Proposed Buc-ee’s in Denton facing opposition from residents

For an iconic business with a beloved mascot — a buck-toothed, baseball cap-wearing beaver — Buc-ee’s has a knack for stirring up controversy in North Texas.

Just six months before an enormous Buc-ee’s Travel Center is scheduled to open along Interstate 35W in far north Fort Worth, the company is pursuing an incentive-laden deal with Denton city officials to open another super-sized convenience store and gas station just 20 miles away, on I-35E.

But while the arrival of the roadside attraction with the cheerful beaver logo has been applauded in Fort Worth, for the second time in less than a year, it has become a source of stinging controversy in Denton County.

More than 200 Denton residents are mounting a campaign to stop the Buc-ee’s project, citing concerns about lighting, traffic and other harmful effects in their neighborhood. Many residents also said they oppose any use of tax incentives to attract the company, which has more than two dozen locations across Texas and is known for its squeaky clean bathrooms and 90 or more gas pumps.

“The pain of the tax incentives is not worth the gain,” said Lauren Safranek, who lives in the nearby Southridge neighborhood.

Mainly, they’re upset that Denton city officials kept the proposal secret for several weeks, until word began to leak out recently.

“We feel it has been sprung on us, all at one time,” said James Dickens, who lives near the proposed Denton site, which would be at Interstate 35E and Brinker Road near Golden Triangle Mall. Like dozens of others who attended an informational meeting on Wednesday night at a Denton hotel, Dickens said he only found out about the project a few hours earlier. He criticized city officials for keeping the proposal hush-hush.

“What you forget is, you all work for us,” Dickens scolded Denton city officials.

City officials said it’s still early in the process, and a lengthy public discussion will be had before a final decision is made. While the Fort Worth Buc-ee’s is on course to open in May, the Denton location likely wouldn’t open until mid-2018.

Two locations

The opposition in Denton comes just months after residents of nearby Corinth, which also is in Denton County, successfully fought a proposal to make a zoning change that would have allowed a Buc-ee’s in their city.

Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, Buc-ee’s is under construction at the southwest corner of Texas 114 and Interstate 35W, across the highway from Texas Motor Speedway, as part of the $100 million Champions Circle development that also will include a Tanger Outlets mall. The Fort Worth City Council approved an incentive package earlier this year that includes giving the developers a rebate of city sales taxes collected in the area for 10 to 15 years, to offset their investment.

By building two locations in the Metroplex, Buc-ee’s could nab thousands of travelers passing through the region, whether they take I-35W into Fort Worth or I-35E toward Dallas. And the locations may be a popular stop for local motorists who use those highways daily and may be lured to stop in for cheap gas and a seemingly endless variety of trail mix, candy and beef jerky.

Denton details

Buc-ee’s owner Arch “Beaver” Alpin, who opened his first convenience store in 1982 in Lake Jackson, spent nearly three hours Wednesday night meeting with residents of the neighborhood near the proposed Denton location, answering questions and addressing concerns.

“I promise I will do everything I can to be considerate, make concessions, do the appropriate landscaping,” Alpin told a crowd. The meeting was open to the public, although only residents who live near the proposed development were directly notified of it.

In Denton, the proposal to build Buc-ee’s doesn’t require a zoning change, but would require City Council approval for the tax incentives. It also requires cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation to build a new interchange at I-35E and Brinker Road, and improvements to nearby interchanges at Loop 288 and Mayhill Road.

Alpin has agreed to chip in $2 million for those road improvements, which are expected to cost about $28 million.

For Denton residents, one major benefit would be getting improvements to the I-35E interchanges that otherwise wouldn’t be done for about 10 years, said John Polster, a transportation consultant for the city and Denton County.

Alpin’s proposal calls for construction of a convenience store and 92 gas pumps, as well as seven other pad sites that would be marketed to sit-down restaurants or similar retail. Alpin would receive an unspecified amount of sales tax rebates for an unspecified number of years, to offset his upfront investment in roads and other infrastructure.

The specifics of the tax breaks will be disclosed once they have been negotiated between Alpin and the city, officials said. The Denton City Council, which was first briefed about the proposal during a closed session three weeks ago, hasn’t yet scheduled a public discussion or vote on the proposal but could decide on it in a matter of weeks, city officials said.

‘Why this location?’

“I’m struggling with it,” said Councilman Joey Hawkins, who moderated the discussion with neighbors late Wednesday. “I want something that is going to benefit Denton. But I also want you to keep the value of your house.”

Many residents weren’t convinced. The meeting was repeatedly interrupted by upset homeowners shouting messages to Hawkins and Alpin such as “Would you build this behind your house?” and “All your other Buc-ee’s are in the middle of nowhere. Why this location?”

One area resident, Regina Branton, signed a petition to recall a Denton City Council member that was being passed around during the meeting. “They say they’re going to get 5,000 customers a day at Buc-ee’s,” she said. “We don’t have the room for that traffic.”

But Aimee Bissett, Denton development services director, pointed out that the property is already zoned for a “regional-draw commercial center,” which according to the city’s master plan is the best use for the area.

For now, the 38-acre property is a giant cow pasture, and perhaps arguably the most attractive large piece of undeveloped property along the I-35E corridor between downtown Denton and north Dallas, officials said.

If city officials reject the Buc-ee’s project, the property could instead be sold to another developer, who could build on it without a public discussion or vote.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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