Your City Council gets to be at City Hall beginning at 9am on Tuesday morning for a special called meeting on the budget. Here’s the full agenda for the morning meeting. We then reconvene at 1pm for a Work Session and 6:30pm for our Regular Session – click here for the 1pm meeting agenda.
Here are some items of interest…
We are now several weeks into our annual budget discussions. Click here to get caught up on all the previous presentations on the 2015-2016 Annual Budget. There are many remaining topics for discussion before we finalize the budget ahead of the September 15 meeting where we will vote on it. I look forward to continuing discussions on things like creative downtown parking options, downtown bike racks, space for the Denton Community Market and other community events, a homeless coordinator position, tax reductions, and other important topics. We hope to be near a final budget by the end of our council meeting today.
DCTA BENCHES AND BUS SHELTERS
We have had several citizen presentations advocating for additional benches and shelters at bus stops throughout town. DCTA operates our public transit system and oversees bus shelter installations in consultation with the city. We will hear from the President of DCTA about the latest updates to get more benches and shelters at Denton bus stops.
EMERGENCY HOMELESS SHELTER WOES
The City of Denton recently stepped up to provide space at the old Animal Shelter for the Monsignor King Emergency Homeless Shelter which operates in extreme hot and cold temperatures to provide adequate shelter for our city’s homeless. Due to safety insufficiencies at this location, the city is concerned with keeping this site as a more permanent option. As such, we will be hearing a report on this and possibilities moving forward regarding an emergency shelter in Denton.
DENTON, BLOOMBERG PHILANTHROPIES, AND CITY DATA
When word broke this summer that Bloomberg Philanthropies was putting out a challenge for cities in the form of the What Works Cities initiative, several citizens contacted me volunteering their time to go out for this partnership. That resulted in a quick yet ambitious citizen engagement effort to find citizen-driven projects that the city could pursue to bring open data to bear on city services and efficiency. It worked. The city of Denton was chosen in their first round of cities to partner with What Works Cities to bring resources to Denton to help us tackle big problems by leveraging data and technology. The council will be briefed on this ahead of Friday’s meeting with a team from Johns Hopkins University to begin our work with this initiative.
HIGH TECH COWORKING COMES TO DENTON
The council will have the opportunity to approve an economic development incentive agreement as well as a Commercial Lease Agreement that will result in a full-fledge tech-centered co-working space right next to the downtown train station in one of the most promising new areas for development. There’s been significant movement in this area of economic development since I published this article in 2013 arguing for greater focus on Denton’s high tech assets. This project, in the heart of what many are calling Denton’s Innovation District, will create a physical center of gravity for our growing tech and startup scene.
A HOME FOR ONE OF DENTON’S FINEST
Mandated by state law, the city must aid in the relocation of residents who are impacted by property acquisitions for city projects. Joe, a friend of many, children’s book author, and advocate for persons with disability, resides in a property that will be demolished as a result of a DME substation project. As a result of other city projects, the city also owns a home on Bonnie Brae. It just so happens that renovating this house meets the obligation for the city in helping Joe find a new residence. This is an incredibly creative solution to both solve a city need and help one of our own find suitable housing. I look forward to asking our city staff to highlight this project because I think it deserves it. Here is a great example of government working for its people.
Today you will start yet another year helping to fulfill one of the most ambitious ideas ever thought: that of a universal, public education. We have decided that the ideals of democracy demands that we educate everyone. So when you open your doors today, that exactly who you will take in: everyone.
In your classrooms will be kids whose parents hold PhDs and kids whose parents have never read them a single book. You’ll be teaching well-adjusted, goal-oriented kids and kids who have never known a stable home environment. A growing number of your younger students will not be fluent in the English language. In many of your schools, over 50% of them will be on free and reduced lunch. In fact, some of those kids are so hungry that you’ll work to find food to send home with them so that they can eat over the weekend. Some of your kids will find school to be the safest place all week, respite from a daily dose of family violence and dysfunction.
