Kembel, a graduate of the University of Texas-Austin, knows that other developers have tried –– and failed –– to tame the area. He also knows that because of all of that previous earthmoving, very little of Viridian’s property remains undisturbed. He said any artifacts from the fort that might have been lying around on the surface would have been long gone before he came to town.
Nobody really knows the exact spot where Bird’s Fort was located, Kembel said, but it is believed to have been on a privately owned piece of property “right in the middle of [the] development,” a tract of land whose owners are not interested in selling, Kembel said.
Still, Kembel is dreaming of a way to partner with an educational organization to tell the story of Bird’s Fort Treaty. He also said flooding is no longer a problem –– the development’s drainage system is designed to hold large water capacities. While rains that doused North Texas earlier this year filled up the lake and covered its beach area, Kembel said the water did not affect any of the homes or places where there is activity.
“Our flood-control system worked very well,” he said. “Lot of areas in town flooded. We were high and dry.”
While flooding may no longer plague the area, the mosquitoes, apparently, must have missed the memo. Sahlstein has had to surrender to them while fossil hunting, he said. Kembel, however, claims they’re not a problem.
“We have hatches but not at a frequency that causes issues,” he said.
Kembel said foxes, bobcats, and wild pigs roam freely along the riverbanks because there are no fences along the river. He also talked about how the land is designated as a Certified Gold Signature Sanctuary through Audubon International, a nonprofit that specializes in environmental educational and sustainable resource management.
“To be an environmentally sensitive developer, there are things we can do,” he said. “We have a very unique site here that deserves to be treated a little differently than what would typically happen.”
Kembel pointed to a grassy slope designed to act as a natural filter for water entering into the lakes and said special areas have been constructed for wildlife.
“We probably have another $2 or $3 million of wetland mitigation we will do,” he said. “We had pelicans come here this year.”
Eventually, there will be sailing on the lake, he said. Viridian will work with Arlington’s River Legacy Park, a 1,300-acre urban sanctuary along the Trinity River, to install a canoe facility near the back of the property.
Joyner wrote that “possibly the first Anglo-American navigation along the Trinity took place in March 1842, when Captain Mabel Gilbert lashed two large cottonwood canoes together, covered them with planks, and then with his wife, Charity, his many children, his parrot, Jackoo, and a hired man to help navigate, floated his ‘boat’ from Bird’s Fort to a place near John Neely Bryan’s cabin below Elm Fork, now known as Dallas.”
Viridian wants activity, Kembel said, but they want the activity to be programmed and legal.
Kembel said CrossHarbor Capital put up the initial capital for the project with North Texas’ Huffines Communities in 2006 in the form of a 10-year fund and recently sold their interest in Viridian to Johnson Development in partnership with Tricon out of Canada.
When asked about the city dump across Collins Street, Kembel, wearing his best boy-next-door grin, replied, “Where?”
Motorists driving along Collins near the development looking west can see grassy slopes of mountainous landfill. About 3,100 tons of trash arrives there daily. It can’t really be swept under the rug.
About 500 homeowners have moved into Viridian so far, and another 150 homes are under construction. Kembel said by the end of this year, there will be 1,000 lots on the ground. Kembel plans to eventually build between 3,500 and 5,000 homes, depending on how everything works out.
As Kembel talked, children and adults cooled off at the clubhouse pools –– with sandy beaches.
“This is really kind of unique, to have a sand beach inside the pool,” he said.
Viridian also has a two-story foreign language school, courtesy of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district.
The community is diverse, Kembel said, but “there are not a lot of twentysomethings.”
Open space and lifestyle are big draws, but the main attraction, Kembel said, is location: smack dab in the middle of the Metroplex. About 25 families move into the development each month, he said.
Kembel and wife Keri will move into Viridian near the end of October. Now that their youngest, Chloe, a.k.a. Miss Teen Texas USA, has left for college, the Kembels are empty nesters.
Although it would be fun to say he lives on an island, he said, it’s not happening. Encircled by water (but don’t call it a moat), the island was just “a pile of dirt” Kembel decided to hang on to it.
“I can’t afford the island,” he said. “I don’t have a ‘Ph.D.’ at the end of my name, so I’m living in the back.”
And like a kind of Indiana Jones, Sahlstein is determined to rid the area of all of the off-roaders or “infidels,” as he calls them. Driving through the area recently, he pointed out a hefty mound of dirt he had dumped to block one of the four-wheeling trails. He said he knows “the infidels” are close as soon as he spots a trail of Miller Lite beer cans.
“Before I started running the infidels out, this [area] would all be burned out,” he said. “There’d be beer cans, maybe a broken, rolled over vehicle, maybe a stripped vehicle down in here.”
Karen Gavis is a UTA student and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.