Residents put pen to paper, or marker to poster board, Thursday night to help show city planners how Denton’s next decade ought to go.
The city hosted its first community forum in the foyer of the Denton school district’s LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex on Thursday night as part of its work rewriting the city’s comprehensive plan.
Planners will repeat the exercise for other residents who want to participate this afternoon and Saturday morning.
After getting an overview of what to expect in the two-hour exercise, residents gathered in small groups around a table.
Two staff members helped direct the conversation and took notes.
Six tables of four to five residents each worked to list the city’s strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities.
At one table, lifelong and newbie residents had amassed their first list when one resident, Paul Meltzer, became concerned about the direction to pare the list of the city’s strengths to the top three items.
The group had come up with about a dozen varied items: the city’s historic architecture and the vitality of downtown businesses, the presence of two universities and the quality of education in the public schools, the eclecticism of the people and things to do, the city’s growth and its creative class, even the nascent efforts to make the city bike- and walk-able.
But assistant city planner Mike Bell told the group that he would be typing up all the items submitted; nothing would be discarded.
Meltzer was also concerned that some suggestions would be filtered later by the planners or other city staff members for their feasibility.
But longtime city employee Linda Ratliff, who was helping direct the conversation, said that wouldn’t happen either.
“We don’t pooh-pooh,” Ratliff said. “These are your lists.”
When it came to the city’s weaknesses and challenges, the group came to a quick consensus on top priorities, but votes quickly diverged on what else needed to be addressed. And when their table’s views were shared with residents at the other five tables, varying ideas emerged.
Residents had many views into the city’s future challenges and opportunities — from fostering good health care delivery and affordable housing to addressing traffic, air quality and the intrusion of commercial and natural gas development into neighborhoods.
Some common themes emerged, too. Many thought the city was weak in its support of independent businesses and employers — from the paucity of living-wage jobs to the inability to retain University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University graduates.
Overall, many residents agreed the city had strength in its identity, the vitality of the downtown Square and the presence of those quality universities and could capitalize on that with the next plan.
Brian Lockley, the city’s interim director of planning, told the crowd he was pleased with the feedback.
“Just listening tonight was fantastic for me,” Lockley said. “There are a lot of things I heard already that I’m going to go back and talk to the staff about.”
He encouraged the people who attended to invite friends and colleagues to attend the sessions planned for today and Saturday. He also sought participation from churches, service organizations or other clubs and community groups.
If invited, the city staff is ready with a “meeting in a box,” Lockley said. “If you think your group wants it, we will replicate it.”
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
IF YOU GO
• What: Denton Plan 2030 community forums
• When: 2 to 4:30 p.m. today at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 1300 Wilson St. and 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Guyer High School, 7501 Teasley Lane
• On the Web: www.DentonPlan2030.com