We are sending you our best and we are sending you our most challenged. And your task is to reach them all. You are, after all, a teacher and this is the most noble of vocations.
Our society and its leaders quite frequently forget the charge we have given you. You know by now to get prepared for the barrage of criticism that will come your way from inept politicians, arrogant businessmen, and impatient parents who have forgotten that they charged you to educate everyone. They’ll start talking the foolish talk of accountability, standards, tests, and running schools like a business. And this foolishness inevitably becomes law and threatens to turn the art of education into robotic activity, demoralizing both you and your students.
You continue undeterred with the knowledge that you occupy the most subversive profession on earth: an educator of youth. It is you, not the bumbling leaders of our day, who have the power to change the world. You are entrusted with the transmission of the greatest ideas of civilization to the next generation. The difference between barbarism and civilization and the very reason we choose the latter over the former is quite literally being worked out in our nation’s classrooms every day.
When we conceived of the idea of a universal, public education, we did so with the crazy idea that no matter who came into your classroom and no matter their background, each of those kids has an enormous amount of potential that can be realized because of the work that you do.
Your job is immense and we need you desperately. Thanks for changing the world this year, one kid at a time. Have a great school year!
If you’ve not been to the Civic Center Pool, you are missing out. The grounds and original pool house were designed by famed architect O’Neil Ford. I’m surprised each year that Denton’s hipster culture hasn’t discovered and exploited this gem, with its amphitheater-style grassy areas shaded by large Live Oaks, its vintage mid-century hand-crafted clay light fixtures around the perimeter, and plenty of space of for ironic splishing and splashing. And on most sunny afternoons in the summer, this pool is easily the most diverse community gathering in the city. It simply looks like Denton.
After Labor Day, this pool will go through many significant (and much-needed) renovations. Among them will be the removal of the diving board. More bravery has been instilled in our city’s youth through that contraption than any book of virtue contained in our libraries.
I’ve teamed up with We Denton Do It to throw a party to say goodbye to that board, to introduce more Dentonites to the greateness that is the Civic Center Pool, and to raise some money for the Eurkea 2 Project.
Join us on Friday, September 4 from 6:30pm to 9:30pm for a special night time open swim event, featuring a celebrity cannonball contest and a chance for anyone to receive a judges ruling on their own cannonball chops. It’s free and open to the public, but we’ll be suggesting a $5 per person donation with all proceeds going to the new Eureka Park.
Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. And here’s a great little clip to get you in the mood…
The city council will begin its Work Session at 1pm followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session – click here for a full agenda and read on to find some topics of interest on this week’s agenda.
See all of those homes to the West of this elementary school? Because of a lack of sidewalks, unprotected intersections, no crossing guards, and increased traffic due to highway construction, many of these families have given up on letting their kids walk or ride their bikes to school, despite their close proximity. Thanks to a couple of persistent moms, all that will change when school starts up next Monday. Their advocacy for their children got a bunch of engineers, police officers, street department representatives, and even a politician to the table to find a solution. It paid off. Infrastructure got put in, streets were painted, signs were put in, cross guards were secured, and assuming the council votes on it tonight, a new school zone will be established. This is a great example of citizens and government working together to do good.
INNOVATIVE CITIZEN TREE PROGRAM
Remember a few months back when we talked about the possibility of the 20,000 Free Tree Project – an idea to use more of our tree fund money to put trees directly into the hands of citizens, all with the goal of increasing our tree canopy? Lauren Barker and her creative Keep Denton Beautiful team have come up with a plan that takes us in this direction. Tonight we’ll be considering a number of items that allow KDB to help administer tree funds for the following purposes:
- Neighborhood Hosted Giveaway Program
- Business Giveaway Program
- Redbud Giveaway
- Citizen Forester Training
- Children’s Arbor Day On Campus Planting
- Tree Rebate Program
These are great ideas and will serve to further beautify our city. Stay tuned for your chance to get in on the tree action!
