Monday, May 28, 2012

Sustainability Efforts Highlighted at a Seminar in Denton, Texas

The City of Denton just held the first preliminary public meeting last week on May 24th, 2012 to start the update of its Comprehensive Plan. The Plan update will be done in the context of recent sustainability efforts that are placing Denton on the forefront of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

On May 18th, the Midwest Texas Section of the Texas American Planning Association held a seminar at the University of North Texas on the City's sustainability initiatives. Sustainability is a major goal of the University of North Texas (UNT), the DCTA, and the City of Denton.

University of North Texas, Office of Sustainability

Planners from across DFW heard about UNT's Office of Sustainability's efforts on the Denton campus, with recent LEED buildings, wind turbines, recycling efforts, new vegan cafeteria, energy efficiency, office certifications, community outreach, and catalyst projects across the campus. The goal is not only to promote sustainability on campus and practice what researchers are finding, as related to the economic, social, and environmental benefits of sustainability, but to also create leaders on a world stage, as graduating students enter the workforce and bring sustainability to their jobs in a variety of fields.

The most visible UNT effort in campus is the Apogee Stadium, the first LEED Platinum stadium in the United States, just opened this year. Three large wind turbines power about one third of the stadium's power for 31,000 seats at capacity. There is also energy efficient lighting, low VOC materials, permeable paving, recycled construction materials, and a large effort for recycling of waste from stadium events.

One of the most interesting efforts by UNT is the Schneider Electric performance contract. Over a ten-year period, Scheider Electric guarantees that UNT will save 14 million dollars from energy-saving technologies. If UNT does not get the savings, they will receive a refund. Some of the energy technologies include replacements of the central plant chillers, lighting controls, and new HVAC systems.

UNT is also actively coordinating with national and local organizations and efforts, include AASHE (college and university organization), U.G. Green Building Council (LEED), Arbor Day Foundation (Tree Campus USA), and other local efforts.

The Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA)

The DCTA, founded in 2001-2002, recently opened the A-train regional rail line in June which now serves the I-35 corridor from Downton Denton to Trinity Mills in Carrollton and connecting to DART's Green Line. The DCTA, including a bus system which connects to the train stations, provides another transportation choice for commuting to work or traveling to activities in the DFW Metroplex.

Although ridership on the system has been increasing since the opening, the long-term population and ridership growth projections show corridors not currently served by the system, including East to Frisco, to a Carrollton transit hub, to Alliance Airport, the 380 corridor, McKinney, and Flower Mound.  There is a "doughnut" hole in connectivity among the transit services in the DFW area, and the DCTA will continue to plan for expansion. The UNT staff, faculty, and students currently make up about 75% of the ridership.
As new cities want to join that have not been contributing local taxes to fund the system, there will be challenges in how to address new cities versus "legacy" cities, those cities that paid over years into the initial development of the system.

The DCTA has promoted Transit Oriented Development, with the continued improvements and growth of Downtown Denton, the Hebron Station TOD, Old Town Station TOD, and Highland Village/Lewisville Lake TOD, all in different stages of design and development.

The City of Denton

The City of Denton currently has two major sustainability initiatives: the Downtown Implementation Plan (DTIP) and the passage of its sustainability plan, "Simply Sustainable."

Denton's Downtown has seen considerable growth of commercial developments and multifamily apartments over the past few years. The DTIP plan considers further improvements and incentives to promote more downtown development, particularly on the Hickory Street corridor from the Courthouse on the Square to the DCTA train station and eventually to the Denton County Courthouse on McKinney Avenue.

The City is focusing on street improvements on Hickory Street, with angled parking and eventually street trees, and shared bike lane, and further streetscape improvements. At the same time, staff in currently writing a Form Based Code for the area, which is expected to be completed later this summer and probably approved in the fall.

Parking availability has been a particular concern of local businesses, and the City expects to develop a parking garage or facility on city-owned property in the City. The City has been taking a proactive role in developing Solid Wast Pilot Project to talk with business owners and reduce the number of dumpsters in the downtown as well as increase recycling. Dumpsters currently are throughout the downtown, and there will be further efforts to consolidate and screen those that are needed.

In February, after a year-long process, the City of Denton approved its sustainability plan, "Simply Sustainable."  The plan will not be static, but will be a living document that will be monitored and improved through data provided by City departments to track indicators.  A unique tracking system is being developed with CDM to provide the City and the community a report card on plan's progress. 

The City held two community meetings with the public as well as conducted a survey with over 200 respondents to create a master list of 500 strategies to consider. Out of the 500 strategies, 70 were selected for review by the Advisory Committee (UNT, the Chamber of Commerce, DCTA, the League of Women Voters, Citizen Groups, and others) and the City Council's Committee on the Environment. These items were ranked by the financial implications, implementation time frame, and the sustainability of the item. Some particular items, such as bike lanes and the tree code, were added to the list as community priorities.  Six years of baseline data is available for every element being tracked. The sustainability plan will be considered in the update of the Comprehensive Plan, a two-year process that just started this month.

Presenters:  Nicole Cocco (UNT Office of Sustainability); Dee Leggett (DCTA), Ron Menguita (City of Denton, Planning), and Katherine Barnett (City of Denton, Environmental Services and Sustainability)

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