Tag Archives: Princeton City Hall

City searches for ID

A friend and I were chatting the other day and the subject of “community identity” came up.

I had mentioned a story I was working on dealing with efforts to revive an abandoned schoolhouse in Farmersville where Black students received their education for the first eight years of school. My friend, who grew up in Dallas and who now lives in Fort Worth, said she was delighted to know that Farmersville is building on its identity.

“They have a lovely town square there,” she noted. Then came a subject I don’t recall discussing with her. “Princeton, on other hand, doesn’t have an identity,” she said.

Bingo! She wins the prize for intuitiveness!

I have raised that point in this blog almost since my wife and I moved here in February 2019. Princeton is in desperate need of a community identity, perhaps an annual event that spells out precisely what this rapidly growing city is all about.

Princeton is in the midst of a population explosion. The 2010 Census grew from 6,807 residents to 17,027 in 2020. Since then, the population stands at an estimated 28,000 people. The city’s population has quadrupled since 2010 … and more are on the way.

The city does lack what I believe is a municipal signature spelled out in a downtown core business district. There is no such place in Princeton. I have said for far longer than I can remember that every successful city has one common denominator:  a thriving downtown district.

Princeton doesn’t even have a “Welcome” sign on either end of US 380. Farmersville calls itself a “Texas Treasure,” to cite just one example of how a city can ID itself to those coming to visit or those who are just passing through,

None of this is to say that Princeton lacks a “reputation.” It has one of those … a reputation as a city with horrendous rush-hour traffic in the morning and evening. A word to the wise: Do not seek to travel on US 380 if you’re in a hurry between the hours of 8-9 a.m. and 4:30-5:30 p.m. That’s another story for another day.

Today’s tale will continue to argue for a community identity for a city I have grown to appreciate. I like living here. I would love living here once Princeton continues to grow and mature.

Patience runs out

Every time I drive by the unfinished apartment complex construction site on US 380 here in little ol’ Princeton, Texas, the more annoyed I get.

I get annoyed because of what I know has not happened there and I get even more chapped over what I believe is going to be the outcome in this dispute.

The site is getting seedier by the day. Weeds are overtaking the giant dirt piles that construction crews left behind when they walked off the job more than a year ago. The weedier it gets, the seedier it becomes and the more difficult it is going to get for anyone to make the site remotely presentable.

I am not going to belabor this point forever and a day. I just feel compelled to express my frustration and annoyance at what I see every damn day I drive by the site. I see an eyesore. It’s a big one and it is a blight on the city my late wife and I chose to call home when we moved here a little more than five years ago.

I learned not long ago that the Princeton City Council granted the zone change in 2017 which cleared the way for construction of the 360-unit complex of “luxury” apartments. Do not misunderstand me … as I do not object to apartment complexes per se. I do object to local government being unable or unwilling to intervene to get this dispute — whatever it entails — resolved between the parties.

In 2017, Princeton had a different city management team, a different mayor and city council. The city has hired some new faces to run City Hall and the council has a new mayor and new council members.

I fear, though, that the battered hulk of a construction site is beyond repair at this point. It has taken too much pummeling from Mother Nature to be saved.

Site faces its fate

All reporters have sources who tell them things off the record and it falls on the reporter to decide on the veracity of what they hear.

Well, today I heard something that bears repeating. It involves that monstrous boondoggle under construction on US Highway 380 in Princeton, Texas. Well, the term “under construction” is a term of art of sorts.

The apartment complex hasn’t seen any construction activity for several months. I now am hearing that Princeton City Hall is preparing to bulldoze the project if the developer doesn’t produce a workable plan to resume construction … and soon.

I understand that the city will seize ownership of the site and then commence its razing.

For the ever-lovin’ life of me I cannot see how the project can continue. It’s a 360-unit “luxury apartment” complex that has gone fallow. The developer and the general contractor got into some sort of snit and the contractor walked off the job. Since then, the apartment complex, with its interior floor plans exposed to ferocious weather elements has been pummeled by rain, wind, hail, a bit of snow.

My own humble view tells me the project cannot be resurrected. It’s too late. The buildings are too damaged.

Am I upset at what might be coming to that project? Not in the least.

I will offer one reason why I would welcome its destruction: Traffic!

The city has announced plans to welcome a massive new retail complex on the other side of 380. It will bring more traffic to already-congested highway. Meanwhile, Texas highway planners are hoping to build extra lanes along 380 … which only figures to worsen traffic woes!

Princeton does not need the apartment complex. Let it go away … and soon.

Odds mount against project

If I were a betting man — and I am not! — I would be inclined to lay money down on the demise of an apartment complex in Princeton, Texas, where work began but has come to a screeching halt.

