In the early 1960s, a neighborhood on the outskirts of campus along Guittard and Harrington avenues was established to house faculty and executive-level Baylor employees. Quickly dubbed "Fort Faculty," the community allowed faculty members living there to have interaction with students while still being able to maintain some privacy.
In the decades since, the University has grown steadily around the neighborhood with the additions of the McLane Student Life Center, the Speight Avenue Parking Garage and now the new sciences building. What was once a quiet residential area on the edge of campus quickly is becoming a central part of it.
As Baylor studied long-range land-use needs in early 2000, University officials identified Fort Faculty's 15 acres as a prime location for a future student residence. In April 2001, Baylor and Fort Faculty residents began a four-month discussion about how Baylor might accelerate acquisition of the remaining properties, and in July of that year, an agreement was signed.
"Generally speaking, the neighborhood believes that the agreement we have with Baylor is the best possible agreement that we could have negotiated," said Kent Gilbreath, chair of the Fort Baylor Neighborhood Committee. "There are some who wish we wouldn't have had to negotiate at all ... [but] there was recognition that the neighborhood had changed and that the agreement we reached ... was valuable to all members, economically speaking," he said.
The original Fort Faculty contracts gave residents ownership of their homes, while Baylor retained ownership of the land under a 99-year lease. In addition to giving homeowners the choice of selling their homes to a qualified buyer, Baylor provided a buy-back option, good for 35 years from when the house was built, which allowed residents to sell their homes to the University for 85 percent of their appraised market values.
The new agreement requires homeowners to sell their houses back to the University within the next nine to 13 years and in turn, the University will pay sellers 100 percent of the appraised values of their homes and of the land, which it already owns, said Rick L. Creel, assistant vice president of operations and facilities.
In exchange for acquiring all of the homes within that time frame, Baylor will not raze any homes in the community or start any building projects on the property until all houses have been sold. Of the 32 homes, Baylor currently owns 17. The University also allows former residents and new applicants to rent their homes until the deadline. Homes not occupied by owners will be maintained by the University so adjacent property values are not affected. Baylor also agreed to give former residents "first rights" to any University retirement facility that may be built in the future.
Gilbreath said there are many attractive aspects to the agreement. Residents could see that the age profile of the neighborhood had increased and that many of the homes needed repair. New Baylor employees have favored homes closer to where their children attend school, making Fort Faculty homes, with their Baylor employment qualifications for residency, more difficult to sell. In addition, the agreement looked favorable to many residents whose 35-year buy-back option under the original contract already had expired and who were having difficulty finding buyers. The homeowners agreed they probably would not receive on the public market a price comparable to what Baylor is offering, Gilbreath said.
Although homeowners can choose to wait until the deadline to sell, six already have sold to Baylor in the last year. Robert Packard, professor emeritus of physics, and his wife, Joyce, were among the first to sell their home after the agreement was signed. Initially they were unhappy with the circumstances; however, now that "the suddenness of the situation and the flush of uncertainty is over," Packard said, "we wouldn't want to undo anything. Everyone who worked with us was very nice. Rick Creel and his team were superb."
"The main point is that the homeowners have been great neighbors, and we are striving to meet their needs," Creel said. "Change is always difficult. But we are working hard to make it something that works for both parties. We are fulfilling what we promised when we signed the agreement."
Plans for the land still are being developed, with a student residential facility a top possibility, Creel said. "The land still lends itself to residential development. There are some beautiful trees and park areas there that we don't want to lose," he said.
The Allbritton House, the president's home, is located in Fort Faculty, but no plans have been made for it, Creel said. Another residential area along University Parks Drive and Bagby Avenue -- the "Edgefield" neighborhood -- also houses faculty and University employees.