Amid cries of “Shame on you!” Allen residents left Tuesday night’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting disappointed; their concerns about a proposed high-density development in the city’s central business district had once again been ignored by the city and developers.
Despite hearing overwhelming public opposition, commissioners voted 4-2 Tuesday to recommend that the city council approve a revised proposal for the controversial “Allen City Center” project. In May, the vote was 5-2 to recommend denial of the developer’s original plan.
Allen residents have opposed plans to build the “urban residential” development in the city’s historic downtown since it was first presented to the Central Business District Design Review Committee last year. Those plans included 850 apartment units and parking stacked in 4- and 5-story buildings, plus potential street-level retail and a 5-story office tower with an 8-level garage.
Residents are primarily concerned about the project’s density of 70 units per acre—more than twice the city’s standard 32 units per acre—as well as the impact on traffic of 1,200 cars added to surrounding streets and the height of buildings to be placed next to existing single-family homes.
Homeowners in neighboring Whisenant Estates are hit the hardest. “We were here first and are the victims in this story,” neighborhood resident Adelia Scaife told commissioners Tuesday night. “If this same scenario happened next to your home in Allen, you would not like it.”
“How do we get people back to downtown?” Scaife asked. “It can be done the right way, and this project is not the right way, in my opinion.”
Failure by developers and city officials to address their concerns is what has Allen residents most frustrated.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take for you guys to listen to us,” said Marina Gutierrez, adding residents might be willing to compromise if the density was reduced.
“The average citizen would not think the city would approve this kind of development in an area like downtown,” former city council candidate Melanie Hughes told commissioners.
The revised proposal presented last night showed only minor changes made in response to public concerns voiced over the past several months. Land use lawyer Bill Dahlstrom, representing the project’s developer Jim Leslie of Dallas-based Wolverine Interests, described the latest revisions. They included lowering the number of units from 850 to 825 (a 3 percent reduction), increasing setbacks from 39 feet up to 96 feet, adding more green areas, and incorporating “retail-ready” space.
Dahlstrom said it’s necessary to “jump-start” the urban center with high-density residential development. “The issue that keeps coming up is density,” Dahlstrom said. “We need the density to jump-start downtown.”
“Density is the main issue that all of the citizens have,” resident Devon Hudson said.
As in prior public hearings, comments heard last night by P&Z were nearly unanimously against the project. Of the 40 residents who spoke or registered a position on the plan, only one—Allen Economic Development Corporation Vice President Jeff Burkhardt—favored the proposed development.
Yet P&Z Chair Ben Trahan and members Elias Shaikh, Stephen Platt, and Michael Orr voted in favor of the project; Shaikh and Platt opposed the original proposal presented in May, as did P&Z member John Ogrizovich who was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.
Gene Autrey and Dan Metevier sided with Allen citizens against the development.
“Overall, nothing’s really changed in my estimation, so I’m trying to figure out why are we still beating this to death?” Autrey asked after hearing residents once again voice concerns about the project. “We’re in the people business, not in the ‘business’ business.”
“There’s a disconnect” between the city and its citizens, added Metevier. “Only one person is in favor of what’s before us tonight.”
Metevier also said he was “struggling with the concept that we need rooftops before retail.” The area already has 13,000 residents, he said, and Allen City Center would add another 1,200. He noted similar developments like Stacy Green, Watters Creek, and The Villages at Allen built retail and restaurants before or at the same time apartments were added.
Dahlstrom eventually committed to adding 2,000 square feet of retail in each of the project’s four development phases.
Developers first presented their plans to P&Z on April 2. Faced with significant community opposition at three public hearings, the commission voted on May 7 to recommend city council deny the project. On May 28, council sent the plan back to P&Z to reconsider due to a “significant design change.” After a neighborhood meeting and another P&Z hearing in June, developers asked to delay until July so they could alter the plans further.
The revised plan approved by P&Z is expected to be considered by Allen City Council on August 13. If owners of 20 percent of neighboring property file a written protest against the project, a three-fourths vote of council (six of the seven members) will be required to approve the development.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Mr. Metevier said the area already has 1,300 residents. The number he gave was 13,000 residents.