My hunch is that every serious thunderstorm that pounds the construction site only damages it more severely, making it unfit to continue.

The project to which I refer sits on US 380 just east of Walmart. Construction began on it sometime in 2022. Then the developer and the contractor got into a snit and the contractor walked off the job. It is no small project that has gone fallow.

There has been virtually no sign of human life on the site for more than a year. Unfinished buildings are exposed to the often-violent elements. Meanwhile, we have had a soaking spring in North Texas, bringing literally tons of water onto the site. Will we get more of the same kind of Mother Nature’s anger coming our way? You can bet on that … for sure!

Meanwhile, Princeton city officials are saying next to nothing about the project’s status, demurring saying only that “legal” is handling it.

It’s making me wonder out loud once more whether we’ve got a big-league boondoggle on our hands along US 380.

How to enact moratorium

The city I call home has emerged near the top of an astonishing list of communities.

Princeton, Texas, is among the fastest-growing cities in all of America that have populations greater than 20,000 residents.

The Census Bureau released the figures recently. Princeton logged a population of 17,027 after the 2020 Census was taken, which nearly triple the size of the city in 2010. In 2023, though, the city grew by another 11,000 residents, pegging its population at an estimated 28,017.

Collin County’s growth has been equally staggering, standing at more than 1.2 million residents, according to Census Bureau estimates.

I look around my neighborhood and notice more lots being developed, with housing units being framed and utility lines being connected. I cannot estimate how many I see in my ‘hood; I’ll just suggest that there are possibly hundreds more units under construction.

Which brings me to my point. Mayor Brianna Chacon is tossing the idea around about enacting a single-family and apartment construction moratorium. I don’t know the particulars of what Chacon envisions, but I want to endorse — in principle — what she might want to do.

I have thought a little bit about the courage it has taken for Chacon to pitch this idea. She is a Realtor when she isn’t helping shape municipal policy, which suggests to me she is willing to take an income reduction if it results in a new public policy.

Chacon’s reason for favoring a stoppage in this construction is clearly defined: We don’t have the infrastructure to handle the flood of new residents. Our streets need repair; we have water needs that need improvement; we will need more first responders on the job.

Chacon said a while ago that Princeton has grown too rapidly, that it needs to play catch-up with the infrastructure it must provide the new residents who are coming here.

I cannot disagree with that. Oh, we also have that mammoth apartment complex on US 380 that has been stalled. It is partially built and only God knows when work will resume on it. My suggestion would be for the city to pull the plug on that boondoggle, knock it down and turn the site into more green space. But that’s just me.

I like living in a city that is attractive for others who want to live here. However, enough is enough … or so it seems, as Princeton continues to lead the way in urban growth.

Where is the end to this monstrosity?

Five years of residence in the rapidly growing city of Princeton, Texas, affords me the right to ask out loud … when and where will there be an end to the eyesore along US Highway 380 that just annoys the daylights out of me?

I refer to the “luxury” apartment complex that sits fallow along the south side of the highway. There has been virtually no sign of human life at the partially built project for a year. It was supposed to spring to life about, oh, a year ago. It didn’t happen.

The city manager who oversaw the permit process, Derek Borg, is gone. He’s been replaced by Mike Mashburn. I asked Mayor Brianna Chacon for some information on the project and she referred me to “legal counsel,” who she said is handling all matters, answering all questions¬†related to this boondoggle.

I have no inside info to share. I have no inside knowledge of what’s going on and who’s talking to whom. I have no way of pushing this project along. All I have is this forum that I am using on occasion to bitch out loud about a project that is looking more and more like a major municipal embarrassment.

A boondoggle in the making?

My chronic nosiness sometimes gets the better of me, particularly when I see large public projects seemingly abandoned.

I am referring in this instance to what I have been calling a “boondoggle in the making” around the corner and down the street from my Princeton, Texas, home.

I reached out to someone in authority at City Hall the other day to ask about the status of the “apartment monstrosity” under construction on the south side of US 380 just east of Walmart. The answer I got? “It’s being handled by ‘legal.'”

Hmm. OK. I asked a follow-up question: Does that mean the project is stalled? No answer has been forthcoming.

Now, I spent more than 36 years as a reporter and editor for two reputable newspapers in Texas and one in Oregon. My job was to sniff out problems when I suspected they were occurring. My gut — in addition to my trick knee — are telling me the city has a problem on its hands.

Princeton City Council approved a massive construction project to build a massive complex of “luxury apartments” on US 380. Site preparation was completed and several structures emerged right away. Work crews installed dry wall on several of the structures.

