got a little too close to Vernon’s face. “You tell me how letting the market take its course does fairly by all our neighbors? You know damn well all the fat cats’ll lowball the prices on houses here and then turn around to make the real money from growing here. They’ll flip the whole town and make it look like some kinda LA sprawl.”
Vernon dug in. “Well, I’m not gonna let that happen on my watch! Why don’t you let me just say one thing, why don’t you?”
Betty Kay growled like a puma ready to pounce. “Is what you got to say worth saying at all?”
Vernon looked at Betty Kay and then back at me. “I remember Flower Mound when it was less than 2000 people there. That was back in the 1970s. Almost 80,000 now, 50 years on. I remember Forney and Keller and Frisco and a whole lot of other towns that you now can’t tell where Dallas or Fort Worth ends and they begin. I ain’t no Socialist, but I believe in doing right by people and that’s what the law is for – to provide a just society that protects the powerless from the powerful. I want to see that here in Buckner.”
Betty Kay said, “Well, somebody sprinkle rock salt where hell done froze over, because Vernon Parks just decided to stand up to the money men, I tell you what!”
Vernon said, “I’m willing to stand up to bureaucrats and social justice warriors who want to take what I got and just chop it up and hand it out to everyone.”
Betty Kay’s finger looked like it was fixin’ to dent Vernon’s nose. “You can just cork your pistol and quit snappin’ my garters, we’re trying to keep a disaster from happening, not stroke your overblown ego.”
“So it’s my ego that’s overblown? Oh, that’s rich coming from the town’s center of attention!”
I had to cut in, “Y’all! Let’s just calm down and keep our focus on helping the town.
Bobby said, “We need to find a common ground, not a fighting ground.”
They liked that line. I saw them both nod a little and their body language towards each other softened a bit. Murders had been avoided. But Bobby’s plan looked to be barely on track.
Betty Kay asked, “All right, if’n we’re going to help the townsfolk keep their homes, item one has to be an answer to where 67 and 501 get widened. About half the town gets uprooted if those roads get any wider.”
Vernon said, “We need them to be a bypass road.”
Betty Kay said, “I agree, but that ain’t happening for a town that’s just two bumps in the road.”
I said, “Well, Bobby had an idea about that. We get some historical building designations, pronto. The Top Notch Hamburgers looks like it did for the last 70 years and the owner agreed to have it made into a landmark. It’ll mean it has to look like that as long as there’s a State of Texas, but it’ll also mean it stays right where it is. That keeps 501 from going east and 67 from going south.
“Hank Kleinschmidt and his son agreed to have his house there on the corner be made a local museum.”
Betty Kay said, “Shoot, that house has been there since the 1800s, it’s as historical as all get-out.”
Vernon leaned in, “You didn’t strong-arm them into that decision, I trust?”
“Nossir. We laid it out for them and Delbert said when Hank passes on or goes to hospice, Delbert said he’d rather keep living in his own place and make Hank’s place into a museum rather than renovate it for a new buyer or see it knocked down. He’s ready to start with the historical site designation process now. And that going through would keep 67 from getting any wider north.
“501 on the west side can be pegged in if we get the cemetery over yonder designated as a Texas Historical Cemetery. And that would make it where those roads stay the same size in town. They’d need a bypass for them both, like a ring road, for the growth coming in. But we’d keep the homes where they are.”
Bobby said, “What do you think of that?”
Betty Kay and Vernon both nodded before they looked to see what the other was doing. Neither was surprised the other was on board. Vernon said, “All right, nice plan. How do we make it reality?”
Bobby said, “County commissioners gotta approve it.”
Betty Kay said, “I can work on Lyndon Barrymore, he’s my commissioner.”
Vernon said, “I can have a word with Wayne Gipson and Ed Wallace.”
Betty Kay said, “That’s 3 votes for sure and I don’t think the other two would say no.”
Vernon said, “Especially when they can do the same strategy with other towns that want to keep their history. Nothing wrong with that.”
Bobby winked at me. I have to admit, it was nice seeing Vernon and Betty Kay not going at it like tomcats over chicken bones. I pressed on the agenda. “Now that we got a way to keep the town grid where it is, we need to talk about keeping houses affordable for the folks here.”
Betty Kay said, “All right then, hun. What’cha planned out for us all?”
“House prices are a function of density and availability. Not everyone needs to, but those who don’t mind can subdivide their lots and allow another house to be built on their current lot. We’ve got some empty lots around the town that are easiest to subdivide, as there’s nothing on them. That keeps the numbers of houses up for the old town. To keep them from getting too fancy and making the place a haven for a bunch of yuppies, we can use restrictive covenants in the property sale documents that can perpetuate the use of the land and specify the kinds of houses built out.”
