Commentary: O.K. Carter: Nine farms, a thousand acres, 20 years and then break ground on a sprawling development

Hanover Property CEO Dick Leblanc, City Manager Clayton Chandler, Robert McCaslin, Mayor David Cook at M3 groundbreaking Oct 15.


Though the newly unveiled M3 Ranch housing development in southwest Mansfield is clearly impressive – 1,600-homes-to-be mixed with a smidge of retail and a lot of amenities – the game plan for making it happen isn’t one likely to be frequently emulated.

It went like this:

• Buy nine adjoining small farms until there’s a thousand acres on the edge of one of the fastest growing cities in the Metroplex.

• Sit on it for 20 years.

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Though that’s the way it played out, this wasn’t exactly the original strategy, notes Bob McCaslin Jr., whose family (principals are Robert Sr., Bob Jr. and Kim McCaslin) began acquiring the properties west of South Main and off Heritage Parkway in the late 1990s. Bob McCaslin Jr. is also president of the family business, M.R. Development.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do when we started buying it,” said the younger McCaslin, though there’s this: Whatever it was, it wasn’t supposed to take two decades.

Nor did it come cheap.

“It was owner financing on almost all of it,” McCaslin said. “We were constantly making payments. Over the years we’ve had different plans. None of them came together. But Mansfield is growing and land is always a good investment.”

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An early strategy was to sell most of the land to the city for a municipal golf course that would itself eventually be surrounded by upscale proximity housing. But the city decided to go east instead of west on the new golf course.

There were other entities interested in residential or commercial development, but with a downturn here and there, nothing happened.

The McCaslin’s kept growing hay – and cows – on the property, and the combined acreage turned out to be one of the most bountiful dove hunting locations in North Texas. And there were a couple of other fortuitous developments.

One of them was the growing Mansfield ISD needed school sites, eventually buying almost 300 acres of the ranch for future schools. The other lucky break, handily, was that M3 sits upon the Barnett Shale, a natural gas-laden formation.

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“We ended up with half a dozen pad sites with 18 wells,” McCaslin said.

But the end-game was to develop the remaining 715 acres, which turned out not to be that easy.

“It took me three tries over eight years to finally get it zoned,” McCaslin said. “It was always amicable but sometimes the city just wanted more than we could do.”

And there was also a mission to finally find the right development principal, that eventually turning out to be Hanover Property Company, a Dallas-based company with a massive portfolio in both residential and commercial development.

The official groundbreaking for M3 Ranch took place in October at a tented event attended by most of the who’s who of Mansfield.

So now it’s this: M3 Ranch will sprawl across 715 acres and contain 1,561 single family homes, another 34 acres dedicated to town homes, 15 acres of retail and office commercial and – the bonus – 200 acres of amenities.

“Parks, trails, waterfalls, playgrounds and a lot of public art,” notes Hanover Property President Dick LeBlanc. “We love doing projects like this, creating a sense of place, a special desirable environment with long term value.”

LeBlanc said investment in the amenities alone for M3 would exceed $16 million. Home prices will start in the mid $300,000s.

“The cost of the other development will be around $660 million spread across as long as 14 years,” LeBlanc added.

The density? “About three units per acre overall,” McCaslin said.

Construction of infrastructure supporting the development is already underway and the building of the first 400 units will begin early next year.

Mansfield City Manager Clayton Chandler said M3 would be, in effect, “a major economic engine” for the city.

“Growing the economy is important to Mansfield,” Chandler said. “The M3 impact will be tremendous for jobs, infrastructure and future residents. “It will help carry us years into the future.”

O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.