Access Bank Project

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This past Wednesday, the Planning and Zone Commission heard a rezoning case for the property generally located at the northeast corner of Carroll and Eagle; most prominently known for the AccessBank building. 

The request was to change the subject property from Downtown Residential 1 (DR-1) to Downtown Commercial General (DC-G). Currently on this city block there is both DR-1 (on the north side) and DC-G (on the south and west side). 

Based on a review by city staff, they recommended approval of the zoning request "as it is compatible with surrounding property and is consistent with the goals and objectives of the Denton Plan 2030)."

A single ownership group owns all the property shown in yellow above. They are currently leasing 5 single detached houses in the north "L" shape yellow region. The ownership group is wanting to create more parking in the south eastern section of the proposal and 3-4 garden-style office buildings on the northern portion. For all intents and purposes my narrative will solely focus on the northern portion as there wasn't much discussion/opposition to the southern request for additional bank parking.

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As always, the city mailed certified notices to neighbors within 200 ft and courtesy notices to those within 500 ft. The city received 3 responses. The two properties in favor are owned by the same individual; she lives in one and rents the other. The individual opposed to the proposal rents the property (seen in red); he lives in Forney, TX. Both individuals were in attendance at the P&Z meeting and spoke their position.

With the city's recommendation to approve the project and the responses from the public showing more support than opposition, I was honestly surprised to hear the very outspoken opposition to the project from my fellow commissioners. And their rationale I still find confusing as I write this. 

It seemed, from my understanding, that the core of the opposition from some of the commissioners is this idea of zoning creep (or beginning the domino effect of rezoning with this project). Indeed, we have seen items in which a rezone request seems to encroach and jeopardize the ongoing zoning in a region/district of the city. Typically the commission does balk at this when we see rezone that cross natural barriers like streets. This is not the case for this property, half the block is already DC-G and there are natural barriers in place to protect against any zoning creep into the neighborhood to the north. The property to the west, south and east are already constructed outside residential uses. 

The other concern stated by opposing commissioners was the idea of protecting these 5 homes. However, opposing this project does not protect these homes. The property owner could demolish these structures at their discretion. If the property owners just wanted a field adjacent to the bank, they can do that; we are not able to vote on protecting these homes.

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As P&Z commissioners we have an obligation to listen to citizens and take their opinions into consideration. I have been accused of not listening to citizens well enough on previous votes. Never-the-less, I try to weigh my personal perspective, city staff research and citizen feedback in balance. I am surprised that the public comment on this item was not taken into consideration by all commissioners. The opposing comment was an individual concerned about his rental property's value; he is not a resident of Denton (according to Denton CAD). The supportive comment was not only a Denton resident but resides next door to the proposal. She emotionally stated her nervousness about her personal safety if this project was to move too slow. Her actual stated response was opposed to a slow project and gave personal anecdotes of growing fear specifically from residents in the 5 houses in question (including a registered sex offender, according to her). 

I personally have to weigh the resident's testimony heavier then the Forney investor's comments.

What most baffled me was Commissioner Sullivan's and Commissioner's Ellis' logic to addressing this agenda item.

Commissioner Sullivan questioned the broad uses available under DC-G. I directly asked him that if the uses were limited (through an overlay) to just office space would that change his vote. He said, "No." I am not sure why this point was stated if irrelevant to his vote. I remain uncertain why he opposed this project.

Commissioner Ellis stated that she sees no reason to have postponed the item because, "nothing could change her mind."  I take it by her response that if the applicant brought in 20 neighbors who expressed their support, she wouldn't listen? I remain confident that Commissioner Ellis is not this dogmatic and will remain open-minded when the item returns.

To his credit, Commissioner Beck (the other opposing vote) seemed open minded about what the applicant might be able to bring back to the commission. Though, I think he (rightfully) will have some high expectations.

In my opinion the proposed zoning change simply extends DC-G into directly adjacent properties and seems to make since for the overall block and could potentially be more beneficial to the city.

The agenda item, procedurally, ended up being quite a fiasco with two failed motions and a legal review for tie-votes. Ultimately, we will get the opportunity to hear the project again on June 13th. 

It is my hope that the applicant returns with some strict overlays to help better define the intent of the project and that all commissioners will hear, with fresh ears, the project.

One Bullhorn is Needed

First, it is important for me to clarify something lest it be left to assumption.  I believe in the First Amendment to the US Constitution and feel strongly that the free right of assembly should never be shunned or its power reduced. Hopefully, my writings here don’t question the medium but rather highlight my concern of this particular message.

  Photo Credit: Ed Steele (Denton, TX)

Photo Credit: Ed Steele (Denton, TX)

It is estimated that millions of people (mostly American women) participated in the “Women’s March on Washington,” or one of it’s “sister” marches, around the country and globe.  According to local organizers, Denton saw about 2,500 people participating in the march on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

It seems, unlike the protests and demonstrations that sporadically pop-up from time to time over the past few years, this one march was set to be more unifying, more deliberate and focused. This was not an impromptu gathering; it was planned. Though spawned from a Facebook post, the march seemed to have quickly organized into something pretty formal and direct. The website for the march is now a hub for information and resources. Despite all this effort, I can’t help believe the outcome of this will be mute. I suppose Madonna was speaking to me when she said, "And to those who insist that this march will never add up to anything: f**k you. f**k you!"

