Local businesses reject pedestrian-only zone, city council calls for collaboration to accommodate pandemic restrictions

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

After Denton City Council’s proposal for a pedestrian-only zone received mixed reviews, according to council member Paul Meltzer, the council is open to collaboration with local downtown businesses to diminish the economic impact of COVID-19.

The initial proposal involved converting the Denton downtown square into a pedestrian-only zone during the weekends. The concept was first brought forward a few years ago by a retail business owner on the square, Meltzer said.

Revisiting the idea as a response to the current coronavirus pandemic, Meltzer said a pedestrian-only zone provides “the possibility to allow the businesses to do more trade safely by allowing them to expand their businesses onto the square.”

On August 25, Meltzer was scheduled to pitch the pedestrian-only concept to the council for further discussion. Before the meeting, an interest survey was taken of local businesses. Half were opposed and one-fourth was in favor.

“The weekends are by far our best days and to hamstring what we can both buy from the public and sell would hurt us tremendously,” Recycled Books told the North Texas Daily in an email regarding its opposition. “Our business relies on people bringing merchandise to us to sell. Taking away close ample parking would discourage people from coming to us. It also would hurt our sales, as customers who want [to] buy large quantities of items could find themselves in a position where they are unable to conveniently take their purchases from the store.”

The bookstore was not the only business vocal in its opposition to restricted parking on the weekends.

“There is some momentum that has been building up for the last couple of months since we’ve been allowed to reopen,” John Cartwright, owner of Cartwright’s Ranch House, said. “To change that dynamic now — not knowing how it will affect business — I wouldn’t want [that] for my business or any business.”

The restaurant owner said he was concerned the proposal could possibly have a disproportionate, negative effect on the square’s retail stores.

“For retail shops, it’s less likely for people to park off-site and walk,” Cartwright said. “For destination spots like bars and restaurants, they might.”

Following the community response, Meltzer used his scheduled time on August 25 to instead suggest the council brainstorm directly with businesses to create new business opportunities.

“My background is as a new product executive and when you want to innovate, you often put a concept out in order to hear all of the many challenges that would be involved in executing it,” Meltzer said. “In addressing the many concerns that are voiced, a wider and better result is often found. That’s what I hope to achieve.”

Mayor Christ Watts suggested the council reopen a previous, broader topic regarding sidewalks and parking on the square to further explore options. It is unclear when this topic will return to the council’s calendar, but it may be within the next two weeks, according to Meltzer.

An example of successful collaboration between the council and local businesses can be seen in the newly established 15-minute parking spots on each side of the square. These spaces help enable quick retail purchases and assist restaurants in getting delivery services such as DoorDash or UberEats involved, Cartwright said. It has also encouraged patrons to order food for takeout and pick it up themselves.

To the opposed downtown establishments, the council’s decision to continue to work directly with businesses to find creative solutions is favorable.

“Most businesses on the square were against the initial proposal,” Recycled Books said. “So it’s gratifying that [city council members] are listening to what businesses want and need. Everyone wants what is best for the square, and we’re hopeful that the businesses and the city council can make that happen.”

Featured Image: A car drives by the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-square on Aug 31, 2020. Recycled Books has expressed their concern about a proposed plan to prohibit vehicles on the square during weekends. Image by Samuel Gomez

Source: North Texas Daily