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Friday, May 20, 2022

Candidate for Denton City Council Place 6 – Amber Briggle

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Amber Briggle – Small business owner

How long have you lived in Denton?

We moved here in 2009, so coming up on 13 years?

In quick, rapid-fire answers, what are the three things you love the most about Denton?

I love our vibe — our small-town vibe, the Denton square. I love the people. The people in Denton are very generous, and we always look out for each other. And I love our parks and our libraries. I’ve got a couple of kids so we always utilize those services. So those would be the three things I love the most about Denton.

Why are you running for a position on Denton’s City Council?

I’ve lived here for close to 13 years. I was the vice-chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission for a number of years. And I’m the current chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustments and a small business owner. And so those four things combined have given me a really diverse and deep view of debt and what our challenges are, and what our strengths are as well.

Additionally, we’ve all gone through this pandemic — all of us have experienced it. There’s no one it hasn’t touched. It’s been really hard on small businesses like mine because specifically, I run a massage studio and we can’t keep six feet apart and we can’t sell anything virtually. It’s all in person. So it’s definitely affected small businesses. It’s affected women’s careers more than men — there’s lots of data on the recession. And it’s definitely affected families.

I, fortunately, have come out the other side of it even stronger than I was before, but that’s not the case for every family or for every small business. And so I’d like to take the lessons I’ve learned, especially over the last couple years during the pandemic, but also the lessons that I’ve learned and the connections I’ve made in the 13 years living, working, and serving the City of Denton to help other families and other businesses not just survive, but thrive.

Denton has been experiencing a lot of growth over the past few years. How can it continue to expand while still keeping its local Downtown Square charm and small-town feel?

That is central to my priorities, absolutely. Growth is going to happen. Eight people moved to Denton yesterday, eight people moved to Denton today, eight more will move tomorrow. It’s happening and so we have to be mindful in how we manage that growth to make Denton work for the people and not the developers that want to develop it.

There’s a of couple ways that we look at that. One is we look at infill developments, finding pockets of the city so we can really kind of increase our density, which will obviously help combat suburban sprawl, which will also help increase our ridership for DCTA. Because where there’s more density, there’s more people to ride the buses and to go places.

So we look at infill development. We look at maybe tweaking the code in certain areas to make redevelopment a little bit easier for small businesses to start up. We look at maybe addressing some of the impact fees for this infill development – maybe providing grants to businesses. Because if they’re building something in the center of town where we already have wastewater and a paved road, maybe we could help provide a grant to offset those impact fees versus someone who’s building on the edge of town and we have to bring that infrastructure to them.

So I think we look at the code to help small businesses and neighborhoods and affordable housing find appropriate areas in Denton to build that keeps our small town charm. We also work with making sure that we’re bringing the right kinds of businesses to Denton that we’re working right back up.

Let me talk first about businesses. That we’re supporting small businesses, whether that is making sure that businesses are aware of grant opportunities, or maybe the city could contract with small businesses, specifically women-owned and minority-owned small businesses, to help them succeed. If we have a bid out for something, maybe we prioritize the local business or that minority-owned business over someone who’s from out of town. So those are a couple of things we could do.

I think support for the Denton Community Market — that is such a great incubator for small businesses. That’s how my small business started. So it’s different ways we can support small businesses to keep that small-town charm that we have.

And then the last thing, too, I think working with established neighborhoods. I can think of two specific projects in Denton that did not serve the people of Denton but did serve the developers. One would be the Park7 project … a five or seven-story student housing complex that just completely casts a literal and figurative shadow over the whole neighborhood. Now, I’m all for density, I’m all for affordable housing, but I’m also for maintaining the charm of our established neighborhoods. And these are all single-story houses in a historic district and now we have this huge five-story structure that literally casts a shadow and that didn’t need to be done that way. There’s ways that we could have worked with the zoning and work with the developer, and work with the neighborhood to bring that density and more housing to Denton that didn’t diminish the charm of the neighborhood.

And the second thing I’m thinking of is Buc-ee’s. Nothing against Buc-ee’s, their bathrooms are legit, (laughs). But putting that were it went, specifically next to an established neighborhood, really diminished the quality of life for that neighborhood.