Now, I knew that Vernon would hate anything restrictive, but he’d hate yuppies even more, even if the term was 35 years out of use. Vernon was gonna be damned if he was gonna let yuppies overrun Buckner. So, he said, “All right. Do we have lawyers gonna help us out with drafting the restrictive covenants?”
“Well, Vernon, first we gotta ask if’n you want to go down this road?”
“I’m assuming if we do, you’re going to ask me for a handout?”
“If we do go this way and you want to go with it, we won’t be asking for the handout because it’ll be something you want to do.”
Vernon had himself a little think. “All right. And we’ll get some good lawyers, too, I don’t want something that can save the town get tossed out of court on a technicality or some damn fool thing like that.”
Betty Kay had a question, “Are we keeping prices low just for us? If we are, that dog won’t hunt. Fair Housing Act.”
I said, “No ma’am. Not just for us. I’m all for having low-cost housing for newcomers, if you’d like that, too.”
Betty Kay nodded but Vernon got stern. “Low-cost housing to me sounds like artificially depressing land values, and that sounds like robbing the owners to reward the new folks.”
I said, “Nossir, I wouldn’t put it that way. I look at growth and we wind up being a place where folks just go to die if we keep prices so high only retired folks without kids can afford to buy them. If we want families, we need low prices because those young folks got more health than they do cash, usually. But we can have the city act as an intermediary in the sale to where it takes an overall loss on the deal, hoping to make it up on the back side with property tax revenue from new businesses.”
Vernon said, “Well, all right, you’re a riverboat gambler with the city treasury. Making a bet our growth is solid.”
“Do you think it won’t be that way?”
“Can you guarantee it will be that way?”
“Well, what were those numbers for Flower Mound that you mentioned earlier? I think we’re in store for some of that.”
“Well… hmm… Maybe you got a solid bet, there, Clark.”
Betty Kay asked, “Now what if someone wants to build out a huge house on a non-subdivided lot and goes to the owner to keep restrictive covenants off of the property? We’re gonna have a big ol’ McMansion on our hands, all ugly and such-like.”
Bobby said, “We need to look beyond current boundaries and pick where the big houses will go. They’re going to happen, but we can specify pretty much where.”
I said, “That’s right. If we draw a circle around some part of the map around Buckner and say it’s for an exclusive community, rich folks wanting to be rich won’t go anywhere else. It’s just a question of where.”
Vernon cut through my BS. I knew he would. “You’re dangling that in front of us, knowing we stand to profit most both from selling land for a bypass as well as making a so-called exclusive community. What do you want from us in return?”
Bobby said, “Your hearts.”
Vernon shook his head with surprise. Betty Kay, even, was taken aback. I said, “If your hearts are in this, you’ll find your way to be generous. Sure, you’re about to get a windfall, but that was coming your way, regardless. With or without us, folks are coming to talk about development and buying up your land at a premium. Consider this to be like the three spirits from A Christmas Carol visiting you and hoping you come out of this with holiday cheer to spare, in spades.”
Vernon made a small smile as Betty Kay chuckled. Vernon said, “All right, you got your bargain. Old Vernon Scrooge here is going to be a generous feller, all right. I’m on board with you even though I presume I’ll be funding a big chunk of the costs?”
Betty Kay said, “I’m funding just as big a chunk as you, hot shot. We stand to gain the most, so it’s fair we cover the costs the most so we don’t lose the town.”
“All right, then, Miss Ma’am. We presume that we will be funding a big chunk of the costs.”
“It takes a village, Vernon.”
“Village, nothing, this is compassionate conservatism in action.”
“Oh, please, you’re an old man trying to get into heaven at the last minute!”
“And you’re an old biddy who can’t stop working my last nerve!”
Bobby cut in, “So, we’re all agreed with the plans? Historical markers, bypasses, and restrictive covenants? And you two will handle the lions’ share of the costs?”
Both of them said “yes”.
Bobby asked, “So, we got your hearts?”
Again, two “yes” statements.
Bobby then held out his right hand. Stronger than the written word in these parts was a body’s word and a handshake. Asking for a signature on a document would be insulting and only hold a person to the letter of the law. Asking for a solemn handshake was the highest form of trust and respect, and held a person to the truest spirit of the deal as possible.
The bickering stopped and the emotion dropped right off the faces. We all four of us shook on it, firm grips going with unbroken eye contact, sealing our intentions for all time.
After they left, I said to Bobby, “Well, I reckon you kidnapped them both and made them part of your tribe.”
Bobby Little Bear smiled. “And they’ll kidnap 3 of the 5 county commissioners for us. How does it feel, Clark?”
“Feels like we’ll have a good deal for the people of Buckner, present and future, if we can keep it all together.”