The Denton City Council wrestled with growing pains during its regular work session Tuesday afternoon, figuring out how to pay for water and sewer projects and discovering how an old zoning compromise will likely bring more student apartments to a historic neighborhood.
Although council members had a lot of questions about the Park 7 student apartments, final determinations for the project will be hammered out between the city staff and the apartment builder. In the case of water and sewer “impact fees,” the council will hold public hearings before making a final determination.
Impact fees for water, sewer
City governments must revisit impact fees — the amount they charge builders to tap into water and sewer lines — every five years. Cities must calculate the fees according to a process outlined in state law, a process that Texas homebuilders secured from the Legislature in the 1980s.
Many city governments charge impact fees so current ratepayers aren’t burdened with the cost of growth. In other words, in the interest of fairness, growth pays for itself in many cities.
The city staff advised Denton council members that impact fees can be higher in fast-growing cities because they have more new water and sewer pipe than older or slower-growing cities. But that did little to reduce the council’s sticker shock.
Several council members said they were concerned about the effect the increased cost would have on developers or on housing affordability.
City Manager Todd Hileman cautioned council members that the money to pay for water and sewer projects has to come from somewhere.
“It’s six to one, half-dozen to another,” Hileman said.
Although rate-setting is usually more complicated, a simple analysis from the city finance staff showed the consequences of discounting impact fees. A $400 discount on impact fees, for example, would mean an increase of 2 percent or more in water and sewer rates.
The City Council last set impact fees in 2013. That year, the council opted not to recover the full amount entitled under the law, and instead discounted impact fees 22 percent. Following that change, the City Council also increased utility rates every year until fiscal year 2017-18, when Hileman restructured the budget.
Council members agreed the matter could move forward with a public hearing, after which they could decide whether to discount impact fees.
Park 7 apartments
The City Council also received a briefing on controversial plans for a student apartment complex proposed for Scripture Street. A real estate investment group returned with its plans to redevelop the 3-acre lot where a former medical lab and nursing home now stand.
The company was not able to secure the zoning change it wanted to build on the property last year. However, a decades-old compromise in the area’s zoning that accommodated Flow Hospital — long since closed and demolished — means the company is entitled to redevelop the land.
The zoning classification, for example, allows the investment group to build a structure up to 100 feet high. Only a few other areas, namely, downtown and Rayzor Ranch, are allowed to go that high.
Mayor Chris Watts admonished council members that the project briefing was not one where they could “unduly influence the process” because the zoning grants certain property rights to the investment group. The company plans to build 183 apartment units, with 546 bedrooms that would be rented individually.
But council members peppered the staff with questions anyway, asking about fire access, utility service, pedestrian safety and a proposed underground garage.
The complex is expected to have 546 parking spaces, including some built underground. The garage would not be Denton’s first built underground, but the underground garage that once stood next to the Wells Fargo Building had to close after it was deemed unsafe.
Council member Gerard Hudspeth said he understood that the city had reconciled itself to the Park 7 project, but he didn’t want the staff catching issues afterwards.
“It’s got to be right,” Hudspeth said. “I want the city to write the deficiencies because the neighbors don’t get that.”
One of those neighbors, Craig Clifton, attended the meeting, even though there was no opportunity for him to speak publicly. He has opposed the project, saying it is not a true multi-family complex, but dorm-like student housing.
“No single mom is going to want to rent a bedroom there,” Clifton said.
He believes the housing style erodes the mix in the historic neighborhood, which has seen some redevelopment pressures since City Parc at Fry Street and The U Centre at Fry Street were built.
“There’ll be nothing left but SROs [single room occupancy] there and we know that because they [the real estate investment group] offered to buy our property,” Clifton said.