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Plano Mayor's Race Will Say Plenty About The Viability Of Affordable Housing In North Texas

If recent clashes between Collin County residents and developers are any indication, the next Plano mayor will face political gridlock right out of the gate.

It's a conflict that will also play itself out in other landlocked North Texas communities that are already dealing with stiff pushback when developers try to build affordable housing for DFW's growing population.

Who wins the Plano mayoral race on May 1 is a bellwether for how easy or difficult it will be for developers to pull multifamily and mixed-use developments into their projects in the future. 

West Plano office skyline

"I think in the last two to three years, Plano has gone from pro-development to anti-development. That is my perception," Dreien Opportunity Partners Managing Partner and developer Sam Ware said. 

"We have experienced that at The Campus [at Legacy West] when we tried to get rezoning for multifamily. We fought for it for three years and couldn't get it."

Ware, who wants an experienced politician who can appease both sides while also remaining committed to Plano's pro-growth mindset, said former Planning and Zoning Commission Chair John Muns is his preferred choice for mayor. 

Muns is running against City Council Member Lily Bao, whose campaign is focused on limiting density to preserve Plano's suburban feel, and economist and educator Lydia Ortega, who cites the importance of individual choice and property rights as top priorities on her campaign website.

Bao received the endorsement of the grassroots, suburban neighborhood-focused group Plano Citizens' Coalition, which opposes overly dense multifamily development in Plano. 

"The Plano Citizens' Coalition represents homeowners and taxpayers in Plano as our primary source of followers, and that means we are going to favor neighborhood development and home development over multifamily," said Allan Samara, one of the coalition's leaders. "We favor smart growth for Plano, not no growth."

Bao and Ortega did not respond to Bisnow when asked for their views on city development, but Muns, in his response, endorsed an assortment of residential development types to deal with rising home affordability issues. 

"Plano's land area is roughly 97% developed, but there is a significant amount of small undeveloped sites and underutilized property in the city," Muns said in a statement to Bisnow.

"While maintaining and enhancing Plano's traditional low-density neighborhoods, infill and redevelopment of older, antiquated, and blighted property is encouraged. With a low inventory of existing homes, demand is going to drive prices higher. We must encourage some affordable housing both low density and higher density depending on the location and zoning."

Corporate relocation expert Susan Arledge, an executive managing director of site selection and incentives with ESRP, says she is not a Plano voter and not endorsing a particular candidate.

However, Arledge had some basic thoughts about the need to consider different types of development across the North Dallas suburb as more companies move in.

"From a purely CRE perspective, Lily Bao and Lydia Ortega seem to feel that there is a growing need for housing but feel that single-family housing is the preferred answer, not mixed-use development," Arledge said to Bisnow in a statement. "It is not likely that they would support any large mixed-use residential/retail developments in Plano such as the one the City just vetoed on the former Fry’s site. John may be more likely to support CRE growth in Plano."

All of the mayoral candidates will have no choice but to balance these conflicting interests in the future. There will be developers wanting to build in-demand multifamily projects, while residents ask for housing plans that preserve the city's single-family landscape.

Just this week, the Plano Planning & Zoning Commission rejected a plan to build apartments, office and a hotel inside a proposed mixed-use project at a former Fry's store near Central Expressway, The Dallas Morning News reported

It's this type of project that continues to draw ire from Plano residents who are trying to promote suburban-oriented development over high-density apartments. While the Plano Citizens' Coalition sees some room for mixed-use development, it has pushed back at efforts to create these projects on multiple street corners. 

"We think there is a place for mixed-use in our city, and we think the entire Legacy area has been an astounding success," Samara said. "But it's not going to be emulated easily in four-corner retail in Plano and attempts to re-create it on a junior league level on four-corner retail throughout Plano are misguided." 

Whatever the outcome of the May 1 race, the future of Plano remains squarely in the balance, particularly with the once-thriving suburb now facing competition from cities like Frisco, McKinney, Prosper and Celina

"Your neighbors to the east, the west and the north have always been competitive, and now they want business that you don't want," Ware said.

"So you are now seeing people say, we will go to The Colony, we'll go to Frisco or Allen, or we'll go to McKinney, which are viable options."

The next mayor has the challenge of stemming this exodus while also ensuring the suburban feel residents' desire in Plano remains intact.