MORE BUDGET TALKS
We will be continuing our several week discussion on the upcoming city budget, set to be voted on by the council on September 15. Stay on top of all the presentations and updates here. Starting September 1, we’ll have our first official public hearing on the budget, but we’ve already heard from a number of you. In fact, there look to be 8 people from the Denton Community Market set to advocate for their budget request which includes a market move to East Hickory Street in Southeast Denton. I’ve already explained why I think that is a visionary idea, but look forward to hearing their thoughts and getting feedback from my council colleagues.
TEMPORARY REDUCTIONS TO GAS OPERATOR FEES
Anyone who has been following the Denton gas drilling saga over the last 5 years understands that achieving city goals within the context of little jurisdiction, the threat of lawsuits, and an ever-shifting legal and statutory landscape requires a bit of creativity. For at least three years now, I’ve been on teams with the city brainstorming ways to incentivize operators to do what is best for our city’s neighborhoods and future land uses. One of the problems we discovered early on is that there exists a large amount of gas well plats that were approved while rules were either nonexistent or very weak in the city (in the early 2000s, for example). In some cases, these plats give the operator “vested rights” to drill under old regulations and according to ambiguous notes that might have been placed on the plat. Much of our work in the last couple of years has been to find ways to encourage the vacating of these old plats in favor of new gas well development site plans.
One thing we’ve learned along the way is that all sides want certainty: concerned neighbors want to know what to expect on existing sites around them and what rules apply and it turns out operators want that sort of certainty as well as they are planning out their multi-decade plans for mineral development. Our recent ordinance provided paths for the encouragement of vacating these old plats. What we are doing today is simply creating a temporary fee schedule that encourages that to happen up front so that neighbors, operators, and the city can move forward with a better sense of certainty as to the rules moving forward.
I understand some blog posts have looked at this with great suspicion – I can’t say I blame anyone for that sentiment in today’s environment. But the insinuation that the city is somehow trying to spark more incentive for a gas drilling frenzy at a time when gas prices are low (one of the theories being forwarded) is both unnecessarily paranoid and economically naive. I plan to support this ordinance for the reasons above – I have the best interest of the city in mind.
Cities all over the country are falling over themselves trying to figure out how to create something like a Denton Community Market. Many communities are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars creating indoor and outdoor facilities in hopes of bringing a sense of community, fresh food, and local entrepreneurship to their community. Creating a physical platform is the easy part – fostering the creative culture and entrepreneurial spirit is not so easily done. I imagine many of these cities would do anything to create what the Denton Community Market has created quite independently of the city.
It’s time for the city of Denton to get serious about the Denton Community Market. It’s time to invest and take advantage of this still untapped game changer for life, culture, place making, and economic development for the city.
The City Council is considering a couple of budget requests that would provide a space for the Market on city property in one of the most up-and-coming areas of town: Southeast Denton. Here are four reasons why this would be a visionary move for both the city of Denton and the Community Market:
SMALL BUSINESS INCUBATOR AND ACCELERATOR IN HEART OF DENTON’S INNOVATION DISTRICT
A city that is serious about economic opportunity and business development fosters entrepreneurship at every level. With as much gusto as we pursue large-scale corporate relocations and expansions, we should be creating platforms upon which anyone with an idea and the guts to pursue it can give it their best in the free market. With two major universities, a thriving creative class, and a millenial-attracting culture, there’s no reason Denton should not be the region’s leader in small businesses and startups. Located just a block away from the upcoming Railyard project (containing a coworking space) and surrounding tech companies, a SE Denton Community Market spot would complete the center of gravity for Denton’s new Innovation District. The city, Chamber of Commerce, the universities, and others could partner directly with the market to provide programs to accelerate great business concepts and watch new businesses scale into new economic development gems for the city. In the 5 years since they’ve existed, the Market has done this on numerous occasions and we would be wise to help foster this trend.
