02 February 2010

Denton Developers Want Input on Fry

Denton Record-Chronicle

A public meeting Wednesday could help shape the proposed redevelopment of Denton’s once-vibrant Fry Street area.

The company behind a proposal to build student housing on a mostly vacant block bordering the University of North Texas is inviting residents to offer their views on the area’s fate. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

 “We have ideas on what we want to see,” said Josh Vasbinder, a vice president with The Dinerstein Companies, a Houston apartments, real estate and development firm. “But I want to make sure our ideas align with what the community wants to see long-term for that property.”

Company officials plan to mostly listen during Wednesday’s meeting, Vasbinder said. They’re planning a second gathering, tentatively set for Feb. 17 at City Hall, to present revised plans incorporating feedback they receive, he said.

Company officials are already talking with community leaders to gather their views on the project, said Patrice Lyke, who leads the Denton Neighborhood Alliance, a consortium of local neighborhood groups. By contrast, the developer behind Fry Street Village — the doomed development planned for the same block in 2006 — didn’t reach out to neighborhoods until its plans were set in stone, she said.

“Time will tell, but this early willingness to listen to the neighborhoods is a really good sign,” said Lyke, who also serves on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

The Dinerstein Cos. and Dallas-based Winkelmann & Associates Inc. filed a pre-application with Denton city officials last month to build 210 Dallas apartments for students in Denton with 586 beds in a four-story complex split by a multistory parking garage.

When the plans became public, some area residents said they’d rather see a mix of housing and retail uses at the site, a 3.8-acre lot bordered by Fry, Hickory, Welch and Oak streets. Others raised concerns about increased traffic on Oak and Hickory — two roads already stressed beyond their capacity.

City staff members reviewed the application and issued a report Dec. 31 listing potential conflicts with city codes. For example, buildings in the Fry Street district can’t exceed three stories, according to the report.

“What was submitted doesn’t meet city standards on a number of levels,” said Mark Cunningham, the city’s planning and development director. “My understanding from the applicant is that he just wants to … get feedback from the community and then factor that into the design of the site” before offering new plans.

The submitted plans were preliminary, and the company is open to changing them, Vasbinder said.

“People want to see more of a mixed-use concept,” he said. “We’re pushing to try to figure out what the best utilization of that mixed-use concept is, how that new urbanism can be done correctly.”

The block has been a center of attention since Houston-based United Equities Inc. bought most of it in 2006 and announced plans for new retail shops and eateries.

An opposition group, Save Fry Street, formed to fight the project, and nearly 9,500 people signed a petition supporting preservation of existing buildings and Denton apartments, some of which dated to the 1920s.

United Equities ultimately demolished five buildings, including one that housed The Tomato, but not before someone set fire to the iconic restaurant in an apparent protest of the project.

In December 2007, a divided City Council rejected a drive-through lane in the proposed Fry Street Village, derailing plans to build a shopping center anchored by a CVS pharmacy. A chain-link fence has surrounded most of the block since then.

United Equities still owns the land. Tim Sandifer, the project manager for Fry Street Village, did not return a call seeking comment.

If The Dinerstein Cos. can win city approval of its project, it likely would buy the block from United Equities, Vasbinder said. It also plans to develop and manage the property, he said.

“It’s our name on the building; it’s our reputation,” Vasbinder said. “We want it to be a long-term benefit to the community.”

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