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Monday, June 21, 2021

UNT use of Eminent Domain not priority discussion for City, officials say

Article Originally Published by Cydne Robinson on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily

The University of North Texas’ use of eminent domain isn’t a current topic of discussion, said a city spokesperson in an interview with the North Texas Daily.

“At this time, the University’s use of eminent domain has not been an agenda topic for discussion by the City Council,” said Deputy Director of Public Affairs Ryan Adams.

Any use of eminent domain could cause the city to lose revenue, but Adams also stated that revenue could be gained with the economic benefit of having more students in Denton.

“As a public university, any privately-owned properties purchased or taken through an eminent domain process by UNT would not be subject to property tax levies by the City, County, School District, or any other taxing entity,” Adams said in an emailed statement.  “Any private property taken/purchased by UNT that is currently subject to a property tax would shift to being tax exempt, and the result would be a loss of tax revenue for the City.”

That revenue loss would not affect the city’s operating budget and would not affect the provision of the services or the tax rate of the city, Adams said.

“The University brings numerous economic benefits, including economic development to serve the university population, sales tax revenues from the purchases of students, faculty and staff, and the prestige and notoriety of being the home to a large academic institution,” Adams said.

On February 11, the University of North Texas Board of Regents unanimously approved to authorize the use of eminent domain to acquire several properties along Avenue C. The UNT system officials offered $2.5 million dollars to the four properties June 21.

UNT’s master plan for growth started in 2005 and was updated in 2013. This plan showed UNT needed to eventually expand south. UNT Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Bob Brown said eminent domain is a last resort.

Expansion is the best construction option and building upwards is something that could cause density and safety issues with traffic and also hurt the historic value of the university’s buildings, Brown said.

“Many of our facilities are historic buildings that cannot be further built out, it would harm the building and be unsafe to do so, and we would prefer to preserve as much of the historic infrastructure as we can,” he said. “These problems could lead to buildings to be taken offline and the university would have to find a place to hold classes or move the staff in the building while it’s undergoing reconstruction.”

The University is expanding out of necessity, Brown said.

“We are finally at that point but we know it can be difficult for a business to relocate,” he said. “That is why we have offered above appraised market value for the properties. We recognize and respect these private businesses and hope to work with them on the sale of their properties.”

Some students, like UNT Senior Media Arts major Hailey Hottinger, disagree.

Hottinger said she depended on the restaurants nearby to help her escape campus and have a place to hang out with friends.

“I know myself and others have great memories that involve the restaurants nearby campus,” Hottinger said. “Getting rid of the businesses feels like they are getting rid of memories of past, current, and even future students.”

Owners who will be affected by the eminent domain plan, like New York Sub Hub’s Hunter Christiansen, has already voiced disagreement and went on to advocate for a petition that got over 19,000 signatures.

“We do not want to sell, we’re not interested in selling,” Christiansen said in a previous NT Daily article. “This is our 40th year in business and we don’t feel that it’s right that UNT can come in here and take our property just like that.”

The university doesn’t view local businesses as clashing with on-campus dining options, Brown said.

“UNT is proud to be an integral part of the city of Denton, so we do not view local businesses as competition, “ he said. “Just as there are a wide variety of great dining options on campus, there are still many options that are walkable from campus, particularly in the Fry Street area.”

NT Daily file photo 

Source: North Texas Daily

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