The photographer had asked a simple question of Denton City Council member Vicki Byrd during a recent meeting focusing on tourism to Denton. It wasn’t a derogatory question, Byrd said, just one of curiosity, something he had noticed when he was trying to capture Denton’s diverse population in photographs of downtown for the committee: Where are all the Black people downtown? Why aren’t they hanging out on the courthouse lawn?
Byrd, who is Black, wasn’t sure how to answer it and told him, “Aside from church, I’m not really sure.”
“He was right,” Byrd told the Record-Chronicle in a Thursday afternoon interview. “Where is the 17% [who make up the Black population in Denton]?”
She received part of her answer in a conversation with someone she called a younger gentleman not quite 60 yet, born and raised in Southeast Denton. He lives only three blocks away from downtown yet said he never goes there to hang out or shop.
“Why don’t you go there?” Byrd recalled asking him.
“I don’t want them looking at me strange,” he replied.
“He was taking it from the perspective that ‘I’m a Black man and I don’t want them looking at me,’” Byrd said. “I was emotionally connected and felt sorry for him. To feel like he’s not wanted here, I don’t know. It’s 2023, and for him to feel like you’re still an outsider in your town. …”
For some in Southeast Denton, this feeling can be traced back to the 1920s, when the city essentially stole Quakertown from many of their grandparents and great-grandparents and forced them to move their homes away from downtown and into Southeast Denton.
Nearly 50 years of segregation, reaffirmed by city, state and federal laws, followed. Not to mention the systemic racism the community has faced over the years.
A Confederate soldier monument on the courthouse lawn in downtown Denton for nearly 100 years also didn’t send a welcoming message to the 17% of Black people who live here. The statue was removed by county officials three years ago.
Now in the midst of Quakertown’s remembrance 100 years later, Byrd has been trying to raise awareness about the need for volunteers from the Southeast Denton community to serve on the steering committee for the Southeast Denton Area Plan.
The area plan, Byrd said, is the city’s way of giving residents in Southeast Denton a voice in how the area is developed in the future.
“I just want them — the Southeast Denton folks — to know we’ve come so far from 100 years ago,” Byrd said.
“This is not the end of the story. Now it is time to continue on with that story and into the future. That is what is being asked of them [with the area plan]. It’s their time to turn the corner and take this story further.”
There are several area plans unfolding at the moment. The Northeast Denton Area Plan kicked off in January, and a downtown area plan will soon follow.
The Southeast Denton Area Plan started in February. According to the city’s website, the Southeast Denton Area Plan affects a large area from McKinney Street to the north, Bell Avenue and Dallas Drive to the west, Teasley Lane and Shady Oaks Drive to the south and Woodrow Lane to the east.
A map shows the boundaries for the Southeast Denton Area
Courtesy art/City of Denton
The plan’s start comes at a time when the Black community in Southeast Denton learned the city was working with a Dallas developer to approve a high-end apartment complex on East Sycamore Street right next to the historic Oakwood Cemetery, where many people from Quakertown and their descendants have been buried.
Byrd was also caught by surprise by the development when word began to spread last year. No one at the Southeast Denton Neighborhood Association seemed to have prior knowledge about the development appearing in their community, an area that has been economically depressed for generations in Denton.
“How’s that going to help us?” SEDNA President Colette Johnson said at the organization’s monthly meeting in September. “High-priced apartments that nobody can afford. How is that going to help us? We’re going to talk to that developer and see if there’s something else that can be done. We feel the need that they should have to come talk to us.”
Now, the city wants to talk with them by initiating the Southeast Denton Area Plan. It seeks to offer residents a voice in how the city develops the area as part of the Denton 2040 comprehensive plan.
It also allows city staff to address the development pressures being felt in and adjacent to the study area, according to the city’s area plans website.
But Byrd worries that the Downtown Area Plan will overlay with the Southeast Denton plan since the city is looking to expand downtown east into Southeast Denton.
“My biggest concern — and I made note of this in our meeting [Tuesday] — in regards to the Southeast Denton Area Plan is being overlaid with the Eastern Downtown Plan,” Byrd said. “That was confusing. It looks odd to me. It happens to overlay, and it’s so easy for people to say, ‘Now they’re gentrifying with these big apartments.’”
But Tina Firgens, deputy director of Denton Development Services and the city’s planning director, said the boundaries are in flux and the area plans will take the 30,000-foot view from the 2040 comprehensive plan and bring it down to the 5,000 to 500 feet level.
Firgens said they’re soliciting public input to help establish where the community sees these boundaries as well as how they’ll want to see these areas developed in the future.
It’s why she says public engagement from the community is so important.
For example, the Northeast Denton Area Plan arose after the City Council denied several large development proposals and zoning change requests for the area, according to the city’s website.
“Major concerns raised by the community during the public hearings include the incompatible land use and density proposed, lack of open space and public amenities and the lack of overall environmental protection,” according to the city’s website for the Northeast Denton Area Plan.
For the Northeast Denton Area plan, two town hall-type meetings were held where people came and placed stickers on various examples of what that development should look like in the future and spoke with consultants and staff. Firgens estimated that about 250 people participated.
Seeking public engagement for the Southeast Denton Area Plan hasn’t followed that route yet. Instead, a series of “listening sessions” has occurred with low participation from the public. For the five held so far, about 40 people have participated, Firgens said.
They’re planning another round of listening sessions in mid-July.
Firgens agreed they are facing an uphill battle in Southeast Denton with the generational harm caused by the city’s actions in the past. She said they’ve been doing their best to rebuild that trust by attending SEDNA meetings and trying to get people from the community engaged with the Southeast Denton Area Plan.
Once the area plan is created, Firgens said, the committee will send it to the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval, followed by the City Council. Committee members will vote on issues that the community wants to include in the area plan, which is why city staff and council members have stressed that maximizing public engagement is important for the plans to have proper representation.
“If others are interested in serving, we would love to hear from them,” Firgens said. “We have positions still open.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, council members unanimously approved five members to the steering committee for the Southeast Denton Area Plan. Two possible members will be added at an upcoming council meeting.
Development Services staff also plan to attend the Denton League of United Latin American Citizens meeting Saturday to find volunteers to serve on the steering committee.
Those steering committee members appointed Tuesday night include former Denton council member Raymond Redmon; the Rev. Reginald Logan from SEDNA and the Southeast Denton Ministerial Alliance; Clifton Maxfield from Peoples Funeral Home & Chapel; Jacob Moses, the executive director of the Denton Affordable Housing Corporation; and Frances Punch, a member of Denton’s Parks, Recreation and Beautification Board.
Logan said that another reason it has been difficult to find steering committee members is because people simply don’t like serving on boards and committees. He figured the steering committee will be meeting possibly weekly over the next year, and said finding people to commit is difficult.
It’s a struggle Logan said he faced when he served on the steering committee for the future land-use plan for the city of Sanger, where Logan’s church is located.
Getting involved with the steering committee and offering community feedback, Logan said, is critical and also offers people the opportunity to learn more about the “painstaking process of how zoning works,” as well as what he called the “opportunities and threats that are coming into the community.”
“Everything is not bad, and everything is not good. Everything is what it is,” Logan said.
“It’s how you want your city, your neighborhood and your part of Denton to look for the next 40 years. People have to understand that this is an opportunity to make a design of the future for Southeast Denton.”
To find out more information about the Southeast Denton Area Plan or to sign up for updates, visit www.discussdenton.com/southeastdenton.