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Create sense of customer service

The joint meeting earlier this week between the Denton City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission is an important step for the city’s future, albeit a small one.

Setting the tone for the meeting, Mayor Mark Burroughs stressed the need for a more customer-service atmosphere rather than a regulatory one — a stance with which we wholeheartedly agree.

As the city moves into this next phase of growth, these types of discussions should occur more frequently to help design ways to offer a welcome mat to prospective businesses as well as existing Denton businesses and residents.

As Commissioner Frank Conner mentioned, the city has a reputation for its inability to adapt rules even in situations when it would apparently make sense to do so. The city has also continued to have timeliness issues with permitting processes in getting businesses open and ready to operate.

What wasn’t discussed at length was the ongoing issues about regulations dealing with sign permits as well as surmounting notices of possible violations for businesses and residents not meeting strict code enforcement guidelines.

This issue has caused the city a bit of a black eye among the very people who have long supported it.

But knowing these two groups are talking about development issues is a positive move in the right direction.

We would suggest a few more such meetings with specific items earmarked for more thorough discussions. The time spent at the forefront could well save significant time later when unintended consequences of new rules are discovered and city staff and officials find themselves mired in rewriting, yet again, existing codes.

Most of Monday’s meeting involved a presentation by the city’s planning director on priority projects for the next three years. By the end of 2014, the planning department expects to finish rewriting the comprehensive plan, with new development codes for infill and redevelopment. The department also expects to revise the tree preservation code.

All of those projects are proceeding with the help of consultants — a costly move we think merits watching in these ongoing economically lean times.

The planning staff spends a good deal of its time working with development requests and finding ways to streamline that process. We have suggested before, and will do so again here, that perhaps more code enforcement personnel could be utilized in the development end of the planning department spectrum.

That move alone would solve several issues — fewer notices of possible violations to neighborhoods and businesses that are obviously trying to meet standards and more effort focused on moving the needle faster on new development.

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. But it also might not, we caution. Passage of a bond election is never guaranteed. And parking — as well as traffic flow — continue to be a problem around the city’s center hub. We say this with experience, as we’re here day in and day out — right in the midst of it.

Council members Kevin Roden and Jim Engelbrecht asked to see more information about the department’s neighborhood programs, which didn’t appear 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.”

We tend to agree, councilman. Anytime you have 100 people gathered at a community meeting — that is a sign of strong interest that could be transformed into positive action.

And, finally, we like the suggestion of getting public input from advisory committees in time for budget discussions. That move simply makes sense. It also gives credence to the annual reports by incorporating suggestions in a timely manner rather than potentially shelving them for the next round of budget talks.

It all gets back to the mayor’s theme — creating a stronger sense of customer service both within and outside of the city of Denton.