STRATEGIC CATALYST PROJECT FOR REDEVELOPMENT
Community Markets are relatively low cost investments that can help revitalize under-utilized areas of town. There’s no question that many of the industrial uses East of Bell are incompatible to the surrounding neighborhoods and ripe for a new vision. That vision is sometimes difficult to communicate to potential investors and business owners. It’s easy now to sell the vision of downtown, it was hard 20 years ago. In the same way, the spark of life generated from a thriving market provides both a concrete visual for the potential of an area and a clear commitment on the city’s part of investing in a new part of town.
As an example, imagine how a Community Market on one side of the street might create new possibilities for the new owner of an old storage unit business on the other side of the street. The storage units of today could become the pop-up shops of tomorrow and thereby creating a midway point between starting a business at the market and investing in brick and mortar once the concept is proved-up.
THINKING BEYOND THE SQUARE
I’ve argued on several occasions that it would be strategic for Denton to begin thinking beyond the square and ahead to the new future centers of culture throughout our city. With the tremendous success of the square and the recent significant investments in buildings and businesses, one thing is clear: the less-funded, scrappier, yet ever-essential and much more interesting creative class is now priced out of and no longer able to invest in the immediate downtown area. The beauty of this for our city is that the creative class will find its way and eventually create new pockets of culture elsewhere in our city. The great bones left behind by previous industry, its proximity to affordable neighborhoods in culturally rich Southeast Denton, the mixed-use character, and lower cost of entry make this area ripe for a cultural unleashing of Denton’s creative class. (I continue to believe that Rubber Gloves has always been years ahead in its vision.) Here’s an area with a canvass ready for repainting. Come create, Denton. That’s precisely what the Denton Community Market does so well.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOUTHEAST DENTON
I credit Denton’s Chris Avant (AV the Great) with giving me a glimpse into the unfortunate collection of visual surroundings for kids growing up in Southeast Denton. He put it this way to Dave Sims in an article about his life and music: “The city’s jail is right there. Go down further to the corner you got the courthouse. Look to the right of it, you got the county jail. Look to the right of that, you got juvenile. Go to Fred Moore Park, you got two big cemeteries. So when you’re growing up, this is all you see. You got the school where dropouts go, Fred Moore. This is what I saw growing up.”
What if the Denton Community Market was the first spark in a series of hopeful investments in Southeast Denton? Nestled between Denton’s historically black neighborhood and our growing Hispanic and immigrant population, the market could provide both a new neighborhood amenity and a place for would-be neighborhood entrepreneurs to test their ideas and find a new customer base. Imagine the programs the market and Railyard could collectively develop to foster the spirit of entrepreneurship among the youth in Southeast Denton.
What if the Denton Community Market became Denton’s most integrated community gathering place? A place where people of different walks of life intentionally collided with one another. In a world where most attempts at fostering entrepreneurial activity produces decidedly white results, Denton has the opportunity – if we give it a try – to do something decidedly and beautifully different.
The Denton City Council will meet at 1pm on Tuesday for a Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session. Go here to see the full agenda with backup for this meeting.
While there are other topics for today’s meeting, the focus will be on proposed amendments to the city’s gas well ordinance - an ordinance that has been re-examined in light of the passage of HB40 and in preparation for the lifting of the city’s moratorium on gas drilling.
HB40 is a game changer for local control of the oil and gas industry. Written by the industry with intentionally gaping loopholes designed to give them the upper hand in legal fights (the “commercially reasonable” clause, for instance), this bill further reduced a local government’s ability to effectively guide orderly development of coexisting drilling operations and new surface projects.
It’s not just HB40 and all its industry-friendly provisions that provides the backdrop for these ordinance revisions, it’s the continued lawsuits – still remaining from the frack ban – that are still live and potentially amendable. I wish the city council enjoyed a more robust autonomy from which to amend our ordinance, but we lacked that authority before the frack ban and we quite explicitly lack it now in this post-HB40 environment.
