Rayzor Ranch construction

Construction workers work on unfinished portions of Rayzor Ranch Town Center on Aug. 16. 

Denton City Council members pressed the pause button on the city’s reimbursements to the Rayzor Ranch developers after nearly two hours of discussion, half of which went on behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon.

Council members gave the developer and the city manager six months to reach a new agreement about the massive commercial development on the city’s west side. Rayzor Ranch is in the hands of its third developer and has changed considerably since it was first proposed in 2006, including the elimination of the eponymous Town Center.

Council members disagreed whether they had much leverage in the talks. Reimbursement agreements revised by the city in 2010 and the following years were assigned to Fidelis Realty Partners, the newest owners.

Mayor Chris Watts tried to underscore the economic realities for the project.

“I don’t know if we’re trying to use a leverage for something we’re not going to get anyways,” Watts said.

He cautioned fellow council members that the city couldn’t dictate which businesses would rent at the shopping center and that the overall relationship between the city and Fidelis is important, too.

Mayor Pro Tem Gerard Hudspeth said he wanted to side with the mayor in allowing the current reimbursement agreements to go forward, but he just couldn’t.

“I couldn’t support driving blind around that corner just because they [the developers] said it would be OK,” Hudspeth said.

In the end, four other council members joined him in delaying one type of reimbursements and restarting talks.

The opening of the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center was a game changer for the project, council member John Ryan said.

Before the hotel and convention center came in as an anchor, Ryan thought it would take 10-20 years for Rayzor Ranch to get built out. He noticed that construction had picked up speed since then and he thinks now it will take just five years, he said.

But the concept has also changed so much that the community has lost faith in what may be coming next, especially now that Fidelis announced the town center portion won’t be built and hasn’t really said what will take its place, he added.

“Not knowing that, I would prefer to give the developer and city manager time to make us and the public more comfortable,” Ryan said.

Council member Paul Meltzer agreed with the mayor that the city couldn’t dictate tenants.

“But I don’t think we can conclude, then, that no planning can occur,” Meltzer said, adding that he thought there was little to lose by having both sides come to the table again.

Council member Keely Briggs said that, at one point, council members thought they were obliged to approve a plan that would allow the additional tax assessments to landowners on the south side.

“I don’t feel obliged today,” Briggs said, adding that the project has been long and drawn out.

In an interview after the meeting, Rick Coe, president of Fidelis, said his company supported the overlay — the city’s special rules for how the property is developed. He said he could understand the council’s concerns with how the project concept changed.

His company’s plans for the mixed-use development remain Class A, he said.

“We’ve owned it for five months, but it’s been out there for 10 years,” Coe said. “We look forward to working with the city staff to outline the plans.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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