By Eric Pruett
For the past two years Denton has undergone an extensive writing of a development code update which was last written roughly 30 years ago. This code, along with the proposed zoning map defines what private landowners are legally allowed to do with their property. Will anything in the code update change our residential neighborhoods we care so much about?
The residential zones which do not allow multifamily apartment complexes are distributed in numbered designation with increasing density as the number increases. Here are the zone types and permitted uses for the existing and the new proposed code:
BR: By Right. This may be built without public input or special oversight by a city board or commission.
SUP: Specific Use Permit. A special permit must be granted, similar to a zoning change for this to be built. Nearby properties are notified of the request and a public hearing is held before Planning and Zoning which decides whether to recommend it. Then another public hearing is held before City Council which votes to grant or deny the SUP. This process is designed so that the city may deny or place requirements on the development to satisfy the needs and requests of neighbors.
(1) Duplex units on NR-4 must be on separate lots and sold individually.
So, what would change? Duplexes in R4 would require an SUP rather than being permitted by right. And duplexes in R3 would now be allowed, but only with an SUP if granted through the public hearing process. But what would actually change on the ground?
In the current development code, an SUP is required to build townhomes within an NR-3 or NR-4 zone. How many of the almost 70 requested SUP’s since September 2015 were for an SUP on an NR-3 or NR-4 zone? Zero. Not one. Certainly there might be more demand for duplexes than townhomes, but if that’s the case where would they go?
The draft Oak Gateway Area Plan describes one such neighborhood in sub-area 3 depicted below which has expressed specific interest in incremental development to supply housing in a way that maintains the character of the neighborhood and keeps rents down:
“Approve appropriate Zoning Districts that allow increased diversity of housing types so long as they visually fit with the established neighborhood scale. These could include townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, accessory dwelling units, cottage homes, courtyard homes, and patio homes.”
“Approve appropriate Zoning Districts that require smaller‐scale ownership housing such as accessory dwelling units on single‐family lots, townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, cottage homes, courtyard homes, and patio homes.”
If these types of developments are not permitted in R3 and R4 zones with an SUP, the remaining option to satisfy increased density in this area would be a rezoning of this area. This would allow buildings which are contrary to both the goal of small-scale ownership and buildings which no longer fit within the neighborhood scale. It would destroy the very character this neighborhood is trying to preserve.
Established single-family home areas which have little demand or interest in townhomes or duplexes would have an SUP public hearing process to share their opposition. As Denton grows another 30 years, there will undoubtedly be changes. Maybe other R3 and R4 neighborhoods will want to offer more density with small-scale ownership rather than large apartment complexes. Without the tool of an SUP to grant these incremental developments within residential zones, the result will be higher rents, larger scale apartment complexes, and less available walkable living options for those who desire it.
Let’s extend Denton’s love of local control to our neighborhoods: support the ability for neighborhoods who want this type of development to achieve it, within an SUP framework that will allow neighborhoods which prefer to limit change to do just that.