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Despite hang-ups, Denton officials continue to manage growth

Despite hang-ups, Denton officials continue to manage growth

Graphic of the growth in Denton. Jake King

Despite hang-ups, Denton officials continue to manage growth
February 22
13:15 2017

Due to its character, workforce potential and location, the city of Denton has seen a boom in growth dating back to 2000. While the city has managed to deal with the growth and plan accordingly, working with this trend has proven to be difficult at times. Officials say a new plan is in place and will keep Denton on the right track.

The Growth

Between 2000 and 2010, Denton grew from roughly 80,500 to 113,000 people, a total growth of about 40.8 percent. Comparatively, the U.S. had a growth rate of less than 10 percent during that time. Cities like Tyler, which had a slightly higher population than Denton in 2000, only grew 15 percent. Abilene had a population of 110,000 in 2000, but based on estimations will only grow by 5,000 people during the next 15 years.

With Denton’s growth also came expansion for the school district and other areas of the city. Denton Independent School District serves 10 municipalities and stretches across 17 cities. The district has seen a 28 percent growth since its 2007 bond election. But according to Denton ISD’s communications coordinator Julie Zwahr, the district’s growth is more of a testament to the area’s growth rather than just Denton’s.

“It’s because of the economic development of all these cities we’re still growing,” Zwahr said.

Last year Denton ISD was the third fastest growing district in the region, behind only Frisco ISD and Prosper ISD. Though according to the Dallas-Fort Worth New Home Ranking Report provided by Denton ISD, Frisco has the capability of about 8,000 more new homes, whereas Denton and Prosper ISD have over 25,000.

Growth in Denton has been steady for over a decade now. Ron Menguita, the city of Denton’s long range plan administrator said even the 2008 housing crash didn’t deter Denton’s growth too much. Rather, it just changed citizens’ housing priorities.

“It just went from housing to multi-families and commercial [housing],” Menguita said. “But development was still pretty strong.”

The city of Denton’s Director for Economic Development Caroline Booth said the DFW metroplex was “very fortunate” as a region to sustain its growth, noting that other areas were not that lucky.

Booth said Denton has become a “prime location” in the metroplex for business and residential growth as it lies between several major highways. The workforce potential in Denton is stronger than most as well, with the city’s median age being 28.7 years old, compared to Texas’s median age of 33.9.

Menguita echoed similar sentiments but said another aspect was the city’s character.

“We have a great downtown and a music scene that others don’t have,” Menguita said.

The old plans

Back in 1999, the City of Denton approved the “Denton Plan,” a comprehensive plan designed to lay out Denton for the next 15-20 years. This is a document Menguita called their “guide” for how the city would grow and develop.

Menguita said the plan had anticipated the growth that followed, noting how the plan had estimated growth of 3-5 percent of growth almost every year.

While Booth acknowledged the issues and challenges that can arise from this kind of growth, she said they bring opportunity as well.

“It indicates the overall economic health of a region or community,” Booth said.

Issues that persist

Regarding this type of growth, the city of Denton has run into hang-ups along the way. Menguita mentioned the fact that some areas do not have the capability to handle growth, as they need water lines and waste lines, something Menguita said was not necessarily in the budget. This specifically becomes a problem when competing against other cities for developers.

“[Developers] are going to say ‘okay if I move to Denton, do I to have to put in the waterline and sewer line,’” Menguita said. “‘And if so, what is that going to cost me?’”

Menguita said if a competing city has already put in that infrastructure, that’s less cost to the developer and more incentive to go there instead of Denton.

“It’s an economic challenge and it’s something I think we can do a lot better,” Menguita said.

From an economic development standpoint, Booth said one of Denton’s struggles is its unemployment rate, or rather, how low it is. Denton has an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent. The U.S. has a rate of 4.8 percent, and Texas about 4.6, something Booth said was a “flip side” to the workforce potential.

“If you’re showing that low unemployment rate to a prospect whose interested in locating here,” Booth said. “Does that make them concerned about, ‘what’s it going to take to recruit potential employees away from where they’re already working?’”

The new plans

Denton updated its “Denton Plan” back in 2012, renaming it the “Denton 2030 Plan.” The new plan helps Denton cope with some of its new prominent issues, such as housing the homeless or needy. Environmental focus was another aspect of the plan.

Menguita said the new plan maps out environmentally sensitive areas, as well as applies standards that developers must abide by. Denton Municipal Electric also is beginning a renewable energy initiative that will look to increase Denton’s renewable power from 40 percent to 70 percent by 2019.

There is also a bit of a focus on small area planning. The approach to the plan is different as well.

Menguita said one of the strategies being incorporated with the new plan is to “update or stay on top of the actions and policies that come out of the plan.” To do this, Menguita said the city officials are evaluating accomplishments and impediments annually. While Menguita said there were “very few impediments,” budget and time both put limits on what the city can do.

On the economic side of things, Booth said her department is always busy recruiting, responding to proposals, and site visits from companies.

“There are always activities going on related to economic development,” Booth said. “I don’t have anything hot on the burner right now, but that could change tomorrow.”

Featured Image: Graphic of the growth in Denton. Jake King

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James Norman

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