And so I think being able to communicate better, with neighborhoods, having a neighborhood liaison that neighborhoods can directly go to in addition to their City Councilman. Who kind of knows the ins and outs of the planning departments, and knows how the zoning works and can be their advocate when projects come to the neighborhoods, I think this would be really great ways that we can maintain our small-town charm, maintain the integrity of established neighborhoods, but still find ways to bring cars and develop them.

What are your views on expanding public transit in Denton?

I’m a fan of public transit. I would love to see ways to stabilize our public transit because I know there’s been a lot of discussion about both the GoZone and the fixed bus routes.

It obviously helps our air quality if we have fewer vehicles on the road. In fact, I’d like to see every DCTA bus be an electric bus that’s fueled by renewable DME energy. That would be a great way to increase improve our air quality in Denton.

I’m a fan, I want to see more of it. I think fixed bus routes are super important. I do also see the value of the GoZone, but I don’t think one needs to be sacrificed for the other. … I think an overarching commonality I see between lots of points on my platform is again, this infill development and more density because it’s going to help … reduce suburban sprawl, which will maintain our open areas and our green space. And I think it’s a great way to help small businesses start-up in a fairly affordable manner if we can just redevelop an already existing building.

There are a lot of road construction projects going on in Denton, with more scheduled to begin soon. What are your thoughts on these road construction projects and the frustrations they may cause Dentonites?

They’re taking a really long time. One time I drove into a literal sinkhole on South Bonnie Brae. It’s taking a really long time, and I was on this. I’m glad that we were finally addressing this. I do think it’s taking too long. I don’t know where the traffic jam is happening. I’m glad to see that these projects are finally starting to move forward.

What I’m noticing, I just had a meeting not too long ago with the Planning Department, and what I’m hearing is that in previous administrations, people not just planning, but many city departments were kind of working in silos. They have their projects that they were assigned, and they would work within their department to address that. When the reality is there’s so much overlap and everything that we do in Denton that we really need to be working together as a team.

And what I’ve been seeing very recently with this new Counsel, I would say this new 5-2 majority honestly that we’re seeing right now in Denton, I’m seeing things move more quickly because there’s more encouragement for teamwork. So someone say from one department will have a presentation and they’ll say, great, but have you looked at this other plan that other departments are working on? So they’re encouraging more teamwork, which I think not only expedites the process but helps us think more creatively on how we can address the big issues facing Denton.

Just like everyone, I’m super frustrated with how long it takes to get a road repaired. And I’m super frustrated that literally everywhere I go, there are traffic cones. And I’m very heartened to know that we are finally addressing our crumbling streets, which have been crumbling for a very long time. In fact, I served on the 2012 Street Bond Committee, so I’ve been aware of this issue for a decade. So I’m happy to see that we’re finally addressing it, and I’m happy to see the teamwork and the collaboration that’s happening among city staff to move these projects forward in a more timely and more efficient manner.

What do you think about the skyrocketing housing prices in Denton and if elected, what do you intend to do to help keep people from being priced out of their homes?

That’s number one on my priority list is finding affordable workforce housing. … There’s a couple different ways to look at this.

So first thing looking at homeowners, property tax rates doesn’t necessarily rise, but the value of our home does, so we’re therefore paying more in property taxes every year. City Council knows what the appraisal rate is before they set the budget. And obviously, more people in a community is going to require more resources, which is gonna require more money. But being mindful that we’re spending that money wisely and that we are also being mindful of how much that rate is rising for people because I don’t want people to get priced out of their homes. And so if there is ever a way to reduce that in a way that doesn’t reduce city services, that’s something obviously we’d want to look at.

I think it’s also again talking about density and infill. Let’s look at the way that the code is written – can we rewrite the codes so that we can have areas of town that allow for a tiny house community? Is there a way that we can work with the code? I think it was recently reworked to allow for garage apartments and mother-in-law suites, but is there something more we can do for backyard apartments or just looking at what the code is and looking at where we can kind of increase density, which will not only provide more … housing options for people but will also then help that property owner offset some of the rising prices because now we have someone who’s helping them pay their mortgage.

