Versa Development is planning to build the two-story Juniper Apartments on 6.8 acres at the corner of Los Rios Boulevard and Jupiter Road.
“This is an opportunity to bring affordable housing to the city at no cost to the city,” Manish Verma with Versa Development told Plano City Council at its Sept. 20 meeting.
On Aug. 15, the Plano Planning & Zoning Commission voted 8-0 against the request to rezone the land from single-family residential to multifamily residential. City staff had also recommended denial, stating that the project did not align with several guiding policies in Plano’s Comprehensive Plan.
City policies recommend new multifamily complexes be built as part of mixed-use or transit-oriented developments. This area near the Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve does not fit either of those development types, according to city documents. The city’s future land use map categorizes the area as a neighborhood, which puts a priority on single-family homes. The volume of traffic in that area was also a concern, according to city documents.
“The request ... is well outside the character of the surrounding environment,” city staff wrote in a review of the project.
Nearby neighbors also overwhelmingly opposed the project, according to city documents.
On Aug. 18, developers filed a formal appeal to the planning and zoning commission’s denial.
At its Sept. 20 meeting, Plano City Council voted 8-0 to overturn the commission’s vote and approve the rezoning request with several stipulations.
As part of the approval, developers agreed to help finance a traffic signal and expansion of Los Rios Boulevard. Developers will also be required to plant trees along Los Rios Boulevard.
Council Member Shelby Williams said he used to live in the area and understands the “innumerable problems” with the project.
“This is not a great place for such a project, and it has nothing to do with whether it’s affordable housing, low-income [housing] or anything of the like,” Williams said.
But he said the project has been positioned in such a way that the city could face a protracted legal battle if it were denied.
“We are trying to do what’s in the best interest long-term for our city so that our zoning decisions remain our own,” Williams said.
In July, the Juniper Apartments was awarded $1.5 million in housing tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to help finance the project. According to developers, 64 of the 80 units will be set aside for low-income tenants.
Speaking in support of the apartment development was Ann Lott, executive director of the Dallas-based Inclusive Communities Project, a nonprofit that supports fair housing opportunities for low-income families.
“Putting housing for low-income families in high-opportunity neighborhoods will address the barriers to affordable housing,” she said, citing Plano’s quality schools, employment opportunities and resources for recreation.
The Inclusive Communities Project has long been an advocate for affordable housing. In a June 2015 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of certain claims under the Fair Housing Act. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Inclusive Communities Project against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
The suit filed in 2008 claimed racial discrimination in the state’s policies that had awarded a disproportionate number of tax credits for low-income housing to developers in low-income neighborhoods rather than in Dallas suburbs. The Supreme Court ruling allowed disparate-impact claims, which involve challenges to policies or systems that could have a discriminatory effect without having to prove that the discrimination was intentional.
Before the Plano City Council’s unanimous vote to approve the Juniper Apartments project, Council Member Anthony Ricciardelli said residents’ feedback on developments like this matters.
“And it can only matter if those zoning decisions remain here in Plano to be made by this City Council,” he said. “I just hope everyone understands that and the importance of maintaining local control over our zoning decisions.”