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.