Those of us who supported our historic attempt at banning fracking in Denton – and I include myself in that camp – must recognize that the city was in a better position to regulate the industry before the frack ban than after. As in all revolutions, Denton’s rebellion against the the stronghold of the Texas oil and gas industry certainly has its consequences, and we (and every other Texas city) are currently experiencing those repercussions. What was perceived by many as an overreaction of the Denton citizens was met with a much stronger overreaction by the oil and gas industry and their well-financed state politicians.
Despite these limitations – HB40, existing lawsuits, and statewide focus – I believe that we are coming to the citizens with an ordinance that is far from the retreat some have made it out to be. Consider this:
- Our setbacks for new wells will remain at 1000 feet in zoning districts where homes, apartments, and other dense residential development occurs.
- We are approaching this ordinance through an innovative delineation of zoning categories, designed to incentive drilling where it is most appropriate: industrially-zoned areas.
- With a new provision aimed at keeping new development within 300 feet of combustible sources on gas well sites, our reverse setback is essentially being increased by 50 feet from the 2013 ordinance.
- Significant new notification provisions are included in this ordinance. Purchasers of properties in proximity to gas well sites will be notified as well as property owners prior to the commencement of new drilling/fracking operations.
- New sign requirements will make sure that drill sites are clearly marked for the benefit of the public.
- Significantly improved noise mitigation procedures that require expert sound engineers to develop a plan for each new drilling and production activity.
- The council is considering more robust standards than were recommended by a unanimous vote from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
In short, we have worked hard to come up with an ordinance that attempts to satisfy the decreased jurisdiction and provisions set forth in HB40 all while protecting our citizens, our environment, and the future development of our city.
Is this everything I want in an ordinance? Not even close. But in light of the post-HB40 realities we face, this is a great start.
As always, please let me know your thoughts and comments by contacting me at email@example.com or 940-206-5239.
How to deal with reverse setbacks, the distance the city allows development to encroach upon an existing well site, is probably the most difficult question facing the city council as we amend our gas well ordinance. And for good reasons. It is arguably the very issue that triggered what would ultimately result in a city-wide vote to ban fracking in Denton.
I’m uncomfortable with something as low as 225-250 foot reverse setbacks. And I think there are good reasons for others to be uncomfortable with this even if they are convinced that there are no health and safety implications at that distance. This could simply be situated in the context of quality of life and orderly development. It’s the very reason we have zoning to separate wildly incompatible uses. And it is very clear that petrochemical extraction operations are incompatible with neighborhoods.
Having said that, I’m also uncomfortable with remedying this situation on the backs of surface owners. Solving the problems with one industry by placing greater restrictions on an unrelated industry does not seem to be fair or good public policy.
I’m thinking out loud here…
What if we turned this entire question around and put the onus of the reverse setback on the backs of the gas operators. You want to put in a new site or have an existing site where you’d like to drill more wells and your site is in a residentially-zoned area? In addition to defining your operating site boundaries, why not require a mandatory 500 foot buffer surrounding the defined operating site as part of the approval process. And in order to demonstrate this buffer, the gas operator would have to either own or lease perpetually the land contained in the 500 foot buffer zone.
This would force the gas operator to negotiate an agreement with the surface owners of all adjacent properties contained within this 500 foot buffer. The surface owners are compensated on their terms and are free to develop the remaining part of their property without giving up a fair and just revenue for the portion of their land that is reckoned undevelopable by its close proximity to oil and gas operations. Further, the property tax burden for this undevelopable land is placed where it should be – on the very industry who created this situation.
The trick would be how to deal with existing sites where no new gas operating activity has triggered the new 500 foot buffer rule and a surface owner wants to begin developing the surrounding property. This might be handled with an aggressive and attractive incentive policy that encourages gas operators to declare existing sites where no new gas development will occur. In those instances, the 500 foot buffer requirement could be relaxed, with the guarantee that operations on that site remain status quo. Then a 250 foot reverse setback to these sites could become more palatable. It’s a twist on a reverse setback variance procedure that puts the responsibility on the back of the gas operator, not the surface developer.
