Flower Mound approves stricter sex offender ordinance as safety measure

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Nov. 6, 2015

Sex offenders have fewer options to reside in Flower Mound after changes were made to the town’s ordinance.

The changes collapsed pockets where offenders could live in eastern Flower Mound and created areas where they cannot live in the western part of town, which was previously open to them. The town unanimously approved the ordinance 5-0 at its Sept. 21 meeting.

Now, registered offenders must remain 2,000 feet from locations where children commonly gather. That distance was previously 1,500 feet. The changes also added trail systems and public or private youth centers to the previous list of prohibited areas of public parks, public and private schools, public and semi-public swimming pools, day care centers and video arcades.

“The first priority of any PTA is the safety and well-being of our children,” said Katherine Sells, president of the Lewisville Council of PTAs. “We support any ordinance or law that increases the safety of our children, whether that’s on the bus, on school grounds or at home.”

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Itamar Gelbman championed the ordinance, hoping to keep Flower Mound one of the safest towns in the country, he said.

“I don’t see this as a second punishment for the sex offenders, I see it as a safety measure,” he said. “We have not banned them from Flower Mound, they can still live in the town — we just made it safer for the kids.”

The lives of sex offenders

All 18 registered sex offenders in Flower Mound will be grandfathered in under the old ordinance for their existing addresses, according to Flower Mound Police Capt. Wess Griffin. New or repeat offenders who already own or rent homes in town are also filed under the old ordinance.

Griffin supplied neighborsgo with a new map of the prohibited areas. Two offenders live outside the restricted areas, both in the western part of Flower Mound which is mostly undeveloped or with expensive estates that can be difficult to afford for sex offenders.

Gelbman said the town still has room for them to move in — even if not immediately. Much of western Flower Mound is under development into low- and medium-density residential neighborhoods. A large portion is zoned for agricultural use. Most of this land also lies in the Cross Timbers Conservation Development District where development and re-zoning are limited but still possible.

“The western part of Flower Mound is a little bit more expensive than the eastern part,” he said. “It’s harder for them to live there because market conditions dictate that the western part of Flower Mound is more expensive. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Town council member Bryan Webb lives in the western part of town. He said he’s not concerned that the area will become a “sex offender haven.”

The land will develop along the same lines as Chimney Rock or High Meadow, “with 1- or 2-acre lots at a significant price point,” he said, but “it wasn’t intentional to block out the entire town.”

“There is a school being built at Canyon Falls. There is land being purchased for parks,” he said. “And in terms of the large landowners, I’d be surprised if they would be interested in cutting off a 2-acre plot for an individual house.”

The ordinance does not consider landscaped street medians as public parks or equestrian trails as multi-use trails, which is what makes west Flower Mound an option for sex offenders.

Although the Flower Mound ordinance might seem strict, it’s lighter than many area restrictions.

Richardson’s ordinance, passed in October 2006, also makes the buffer zone 2,000 feet, which causes 98 percent of the city to be off-limits to convicted child molesters.

Aubrey City Council passed a sex offender ordinance on July 21. The city made it unlawful for sex offenders to live within 1,000 feet of where children gather, and also made it illegal to loiter within 300 feet of a child safety zone. Violators can be fined $2,000 a day for each violation. In Flower Mound, violators are charged with a misdemeanor and upon conviction fined a sum not to exceed $500 for each offense.

Little Elm passed an ordinance in 2007 that also established a 1,000-foot buffer zone. It furthered restrictions by prohibiting sex offenders from visiting within that zone. It provides exemptions so offenders can attend school, transport their minor children to and from school, engage in business or visit friends and family. However, law enforcement might require proof.

Facing lawsuits

Lewisville restricts sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of schools, playgrounds, day-care centers and pools. In 2012, The Dallas Morning News reported that Aurelio Duarte and his family sued the city in federal court for its restrictions after two years of living in a 780-square-foot room in an extended-stay motel. The city passed its sex-offender ordinance while Duarte was in jail.

The lawsuit failed and was appealed multiple times. On Aug. 21, a U.S. magistrate for the federal Eastern District of Texas in Sherman recommended to the U.S. District Court that the Duarte claims be dismissed.

In March, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported that Krum was hit with a lawsuit alleging its 2,000 feet restrictions are unconstitutional after a resident was ordered to leave his parents’ house. The lawsuit cites a March 2007 ruling from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott that general-law towns such as Krum cannot enact sex-offender residency restriction ordinances under the Texas Constitution unless authorized by the Legislature.

When the Flower Mound ordinance was before Town Council, Webb inquired about the status of the Lewisville litigation.

“It is a concern of mine,” he said. “My request to the town attorney when we passed the changes was that they monitor that Lewisville litigation closely and advise us of any changes very quickly.”

Gelbman said he is not concerned about the lawsuits and feels “very comfortable that the ordinance will sustain in court and be enforceable.”