The issue of apartments and density has been a hot topic this election season in Frisco. While campaigning, a majority of Frisco City Council candidates stated that controlling the number of apartments would be one of their top priorities if elected.
Residents have expressed opposition to apartment projects in the city because of an increase in traffic, among other reasons—opposition city officials say they understand but in some cases do not have the legal authority to address.
According to city and development law officials, the city is bound to approve certain multifamily projects because of the zoning process and property rights. Although the city has taken steps to control the amount of land zoned for apartments, it does not have the ability to regulate some land that is already zoned for multifamily.
Frisco has two types of zoning approvals: nondiscretionary and discretionary.
Nondiscretionary zoning approvals take place when zoning is already in place on a piece of property for what the landowner or developer wants to build.
In nondiscretionary zoning cases, the city has an obligation to approve the project. If a nondiscretionary zoning case is not approved, a lawsuit could be brought forth against the city, said Tommy Mann, a Dallas attorney who specializes in zoning and land use law.
Mann said it could be confusing to residents when the planning and zoning commission approves a site plan for an apartment project. In the city of Frisco, the planning and zoning commission has final authority on site plans if the project is zoned for that area and meets minimum development standards.
“If it is only a site plan, there is no discretion to deny [a project] just because it is a use that people have objections to,” Mann said.
The second type of zoning approval is discretionary zoning, which occurs when the correct zoning is not in place for the type of project the developer wants to build.
In a discretionary zoning case, the developer is required to apply for a zoning change. If planning and zoning commissioners, city council members or residents have reasonable objections to the change, the council has the authority to deny the zoning change request, Mann said.
Frisco Mayor Pro Tem Will Sowell said it is the responsibility of Frisco’s elected officials to ensure that residents understand the zoning process.
“It’s an obligation we have to also balance the needs of land owners and their rights, and what the residents want for the future of the city,” he said.
View an expanded version of this story in Community Impact Newspaper’s May issue, publishing in mid-May.