After a few weeks off for regular council meetings, the Denton City Council swings back into action with an anticipated long meeting. We start at 11am for our Work Session followed by our 6:30pm Regular Session. Go here for the full agenda with backup material.
CRAFT ALCOHOL PRODUCTION CODE UPDATE – ALLOWING MICROBREWERIES DOWNTOWN
Historically, when cities thought about a brewery in their city, they tended to think about things like this:
As a result, most city codes relegated anything alcohol production related to the industrially-zoned parts of town.
The craft brewery revolution changed everything, including the footprint of your average brewery. As urban centers of cities become revitalized, these microbreweries have wanted to move toward the center of town and offer a vibrant amenity to the citizens beyond simply shipping their products to market.
As a result, today’s urban craft brewery looks much more like this:
We will be workshopping and voting on a change that would allow such “Craft Alcohol Production” businesses to locate to the downtown area. Imagine adding craft breweries with attached brew pubs and tasting rooms to our downtown footprint. It becomes another smart piece of our growing ecosystem of businesses, jobs, citizen amenities, and tourist attractions for our downtown area.
I’m proud of the work our Planning Department has done to move this issue forward and provide a platform by which to foster Denton’s growing locally-crafted beer scene. This will be great for our downtown area.
RESULTS OF 2015 CITIZEN and BUSINESS SURVEY
The city recently commissioned two surveys to better learn from the likes, dislikes, and concerns of our citizens. We’ll be hearing a report on the results of these surveys – you can also read them for yourself here:
REPORT ON FUNDING FOR DENTON’S CVB
The Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau contracts with the City of Denton and this year is requesting $1.1 million in funding – funding that comes from the Hotel Occupancy Tax fund. Because of the increase in funds from previous years and the growing scope of the CVB, the council members on the HOT Committee (charged with allocating all of these funds) asked for a work session on this topic to the full council.
The question seems to be whether to continue with the current model of contracting with an independent CVB or pursuing an option whereby the CVB is run in-house, directly by the city.
I look forward to this discussion. I know that the Denton CVB has a track record of pursuing innovative ideas with the agility that only an independent, non-city department can do.
As always, if you have any comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 940-206-5239.
The annual SE Denton Back to School event is coming up on August 15 from 10am to 1pm at the MLK Rec Center. The goal is to help the families who have the most needs, so please spread the word to those in our community who could use some help getting school supplies for their kids. No pre-registration is required.
If you would like to donate money or supplies to the cause, please contact me at 940-206-5239 or email@example.com.
I recall meeting my Councilwoman for tea about 7 years ago at Panera Bread. I wanted to introduce my family to her, Charlye Heggins, and express my interest in helping her out and serving the city in any way that I could. That simple meeting led to an appointment on a city committee exploring the issues of term limits, followed quickly by an appointment to serve on the city’s Historic Landmark Commission.
This is the time of year when spots on the 13 city Boards and Commissions are up for re-nominations or new nominations. Any council member can choose to bring in new volunteers for any open spot on a board or commission even if there is someone serving in that spot and eligible for re-nomination. Typically, the practice is to focus on the vacant spots on each board or commission that are left by volunteers who have termed out or resigned for other reasons.
To make it easier for interested citizens to navigate the spots that are clearly open for brand new volunteers, I’ve listed them below along with the name of the council member whose spot it is for a nomination:
|Airport Advisory Board||Johnson|
|Health and Building Standards Commission||Watts|
|Health and Building Standards Commission||Wazny|
|Human Services Advisory Committee||Gregory|
|Parks, Recreation, and Beautification Board||Watts|
|Parks, Recreation, and Beautification Board||Roden|
|Planning and Zoning Commission||Briggs|
|Planning and Zoning Commission||Hawkins|
|Public Art Committee||Hawkins|
|Public Utiliites Board||Briggs|
|Public Utiliites Board||Gregory|
|Traffic Safety Commission||Hawkins|
|Zoning Board of Adjustment||Wazny|