Friday, May 12, 2006

Fry Street redevelopment in Denton

As some of you might remember, I worked for and lived in the City of Denton between 1999 and 2002. More recently, as a consultant for the Denton County Transit Authority, I have been assisting with modifications to the rapidly-growing city's bus network. I've also been involved in studies related to a commuter rail line that will one day link Denton to Dallas.

(Denton, Texas is like my own, personal Hotel California: I can check out any time I want, but I just can't ever leave...)

Anyway. For those of you unfamilar with Fry Street, it is a collection of restaurants, bars and stores located along Oak Street, Hickory Street, Avenue A and, of course, Fry Street on the north side of the University of North Texas campus. These businesses are generally oriented towards college students and are similar to the types of businesses you might find adjacent to other college campuses around the nation.

As the Denton Record-Chronicle reports, however, a developer based here in Houston has recently purchased several buildings that are part of the Fry Street district and has plans to tear them down to create a new development. The project, which would likely include national chains like CVS, Borders and Starbucks, would replace the existing businesses, which include well-known Fry Street establishments such as The Tomato pizzeria and Uncommon Grounds coffee shop. It's unlikely that any of these existing businesses will reopen in the new structure, because, as the article reports, rents are likely to be much higher than they are now.

Reaction to news of this new development is mixed. Some people think that redevelopment of the tattered area is a good idea that will make Denton more attractive, bring in more upscale businesses and expand the local tax base. Others see it as regrettable corporate homogenization that will destroy the area's unique culture and character by replacing a bunch of small, independent businesses with a bunch of bland chains. (There's been a lot of discussion about the topic on, the UNT athletics discussion board; see threads here, here and here).

Opponents of the proposed development have started a site which suggests that people take action against the project by voting for certain candidates in this weekend's local elections (which I will be covering) and attending future planning and zoning commission and city council meetings. As a former planner for Denton, however, I'm afraid that there's really nothing that P&Z, council or city staff could do to stop this development. The property is already zoned DC-G, which allows retail, restaurants, clubs and apartments. No rezoning will be necessary and that means council will have no say in the project. The developer will probably need to file a replat in order to combine the various existing lots into one new lot before construction begins, but if the plat meets the requirements of the Denton Development Code, P&Z is required to approve it per state law. Likewise with building inspections - if the development meets all the regulations, they can't legally keep it from being built.

Although I really didn't spend a lot of time on Fry Street when I lived in Denton, I do think it's a bit sad that a lot of local businesses are going to be lost in favor of a bunch of big chains. I also agree that the character of the neighborhood will likely be altered by this project (to what extent remains to be seen). But Denton is growing, as is UNT's enrollment. Land around campus is becoming increasingly valuable. To be sure, most of the property on which this project sits is parking, and the buildings themselves are generally old, small and not in great repair. Redevelopment of the area was simply inevitable.

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