Denton City Hall exterior for stock photo use

Denton City Hall.

Habitat for Humanity of Denton County has offered technical assistance to a south Denton neighborhood currently without running water — help with key steps the neighborhood needs for a permanent solution that is still months away.

A water well owner stopped supplying both homeowners and renters in the Green Tree Estates mobile home park in November. Denton declared a public emergency and has been trucking water to 14 homes since then. The City Council has been reluctant to do much more without knowing which homeowners are ready and able to connect to a city water meter.

During a work session Tuesday afternoon, that readiness included learning that the mobile homes must have a working septic system in order to connect to city water. In addition, some residents may be unable to repair or replace their mobile homes’ septic systems when the time comes because of a change in state law.

Most council members balked at a staff recommendation that the city extend a water line to the edge of the mobile home park as part of its public emergency response, calling the move premature.

“I’ve seen nothing that inspires confidence where the water lines will go and that they will be legally connected,” said council member Jesse Davis.

He said he’s concerned that the next time this happens in Denton, the city government will again be left holding the bag by a water well owner — ultimately making it easier and less expensive to develop the land at the expense of other taxpayers.

“And we will have enriched the very person who put us in this position,” Davis said, the second time he’s underscored the predatory nature of the problem.

Council members learned in a memo late last week that Habitat for Humanity of Denton County has offered help with three critical steps toward a permanent solution.

First, the local nonprofit is recruiting a title company to perform the property research the city needs for the water lines. Typically, water lines are installed under or alongside city streets in city-owned land or easements. The roads in Green Tree are consider private, which complicates the city’s access.

Second, Habitat for Humanity is inspecting the owner-occupied homes in early March. The inspection will give the homeowners a checklist of issues to address to make their homes ready for a city connection. The homes must be able to accept city water’s higher pressure in addition to the functioning septic system.

Habitat for Humanity is not offering that help to those Green Tree residents who are renters, but one renter who bought other lots in the neighborhood for a future home has asked the city for a similar inspection of their current unit.

No landlords have asked the city about connecting, staff said. Mayor Chris Watts expressed concerned about renters paying the approximate $10,000 to connect water to a home they don’t own, saying that it would make the property more valuable.

Third, both Habitat for Humanity and the United Way of Denton County are researching programs that could provide low-interest loans for homeowners to make the improvements. According to a staff memo, it’s unlikely those programs would be available to renters.

Since it would take a city crew only about two weeks to extend a water line to Green Tree, council members split on whether to accept staff’s recommendation to extend the water line now.

Council member Keely Briggs reminded fellow council members that they were discussing the staff’s recommendation because some of the residents need more certainty about how much it would cost to connect. Extending the water line as part of the city’s emergency response removes some uncertainty. The fixed costs would be much higher if only one or two homeowners are willing and able to connect, versus having those costs shared by 14 homeowners.

But council member Gerard Hudspeth said he’d rather wait until April to decide whether to extend the water line as part of the city’s emergency response.

“From what I understand, the residents are happy with what’s on the ground now, and even asked for it [the public emergency and trucking of water] to be extended for another year,” Hudspeth said.

Ultimately, the majority agreed the decision to extend the water line as part of the emergency would come as late as April 23, or sooner if conditions change.

Decision on proposed development postponed

Recognizing that they did not have enough votes to overturn the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recent denial of the project, council members postponed a decision on a proposed east-side apartment complex. Local developers opposed the project, saying it would usurp commercial growth long envisioned for the area. The apartment developer, which has pledged to offer some affordable units within the complex, now has 120 days to work out a compromise with the neighborhood.

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

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