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Denton council selects goals at retreat

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

The Denton City Council agreed on goals for itself after a planning retreat at Ray Roberts Lake, goals that include improving communication as well as establishing clear steps for city leaders after the comprehensive plan is updated.

It was the first time in five years that the group has spent two days on strategic planning matters. Members agreed on several ideas to help keep their eyes on the ball through the transition coming after this spring’s election. The prospect of a new mayor and at least two new council members loomed as they settled on where to spend their time and energy in the coming months.

City Manager George Campbell told the group near the end of the retreat that it was important that outgoing council members were included in the meeting, even though the group agreed earlier in the day that they would need another retreat after the election to help the new members acclimate.

“We need their perspective,” Campbell said.

Mark Burroughs has served three terms as mayor, and had previously served as a City Council member. Because of term limits, he cannot run again, nor can Pete Kamp, who has served more than a decade on the council. Although eligible for one more term, Place 6 council member James King has said he will not run again.

The city manager, all four assistant city managers and two employees from the city manager’s executive staff participated in the planning retreat with the City Council, except for District 4 council member Joey Hawkins, who was out of state.

The city’s planning staff took most of the afternoon Wednesday to detail the comprehensive plan update, which afforded the council and the executive team a view of how residents want to see the city grow.

Several council members said repeatedly throughout the group’s activities that they felt it was important the city’s new plan be distilled to a sentence or two and perhaps could even include goals that could be clearly measured, such as increasing the city’s street rating. Such a statement could be readily communicated, they said.

Although the city’s recent growth trends toward sprawl — with large-scale housing developments on the southeast side and master-planned communities poised to break ground on the west and southwest sides — residents want compact growth focused on established corridors, the staff said.

By late afternoon Wednesday, the first day of the retreat, council member Dalton Gregory said he couldn’t understand why the prevalence of shale gas development wasn’t part of the briefing, given the increasing anger and activism of residents. He pointed in particular to one master-planned community approved for the west side.

“There are gas wells all over the place,” Gregory said.

On Thursday, the council members agreed they needed to create a special process that would encourage and expedite compact growth over sprawl, which may mean seeking out condominium and townhome developers.

Council member Jim Engelbrecht said that, for the city, there was value in having residents own their own condominiums or townhomes.

Council members also agreed they needed to do a better job communicating. But while the council agreed on several ideas for better communication with the executive staff, they agreed less on how the city could better communicate with residents.

Only one suggestion — that the city use technology and the website to reach out and encourage more participation in local governance — resonated with everyone.

Council members and the executive staff agreed that the city’s continuing partnerships with other groups, including the Denton school district and the two universities, were important for continuity.

While a sitting city council cannot bind a future city council with its vote, council members agreed that city partnerships should be set up so future council members would “have to undo it vs. just not doing it,” as council member Kevin Roden said.

The retreat was held at Lantana Resort at Ray Roberts Lake near Pilot Point.

The overnight stays, meals and beverages cost the city $2,944, according to Assistant City Manager Bryan Langley.

A facilitator also worked with the staff to prepare for and lead the meeting at a cost of $10,150.

The planning activities were set up in part of a barn that had been converted to a banquet hall.

But the cold weather and wind overwhelmed the building’s heaters and most of the council members and staff wore coats and hats for much of the first day’s meetings. By the middle of the second day, the group moved to the main dining room in the lodge.

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