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Commissioners oppose utility district

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

Denton County commissioners are saying no to a proposed special utility district in an unincorporated area of the county.

A motion by Commissioner Hugh Coleman to send a letter this week to the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality to express opposition to the Mobberly Municipal Utility District was approved unanimously by commissioners in attendance. Precinct 2 Commissioner Ron Marchant was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The proposed district would be located at Mobberly Road and the southeast corner of FM1385. TCEQ is considering approval of an application from a developer to create the utility district. The developer wants to build a mixed-use development with retail and apartments that officials said could bring nearly 6,000 people to the unincorporated area near Aubrey. Nearby Savannah residents have opposed the project.

“This is good we get to comment before the formal application is accepted,” Coleman said.

The district would be among the latest of the more than 60 special water and utility districts in Denton County that have amassed more than $300 million in debt with an additional $2 billion in debt approved by voters, a recent review by the Denton Record-Chronicle found. Denton County ranks fifth in the state in the number of special districts.

Under a bill authored by state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, and approved by Texas lawmakers, county officials can now comment on a proposed municipal utility district before it is approved. Coleman said the Commisioners Court was notified about the latest one in a letter from TCEQ and must respond by Friday.

Coleman said he asked the fire marshal, county engineer and Denton County Sheriff’s Office officials to provide comment on the proposed district and planned to include their unfiltered responses with the letter to TCEQ.

Sheriff William Travis wrote in his letter that his office “anticipates with this type of proposed, high-density development in an unincorporated area of Denton County that the calls for patrol service, criminal investigations and traffic enforcement will increase and impact the operations of the sheriff’s office.”

Denton County Emergency Services Director Jody Gonzalez noted in his letter that the thousands of new residents in the area could force the county to add another fire station, with personnel and equipment. Otherwise, he said, emergency services to Mobberly and the communities around the district would suffer.

Attempts to contact the lead attorney for the proposed district, Tim Green of the Houston law firm Coats Rose, were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Coleman said he hopes that giving TCEQ the letter will give the agency a heads-up to the difficulty the district could potentially bring.

“I am not against multifamily,” Coleman said. “I am against it in an area that lacks home-rule municipal authority. It’s not fair to put these city-like developments in unincorporated areas because they will expect city services.”

Coleman has long expressed his opposition to the high tax rates of special utility districts and feels they should be created within municipalities.

“Hopefully, the TCEQ will take the input and deny the application, but it’s a new process so we will have to play it by ear,” he said.

Although he voted for the letter, Commissioner Andy Eads disagreed with a point made against the district that it would have a negative effect on the roads in the proposed district.

“To recommend against cheaper development merely because it puts a strain under our current road structure, that can’t be our only determination in evaluating these projects,” he said. “If as a body we’re going to recommend against a district, I think it is important we fully understand the reasons why we would be in opposition, that we look at each one on an individual case by case and see what the positives and negatives are to each type of development.”

In other action, county officials announced that Standard & Poor’s interim review of Denton County’s finances and economic base reaffirmed the county’s rating of “AAA,” or stable, according to a county news release.

In Standard & Poor’s opinion, the stable outlook reflects Denton County’s consistently strong finances as well as its strong management practices, according to the release. AAA is the highest possible rating.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.