So there’s lots of different ways I think we can address this, but it’s definitely a big concern. And I think also working with the Denton Housing Authority instead of against them. My opponent has been known to work against the Denton Housing Authority to try and block or stall affordable housing ideas and projects that were coming to the town. And I don’t want to see that — I want to see us work with them and work with other agencies to really think creatively about how we can bring more housing options to Denton. I think I read somewhere we have a shortage of like 4,300 affordable housing units. That is huge and people keep coming to Denton, so that number is only going to grow. So we really need to have a really comprehensive way of looking at this so we can find options that work for everybody.

What are some of the charities and nonprofits you support in Denton?

What are the ones that I don’t support? I support them all. Here at my massage studio, we’re always giving away gift certificates for fundraisers and raffles for various nonprofits, whether it’s Denton Public School Foundation, Friends of the Family, Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home, CASA, … Friends With Benefits. Basically, if it’s a nonprofit and you ask me for a gift certificate, I’m gonna say yes. So that’s one way that our business gives back to the community.

We also donate to different charities and events like the Parks Foundation, We Denton Drag It — it’s great, we’re celebrating diversity, we’re celebrating body positivity, we’re raising money for good causes. … We donate to Pride Denton — we’re a regular sponsor of Pride Denton for the Pride Month events.

And then here … we also have what’s called Massage For a Cause donation bin. In the past it’s rotated through every month, so you tell us what it is that you need. Whether it’s like communities and schools needed after-school supplies, like peanut butter crackers, and crowns. I would ask our clients to bring these items in and then we’d give them a little discount on their massage. Now we just have currently our partner that we’ve been partnering with for months has been Chhaupadi. It’s an organization that collects menstrual products that they then distribute throughout the community.

I should mention too, I was one of the co-founders of the Little Free Pantries that we’re seeing around town. I was one of the co-founders of that years ago. I don’t know who’s taking charge of it now, but it always makes me happy when I see one in town.

Please tell us about an obstacle you faced during your life you feel helped prepare you for a position on Denton City Council.

The first one would be just being a small business owner during the time of COVID. I had to be a leader for my team, I had to be present for my clients even when we were closed. I had to know good budgeting because I didn’t know if we were going to be closed for two weeks, two months, or two years. I had to be really creative with finding ways to bring revenue in because, again, massage isn’t something you can sell online. And then I had to have a lot of tenacity to keep it going especially as a woman because the she-cession is real.

I had to be real tenacious in sticking to my goal and my plan and my vision. And now we have this gorgeous studio with twice as many therapists as we’ve ever had. I think all of that helps make for a great City Council person.

The other one of those time would be I was a leader with both the Frack Free Denton Movement and a parent of a transgender child. And in both cases, I’ve pissed off some really powerful people. With Frack Free Denton, that upset arguably the largest lobby group in the world — the oil and gas industry. And we the people of Denton made our voices heard and got that ban passed. My family came out relatively unscathed on the other side. I was like oh, I guess I can stand up for what I believe is right and true, and it’s gonna be okay.

The other thing, being a parent of a transgender child, especially if you’ve been following the news this week, that the memo from Ken Paxton and then the directive from Greg Abbott to investigate families of transgender children for child abuse. That’s just the latest attack on trans kids — this has been happening for years and years in the State of Texas. And I’ve consistently stood up very publicly for the rights of not only my son, but for the LGBTQ community in general here in Texas and in the United States.

… I think something that really makes me an effective, strong leader on City Council is I have learned I have a big heart, I have a thick skin, and I have a strong spine. And I think those are three really important things that anyone, any elected official or any leader, at any level, should have to know to stand up for what is right, to listen to the needs of others. I am not LGBTQ identified myself, but I understand what they’re up against. To be a good leader, to listen, and to stand up for what you know is right.

What are your hopes for the future of Denton — where do you see Denton going?

I’d love to see us expand our parks and our libraries. I said that was one of the things I super love.

I’d love to see more quirky, cool businesses open up across town, not just on the Square. Even like Bewitched — they’re off the Square by a couple of miles or so. More kind of cool, quirky businesses opening up.

I really would like to see us adopt a climate action plan. There was nothing in the 2040 plan anywhere that said the word climate as far as I’m aware, and I think it’s a huge oversight. And I think Denton is uniquely positioned, especially because we own our own utility company, to adopt a climate action plan to help us keep our community clean and safe and keep our planet alive.

My hope for Denton is that this will be an affordable and welcoming and diverse and safe place for everyone to live.

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