Denton: Brush Creek Apartment Project Gets Cold Shoulder from P&Z Commission
by Eileen Pace
Denton (Denton County) — Going against a staff recommendation and the city’s development plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied a request to convert a semi-rural residential zoning to a much higher density residential with a Mixed Use Neighborhood designation.
The application affected about 18 acres of land that until recently had been home to the Southwind Children’s Autism Therapy Ranch. In addition to multifamily development, the changes would have included a 3.87-acre reserve for future neighborhood retail development facing U.S. Route 377 from the corner of Brush Creek Road northward.
The property, however, is just north of the Denton Country Club and other nearby residents live on large ranchette-style lots. With more than 90 people signed up to speak against it at the Oct. 16 meeting, commissioners saw no hope of passage.
A site plan was submitted with the application, but only for purposes of addressing a required Traffic Impact Analysis. Bill Dahlstrom, a Dallas-based land use attorney representing the owner said the conceptual site plan was subject to change. However, it was clear from the presentation that the density described–244 units on the proposed residential portion–was within the range of intended development.
Dahlstrom had the option to proceed to City Council at today’s Nov. 5 meeting, but he withdrew the application. The owner is MMRQ Land LP, a holding of Deno Maggi, partner and senior vice president at Cross Development.
Concept site plan for Brush Creek Apartments inlaid on Google Map.
At the October P&Z hearing, neighbors from the adjoining extraterritorial jurisdiction, the Argyle Independent School District and the City of Denton expressed concerns about traffic safety, an overcrowded school system, and a potential for devalued properties.
The conceptual plan calls for two phases of a multi-family development on 14.44 acres. The first phase on 9.87 acres includes 244 apartment units in two, three and four-story buildings plus a two-story clubhouse. Phase 2 on 4.57 acres would construct 108 units in a three-story building that faces Hwy. 377. Parking spaces are included in the plan at a ratio of 1.85 for Phase 1 and 1.82 for Phase 2.
The plan shows no buffer between the housing area and the back of the apartment complex.
Mike Block is one of those residents whose house and property backs right up to the property line. He said the rural area isn’t ready for a development like this.
“We have farm animals. We have horse barns. There’s all kinds of animals that back right up to this property, and to us it just doesn’t make sense. There’s no buffer zone. People will be looking right into our yards from their balconies,” Block said.
That is contrary to the ethos of the 2030 Plan, which resident Sam Slovak said calls for “conservation development that retains the rural character and protects the open space and greenways and enhances value.”
Slovak said the plan is filled with platitudes that ring very hollow. He said, “The plan is seriously flawed in assuming the need for mixed, family and commercial development in this area of very prestigious, rural neighborhoods in Southwest Denton.
According to staff, the developer’s traffic plan anticipated that the Texas Department of Transportation would be widening U.S. Route 377 (also known as Fort Worth Drive) by the time the apartment project was ready to begin leasing.
Dr. Telena Wright, superintendent of the Argyle ISD, presented a list of 923 vacant lots and 4,400 properties where development is already on the books.
“The growth in AISD is over 11% a year currently. AISD is a fast-growth district,” Wright said. “The district’s facilities cannot accommodate the number of students that a 256-unit apartment would bring.”
Wright said the apartments could add 500 to 750 cars to traffic on Hwy. 377 and Brush Creek Rd. and the area is not ready for that kind of added traffic congestion.
“Argyle is a district with 3,452 students, and many of those are transported each day by bus,” she said. “Five routes travel on or near Brush Creek in the morning and in the afternoon.”
City staff said the proposal was consistent with the overall goals and objectives of the Denton 3030 plan and recommended approval of the zoning change.
Dahlstrom, the attorney representing the applicant, told commissioners that the school districts projections for the numbers of students was on the high side for this type of development, adding, “We don’t see those percentages in these types of multi-family residential properties.”
Dalhstrom was frustrated with the conflict between the Denton 2030 Plan’s recommended uses for the land and the residents’ opposition. His client was trying to conform to what the comprehensive plan requires as the area grows.
“We don’t have any other choice. The area has been designated by the city as basically a mixed-use area. We’re trying to do zoning according to what the city has asked us to do,” he said.
If there was a lesson to be drawn, it was that gaining a staff recommendation based on a city’s officially sanctioned master plan for land use still does not guarantee success. Neighborhood engagement is essential.
Commissioner Tim Smith told Dahlstrom, “I understand what you’re saying. The city started that process back in 2012 and wrapped up in 2015. But I would argue that economics have changed, demographics have changed. “We might start seeing multi-family in that area ten years from now, but I don’t think the timing is right.”
Commissioner Mat Pruneda said the plan is not inherently a bad idea, but “with the community not on board, it would be difficult to get city council approval.”
Pruneda suggested the case be continued to give Dahlstrom time to meet with residents and come back with a plan that would have more community buy-in. But the suggestion was moot since the majority was ready to vote against the zoning request.
Concept site plan of the Brush Creek Apartments. Courtesy: Cross Development.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.