When listening to organizers and speakers detail their efforts, it seems as though the women's marches are meant to bring about change. Janet Mock said, "We are here not to merely gather, but to move." Maryum Ali was quoted, "So this is what we gotta do: don't get frustrated, get involved. Don't complain, organize... We have to start spending time... standing up for equal rights." It is clear to me that those two women (and many more speakers) want to see some sort of change occur.

The idea of marching for a change sparked me to consider past marches with goal achieving outcomes. And When I think about historical marches that brought about change, two spring to mind: the Women’s Suffrage Parade and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (The similarity in titles between Saturday’s march and the civil right’s march isn’t lost on me.)

However, those two important marches had something in common: focus and specificity; they rallied hundred of thousands towards one common goal. The Women’s Suffrage Parade (1913) demanded a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. The March on Washington (1963) demanded civil and economic rights for African Americans.

According to the Women’s March website, the demands of Saturday’s marches were eight fold. The lack of singularity in their unity will ultimately lead to a zero outcome. Moreover, the lack of singularity provides ambiguity to the rest of Americans, much less the government, as to how you would like us to respond. The simple fact that this was supposed to be an inclusive march for women but pro-life activists were uninvited questions the sincerity of motivation and the earnestness of desiring one voice. “We want to be heard, but we don’t want everyone to speak.” It seems.

I think the parade in 1913 and the march in 1963 were whole-heartedly needed and I am thankful for the outcomes they created. Similarly, if a subset of Americans feel trampled upon and need to unify their voice to be heard, then it’s their protected American right. It would simply be helpful to everyone else if we heard one bullhorn, not eight.

Decision Process | Buc-ee's ADP

Last night at the Planning and Zoning meeting, the vote for the approval of an alternative development plan (ADP) was approved 4 votes "aye" to 3 votes "nay." It my short tenure, it was the first nonunanimous vote in which I have participated. 

The applicant of the ADP for an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) was Buc-ee's Travel Stop. Because of the relatively high profile business coming to Denton and the public outcries of its imminent construction, I certainly felt the hyper-necessity to consider all aspects of the project in order to absolutely defend the decision I was to make. Whether good or bad, I was aware that the applicant's public perception was at play in the discussion and perhaps even the vote. 

At its crux, the issue at hand was the request from Buc-ee's to remove roughly 13,000 sq ft of an ESA in order to build an internal road on the property. As per the city of Denton, they would be required to mitigate this disturbance. The question to the commission seemed simple enough: Are the conditions of the mitigation enough to approve the removal of the designated ESA for a road? 

Both in work session and in the public session, questions were raised to the applicant from the commission about the validity of the mitigations and any alternatives to the internal road design. Buc-ee's mitigation proposal included an equal (1:1) trees mitigation (realized at the maturity of the trees) as well as Stormceptors (used for collecting and filtering runoff from adjacent land). The engineer of the project provided ample information about the mitigation being significant and sufficient. He also provided sound reason, logic and data negating the potential for the road the be rerouted. It was clear that Buc-ee's had taken time to look at the impact, any alternatives and present, what they felt, was their best effort. This effort, when analyzed by the city resulted in a recommendation from staff to the commission of "approve." 

Despite compelling information from both the applicant and staff, the commission has the obligation and privilege to listen to city feedback on the matter. This is the single best opportunity a citizen has to bring forth issues to the matter at hand that could be helpful to me and the other commissioners in making a decision. In public hearing, nine citizens spoke about the issue; eight marked opposed and one indicated support. The testimony, however, convoluted the discussion by identifying reasons in which Buc-ee's was a bad idea (generally speaking) and not to the specific point of the proposed ADP. It is worth noting that there was a minority of opposition that spoke against the ADP specifically. However, the information provided by the citizens (on a whole) on the matter didn't serve to provide any additional or unique concerns about the ADP that had not already been addressed by staff or the applicant. In hindsight, I could have done a better job at asking questions to those who did not specifically speak to the ADP to provide them an opportunity to more directly speak pertaining to this vote. 

After public testimony, the commissioners spoke amongst ourselves about the concerns. All issues brought up were absolutely valid concerns to the project, but some were geared more to issues to be identified at a later stage and were explicitly not part of the pending vote on the ADP. The process of filtering out irrelevant information is tricky as its human nature to bring in all available information. It is my hope that I do well at the filtering process, finding that correct balance: I want to remain focused on my charged task while still understanding the larger scope and impact of the project. Admittedly, that dance is still one I am learning.

Ultimately, I felt that the ADP was the correct decision and that the proposed mitigation (in which the commission added 2 conditions) was sufficient to counteract the loss of the riparian buffer segment. Considering Buc-ee's is going to be built, I desire to find the best options for the city given its imminent arrival. The traffic and safety issues that would be introduced if the ADP was not approved would have significant impact on the city.  

I am thankful for the discussion surrounding Buc-ee's as it ultimately brings about deeply thoughtful conversations leading to decisions, in which I do not take lightly. I continue to have upmost respect for my fellow commissioners and look forward to continued discussions about matters important to the City of Denton.

Related: Commissioner Beck wrote an article regarding his vote. For his perspective, click here.