Published 28 June 2011 10:39 PM
CARROLLTON — Matthew Marchant took office as Carrollton mayor last month with two primary ambitions: develop the area around three new DART stops and combat apartment crime.
Selling the city is the part of the job Marchant, a real estate attorney, said he likes best. He said he wants to stay focused on that, even as residents raise complaints about breeding egrets and who says prayers at council meetings.
“I am focused on what I heard in my campaign as issues: redevelopment and crime in apartments,” Marchant said. “My goal is to focus the council on core city issues.”
Just this month, officials from a unit of Trammell Crow said the company had secured financing for a downtown retail and residential project, or transit-oriented development.
But with a ragged economy, the bank required contract amendments with the city to deal with potential cost overruns on the $40 million, two-phase project. The council agreed to changes involving $13 million in city funds for such items as a parking garage.
Groundbreaking has been rescheduled for Aug. 1 on the project, dubbed The Broadway. That’s nearly a year later than originally planned. It was the third amendment to the contract. Council members have cited the poor economy as their impetus for renegotiating with Trammell Crow, a firm first selected in 2008 for the city’s three DART stops.
“We need a project to kick-start new development there,” Marchant said. “We have a great core with a century-old downtown that is very vibrant. New construction in that area is what needs to be happening.”
The budget remains the biggest challenge, and the council must devise ways to raise revenue with new or stronger businesses, Marchant said. That’s why there’s a development target along the DART Green Line, which expanded north from Dallas to Carrollton in early December. And with the start this month of the A-train, rail service from Carrollton now extends north to Denton.
Marchant may be the council’s youngest member at 34, but he’s also its veteran with nearly a decade on the council who beat the incumbent, Ron Branson, with about two-thirds of the vote. Five of seven council members have served two years or less. They include newly elected Anthony Wilder and Bob Garza, who came on board Monday.
“The budgetary environment is different than it was in my earlier years on the council,” Marchant said. “We have focused more on code enforcement and development as we’ve come to realize we are an inner-ring suburb.”
To that point, Marchant quarterbacked a new ordinance that cracks down on apartment crime.
The ordinance contains a crime reduction program for complexes with excessive crime rates. Among the measures those complexes must take are performing criminal background checks on prospective tenants and establishing fencing and lighting. Low-crime and high-crime complexes will receive certificates to be posted in public areas for prospective tenants to see.
Apartments make up about 30 percent of the city’s housing stock, but 22 percent of crimes occur there, Marc Guy, an assistant city manager, said in a recent presentation. So there isn’t a disproportionate amount of crime there, he said.
Religion and egrets
While Marchant wants the council to concentrate on the issues of development and crime, some residents want attention on other issues.
About an hour before Marchant was installed as mayor on May 23, Mike Ghouse, a Carrollton-based organizer of religious tolerance events, gave an ecumenical invocation. The prayer gave gratitude to Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, mother earth and Jesus Christ, among others. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mc9D9guPMY&feature=youtu.be )
Carrollton is a diverse suburb, with about a quarter of its 130,000 population foreign-born, and with large numbers of residents of Asian and Middle Eastern descent. Wilder, then a candidate, objected to the prayer, saying his beliefs were Judeo-Christian.
Last week during a public comment period before the council, two more residents raised religion again. Marchant thanked the men for their comments. Later, he didn’t want to address it further.
As for the egrets and their nests in trees in one north Carrolton neighborhood and pools of droppings, Marchant called it a “tough situation.”
In 1998, Carrollton drew publicity for killing several hundred egrets in an infestation in another part of the city. The city was fined by the federal government because the birds are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918.
“I try to put myself in their shoes and so does the rest of the city council and the staff,” Marchant said. “We are trying to be as diligent as we can in following the law.”
Residents with the problem want the city to do weekly cleanings of the street. They also want Marchant and the council to ask U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Carrollton, the mayor’s father and a former Carrollton mayor, to sponsor legislation to amend the bird treaty.
Jeff Foster, a resident who’s led the clean-up fight, has written both men and hopes the new mayor pushes hard with his father.
“This isn’t just like Johnny Joe Citizen contacting the congressman,” Foster said.
Matthew Marchant said City Manager Leonard Martin has talked of approaching “our entire congressional delegation to allow municipalities to take reasonable cleaning measures.”