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.
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.
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.