In presentations and discussions about a proposed affordable housing complex along South Loop 288, Denton City Council members grappled with a need for more housing units and the best application of city planning Tuesday night.
A new proposed development, the Denton Grove Apartments, would boast 276 units and occupy the lot at the northwest corner of Loop 288 and Duchess Drive, just south of East McKinney Street. The $57 million project was denied by the Planning and Zoning Commission in December, and the project developer Pedcor decided to appeal the decision to the City Council.
Now, it will now take a super-majority vote next week to pass — six votes in favor of the project. While a vote was expected Tuesday night, a flurry of amendments made Mayor Chris Watts push for staff to rewrite an agenda item with the amendments. It will be reconsidered Tuesday, Feb. 11, after a 5-2 vote to push the decision to next week, with Jesse Davis and Gerard Hudspeth voting against the measure.
Before his motion to push the decision, Watts admitted after more than two hours of talks Tuesday night that he wasn’t sure whether to approve the Special Use Permit for the site. The zoning for the lot is for mixed-use development, so it needs an SUP to build a fully residential project.
“The amendments are good to me, I’m just really struggling with how to balance the interests of the developer together with the interests of the owner and the interest of the surrounding land owners,” Watts said toward the end of the meeting. “Still, $870 or $900 for a one-bedroom, I don’t know if I can classify that as affordable ... honestly, I’m still not exactly sure where I am on this.”
Pedcor can’t add any commercial to the development because it makes the project financially unfeasible, said Jean Marie Latsha, vice president of development at the company.
She used her presentation time to rebut the three main arguments she heard against the project from the P&Z meeting: The project would add to traffic flow problems; it would create a concentration of subsidized housing; and that the land should be for commercial use. Pedcor estimated a fully residential development would have the lowest traffic impact and that a few nearby subsidized housing developments would no longer be under contract to be affordable in the coming years.
She also reviewed the plans that feature 12-foot-wide sidewalks, 12 apartment buildings and a community pool, playground, dog park and food pantry. Rents would be on a sliding scale based on resident income and, on average, would be $830 to $870 for one-bedroom apartments, $995-$1,045 for two bedrooms and $1,140-$1,200 for three-bedroom units.
Bill Patterson, the owner and publisher of the Denton Record-Chronicle, spoke representing three other nearby landowners. The newspaper’s offices border the west side of the property, and he said that while the property owners haven’t found a commercial user yet, he was hopeful that continued growth along the Loop 288 corridor would bring office, commercial or true mixed-use development.
By the time council members discussed the project after the presentation and public comment, both Hudspeth and Davis signaled they wouldn’t support the project. Hudspeth took issue with how pedestrian traffic and a light at Duchess Drive would impact traffic on Loop 288 and said he also objected to the project’s location. Davis took issue with the location as well and said he trusts the vote from Planning & Zoning and local developers’ comments.
“At the end of the day, however, you are an investor,” Davis said. “We don’t have a neighborhood here in front of us; we don’t have a P&Z denial because of community opposition to this. We have a P&Z denial of this because our local developers are telling us one thing, and the out-of-town developers are telling us another.”
Other members enthusiastically supported it, citing a growing need for affordable housing and that Pedcor was a good-faith developer willing to compromise on several amendments: paying a substantial portion for a traffic light at Duchess Drive and Loop 288, abiding by the new tree code to preserve 30% of trees on the lot, and adding an access road to connect to back channels along the Jack in the Box restaurant for access from East McKinney.
Latsha of Pedcor said she understood the council was considering the input of local property owners but argued that future residents outweigh the opinions of those who vocalized opposition Tuesday night.
“I appreciate that you want to give credence to the comments of a few of your constituents and let them know you are responding to them when they oppose this development, but the people who will be served by this development are simply not empowered to comment and stand here and tell you how much it will benefit them,” Latsha said.