Mansfield wants to ride city’s growth with new projects, development

Editor’s note: This is the final story in a five-part series examining how Fort Worth’s surrounding communities are tackling the region’s economic boom. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

mansfield’s city staff and officials have elevated the former farm town into a modern suburb thanks to a guiding principle they look to when setting priorities: true north. 

The 36.8-square-mile city southeast of Fort Worth has seen its population grow exponentially in the past decade and, with it, a changing approach to infrastructure and amenities. 

Since 1981, Mansfield’s population has gone from 8,000 to about 82,000 in 2023. 

“How do we put reins on that horse and ride it?” Mansfield Mayor Michael Evans told residents at the 2023 State of the City address. 

The continued rapid development of the dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has forced surrounding communities like Mansfield to respond quickly. 

For resident Juan Moreno, owner of Lone Star Barber Shop in Historic Downtown Mansfield, the growth is a love-hate relationship.

“I hear it as a barber,” Moreno said. “People have that perspective of they love the growth, but they don’t like the growth, right? It sounds hypocritical but it’s, just, whatever’s good is going to grow. Whatever is not good, it’s not going to grow.”

A changing landscape

Mansfield’s true north approach to its city planning is similar to what soldiers learn in the Army, City Manager Joe Smolinksi said. It defines what the city wants to accomplish and aspires to be, and how goals can be tailored to achieve that true north. 

True NORTH stands for the following:

Noteworthy Essentials — Mansfield wants to continue to deliver high-quality essential services to its residents, businesses and visitors.

Organizational Excellence — Mansfield wants to foster a healthy environment for its own employees to maximize productivity, boost morale, attract high-quality candidates and establish itself as a destination employer.

Remarkable Experiences — Mansfield wants to find creative and innovative ways to provide its residents, businesses and visitors with world-class amenities and experiences – above and beyond essential functions and services.

Together As One — Mansfield wants to remain a close-knit community as growth continues and provide world-class social infrastructure and opportunities for all of its residents to connect and enjoy remarkable experiences together. 

Healthy Economy — Mansfield wants to support and strengthen its economy in all strategic decision-making and leverage its assets to preserve its economic vitality.

Source: city of Mansfield

“It’s something that the staff and the council put on all of the time. They are always referring back to true north and trying to make sure that we’re cognizant of the big picture at all times,” Smolinksi said. 

That starts with land usage. Single-family homes make up about 35% of Mansfield’s land use, followed by undeveloped land, which makes up 25% of the area. 

In 2022, the city approved 842 new home permits. 

But that landscape could be changing as the city looks to diversify its housing stock. 

For Mansfield, that means not only making the city fiscally sustainable by growing the tax base but also bringing innovation. 

Smolinski describes it as experience-driven developments instead of convenience-driven ones.

With a quarter of the city’s land still undeveloped, Mansfield has to be smart about how that land used is affecting neighborhoods and whether it is creating strong communities. 

“One of the things we learned without question and was very clear to us during many public listening sessions… was that they wanted diverse housing options,” Smolinski said. “We had a significant cry for mixed-use development.”

Starlin Ranch, a 121-acre tract of land on the city’s west side, is described by city staff and officials as a new type of neighborhood that offers housing for different stages of life — young professionals, families, empty nesters, and retirees. 

The project will feature town homes, row homes, and senior living, as well as retail and office space. With seven different zonings in the project and two-thirds of it having a commercial overlay, it’s a groundbreaking development for the city, Smolinski said. 

“The key to Starlin Ranch was to make all of these options available and kind of let that grow organically,” he said. 

Lloyd Potter, director of the Texas Demographic Center, said land opportunity in the Fort Worth area makes it a prime spot for development and thus fuels growth. 

“With rapid growth comes the need to also provide infrastructure. Of course, building housing and so on, but making sure that the water distribution system is getting water to all of the housing, commercial and industrial places, and they all have power and roads. Transportation becomes a huge issue,” Potter said. 

‘We’re ready for it’

Moreno moved from Dallas to Mansfield 12 years ago to open his barbershop. He loved the small-town feel and ease of access to highways. 

When he opened his shop, the sidewalk in front of his store was small and his view was of a dirt lot, he said.

While things have changed in the past decade, Moreno said, the city has been doing a good job of addressing pressing needs. 

He knows roadwork can cause headaches in the moment but, once completed, the improvement is immediately noticeable. 

“In just me being here 12 years, I get a wide view of this,” Moreno said. The city is “doing what they can and the growth is coming. And we’re ready for it.”

Over the past two years, Mansfield has increased its investment in roadways and infrastructure by 60%. It’s also expanding its water treatment plant’s capacity to treat an additional 15 million gallons a day. 

In 2022, the city of Mansfield upgraded its emergency operation center and is in the process of constructing a new police headquarters. 

Beyond infrastructure, Mansfield is working to be part of the regional economic boom that North Texas is experiencing. Already home to Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, Texas Health Mansfield and Texas Tech’s satellite nursing campus, the city is looking to import more industries that will bring high-skilled, high-paying jobs. 

These target industries include advanced manufacturing, robotics and nanotechnology; aerospace, aviation and defense; biotechnology and life sciences; information technology; corporate services; and retail and restaurants that bring unique experiences. 

Many of these industries are also being sought out by the state of Texas. 

While new jobs are coming to Mansfield, Moreno hopes the city can help the mom-and-pop shops that historically have created the small-town feel many residents remember.

“Opportunities for mom-and-pops, opportunities to own a building and to gain a building, because we’re not going nowhere,” Moreno said. “We’re not investors; we’re just creative entrepreneurs trying to put our foot in.”

Smolinski said economic sustainability is important to tackle new growth while benefiting long-term residents. 

“Rising tides lift all boats. When one part of the city does well, the rest of the city does well, especially when it comes to the economics of managing what’s becoming a larger city,” Smolinksi. 

As for the Fort Worth area, including all of its surrounding communities, its central location coupled with the proximity of airports, rail lines and interstates means the growth has yet to slow down. 

“It’s very well positioned in terms of being this fairly centralized economic engine,” Potter said. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated Jan. 8 to clarify Juan Moreno’s comment about dirt roads and sidewalks.

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at [email protected] or @ssadek19. 

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