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County commissioners OK thoroughfare plan

Denton County commissioners approved a thoroughfare plan Tuesday, a move officials say will allow the county to partner with developers in funding roadways for areas that become congested by new developments.

The plan determines the locations and types of roads that should be built to accommodate projected development in unincorporated areas of the county. Officials say the plan does not mean the county is obligated to fund the roads.

The thoroughfare plan, according to officials, preserves right of way for future roadway expansion.

On Tuesday, commissioners focused on parts of the plan for an outer loop roadway connector that would start at the Denton-Collin county line, cross through the Ray Roberts Greenbelt at FM428 and travel north to Milam Road. The connector could be a limited-access freeway similar to Texas State Highway 114 or U.S. Highway 380, said John Polster, a transportation consultant to the county. There's currently no money budgeted for the project.

Also discussed was an expansion of U.S. 380 in the eastern portion of the county. According to Polster, $105 million is earmarked for the project.

Commissioner Hugh Coleman previously said that with no thoroughfare plan in place, the county has minimal say on how much developers would pay to contribute to new roads, and state law grants authority to counties with a thoroughfare plan in place. On Tuesday, Coleman said having such a plan allows the county to partner with private developers and accept contributions to build roads.

"If we adopt a thoroughfare plan, we can get [private developers] to participate in a road [project] up to 50 percent," he said. "That will be a tremendous boon when we have these huge communities in the unincorporated area[s] who, after they build the communities, then tell all their residents to call their county commissioner and build the roads to fit the community that was inappropriately placed in the first place. And we'll be able to hopefully, in my opinion, deny all variances when they ask for smaller lot sizes until they can contribute to the road."

Consulting firm Freese and Nichols Inc. was hired in 2014 to produce the thoroughfare plan. A draft of the plan was distributed to the affected cities to review and provide feedback on by the end of last year, and public meetings on the plan were also held.

The meeting agenda online at http://bit.ly/2puQ6IK  includes a link to the final draft of the thoroughfare plan.

Also Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved a master plan study for the Denton County Courts Building at 1450 E. McKinney St. and the Joseph A. Carroll County Administration Building at 401 W. Hickory St. that examines growth needs for the next several decades. The plan calls for several changes to make the best uses of space while cutting costs.

According to county budget officer Donna Stewart, 2017 capital replacement funds would be used the first year to build a new courtroom at the courts building on McKinney Street that could be used as early as January 2019.

Other changes proposed in the plan call for moving the law library to a law building the county recently purchased and renovating the existing library to become a new district court; providing funds to design a parking lot expansion of the courts building out to McKinney Street; relocating some high-traffic courts in the existing courts building; a structural analysis of the Carroll Building and starting the design process for a records building. Stewart said a new records building would free up space in the McKinney Street courts basement to allow for four additional courtrooms.

"This would also delay a new annex building adjacent to the courts building to 2029, so it buys us 10 years of needing space for new courts," Stewart said.

The plan also calls for 10 new county courts in the next 20 years.

The initial funding schedule for the plan in the first two years indicated the county would need to spend $65.7 million, according to Stewart. Modifications brought the two-year cost down to $5.6 million, she said.

"We feel like this is a much easier pill for all of us to swallow and gets us what we need at least for the short term," Stewart said. "I think this is a good plan."

Coleman commended the work done to come up with a fiscally responsible plan.

"It's a healthy compromise for everybody," he said. "This is a good Band-Aid. It's a frugal Band-Aid. It will be a good solution."

In other action, commissioners unanimously appointed Connie D. Baker, Melody Kohout, Jonathan Mount and Judy Clements, all of Denton; Lynn Yeargain of Hickory Creek; Jullian Byrne-Sweeney of Lewisville; and Jean Carter of Trophy Club as the seven voting members for the 2017-18 Denton County Historical Commission. The seven members will select a commission chairperson from among the group.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876.