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Denton explores planning issues

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

A joint meeting of the Denton City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission over lunch Monday nibbled the edges of problems the city has faced recently with redevelopment.

Mayor Mark Burroughs opened and closed the meeting with prepared remarks, saying that he hoped the discussion would help move the group more toward a customer service position, rather than a regulatory position. He urged the group to seek clarification when the council’s direction isn’t clear.

“Hopefully, it will make your job easier,” Burroughs said.

Through the course of the two-hour meeting, commissioners and council members bemoaned the problems in city processes that have proved costly to Denton. Commissioner Frank Conner said the city is often paralyzed by its inability to make exceptions to the rules, even when a rule appears to have created an unintended consequence.

Although different members of the group described specific redevelopment projects that were lost and why, no one mentioned the most recent controversy: the commission’s denial this summer of a zoning change request by DATCU.

DATCU has since announced it is considering a parcel of land in Corinth for its corporate headquarters.

Most of the meeting involved a presentation by the city’s planning director on priority projects for the next three years. Brian Lockley sought direction from both groups, to make sure the city staff was spending time and resources on the most important items.

By the end of 2014, the planning department expects to finish re-writing the comprehensive plan, with new development codes for infill and redevelopment, including form-based code for downtown redevelopment. The department also expects to revise the tree preservation code.

All those projects are proceeding with the help of consultants. The planning staff spends a good deal of its time working with development requests and finding ways to streamline that process. Last year, the department reviewed 444 development applications, Lockley said.

Generally, the council and commission agreed with the priorities, which don’t see the city’s sign ordinance and changes to downtown parking rules addressed in the development code until 2015.

The delay for parking bothered some members of the commission, given the problems they are seeing with current applications. Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp reminded them that next year’s bond election could bring money for a downtown parking garage.

“That could change everything,” Kamp said.

Council members Kevin Roden and Jim Engelbrecht asked to see more information about the department’s neighborhood programs, which didn’t appear up high on the proposed priority list.

In particular, the council asked that the staff continue to move ahead with the Better Block program.

“We had 100 people enthusiastic about that program,” council member Dalton Gregory said. “That needs to be in our sights for the foreseeable future.”

The staff also was concerned about initiatives from city boards and commissions that might take significant amounts of staff time, without knowing whether they are a priority for the City Council, too.

A recent initiative, for example, by the Historic Landmark Commission to propose an overlay for downtown could take a lot of staff time, Lockley said.

Currently, a subcommittee is gathering information before that project goes forward, he said, but he also recommended there be a formal process to submit such projects to the City Council.

Several council members wondered aloud whether a previous proposal that boards and commissions write annual reports could serve that purpose. Gregory said a report from the city’s Human Services Advisory Committee came in on time for the council to address it as part of the budget process.

He recommended that boards and commissions be encouraged to submit those reports by May, in order for the council to consider those projects that need additional resources as part of budget talks.

Roden echoed the sentiment.

“We want their ideas,” he said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.