Then, about a year ago, work stopped at the site. A dispute between the developer and the general contractor led to some sort of work stoppage. The then-city manager told me at the time that they were working it out and that work would resume shortly.

Well, “shortly” never arrived, or so I understand. I haven’t seen any sign of human life on the construction site in weeks. The gates are closed and padlocked. The weather has at times been cold and damp, perhaps damaging the unprotected structures.

I am believing in my bones that the city has a problem in the form of an unfinished apartment complex that is looking more each day like a gigantic eyesore.

Cryptic answers about “legal” counsel answering questions gives me reason — I believe — to be deeply concerned about the future of this blight on our rapidly growing community.

Where is transparency?

Princeton’s city council had a marvelous opportunity to demonstrate the transparency it promised when the city moved into its new municipal complex a couple of years ago.

I believe, though, the city has work to do to achieve what the mayor and the former city manager pledged.

Council is going to meet Friday to select a city manager to succeed Derek Borg, who resigned suddenly at the end of this past year. He was forced out by a council unhappy with the way he was guiding the municipal apparatus.

I had hoped the council would announce the process it would use to find the new manager. I urged the council to go big, to hire a national search firm to spread a wide net. It didn’t heed my advice … but I don’t care about that.

I do care, though, that the city kept its search process a secret. It advertised quietly through the Texas Municipal League. The decision on who to hire was made — also quietly — by the mayor and the interim city manager. The rest of the council reportedly will meet the individual they chose on Friday.

Borg and Mayor Brianna Chacon had said the new city complex, which features plenty of glass as a metaphor for openness and transparency, said the City Hall design would provide an example of how the city planned to govern.

Where, though, was the transparency in the search for the city manager?

It is my own belief that the city fell short in keeping that pledge as it hunted for a city manager. Let us hope this isn’t a harbinger of what lies ahead at Princeton City Hall.

City needs visionary

A Princeton City Hall staffer who has become a source for this blogger has informed me that the City Council has yet to decide how it intends to look for a new city manager.

I am about to offer some unsolicited advice on how to find a successor to Derek Borg, who resigned suddenly the other evening after the council called an emergency meeting to discuss the city manager’s status.

My advice is simple: Go big, members of the council and hire a top-flight executive search firm to find a candidate who is able to lead the city along its explosive growth path. 

Princeton’s growth continues to astonish many of us who have moved here in recent years. My wife and I planted our roots in Princeton in early 2019. The city’s census figures released the following year showed it nearly tripled in growth from the 2010 population.

The very last thing Princeton needs to run its municipal government machinery is a placeholder, an individual who is just there to await his or her retirement. The city’s next manager should have a clear vision on what the city needs and a plan that can enable the city to find its way into the future.

Borg did an adequate job during his era as city manager. However, he wasn’t educated in municipal management. He is a firefighter, serving as the city fire marshal and then fire chief before ascending to the manager’s job.

The next Princeton city manager, as far as I am concerned, should be educated in the field of municipal growth management. He or she should have high energy and a relentless desire to seek fresh ideas, new approaches. The next manager also, in my view, ought to deliver a stated commitment to helping this city develop an identity.

Allow me this bit of candor: Princeton is a work in progress. It has no municipal identity. A new city manager shouldn’t have to concoct an identity, but he or she should be able to question those who have been here a long time about what makes Princeton such a desirable community to live.

It is quite obvious that many thousands of people are coming here to raise families, earn their living and presumably call this place “home.”

The next city manager ought to be able to provide a reason for them to stay and for the city to progress into the future with confidence.

When to close an ‘open meeting’

I tend to view the provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act through a fairly strict prism, meaning that exemptions granted should be interpreted strictly.

What do I mean? The act allows governments to close their meetings to the public when discussing pending litigation, real estate transactions or personnel matters. It’s the last of those provisions that has caught my attention.

The Princeton City Council plans to go into closed session soon to discuss who it wants to select as its Place 4 council member, replacing Keven Underwood, who resigned from the council after serving nearly three years; Underwood is battling some health issues … and I certainly wish him well as he continues that fight.

But is a city council member the same as, say, the police chief, the fire chief, the city manager or any other full-time paid staffer who draws a paycheck from City Hall? I submit that, no — he or she is not the same.

Which brings me to my point about the Open Meetings Law. Its exemptions are understandable and are more or less clearcut.

I long have interpreted the law to exempt discussions involving the disciplining of city employees, or their hiring and firing. I never have considered a member of the governing body to fall under the “personnel” provision used to talk about a pending appointment to that very governing body.

I am going to presume the Princeton City Council consulted with its legal counsel on this matter before deciding to go into executive session to talk about Underwood’s successor. And that the city attorney gave his blessing to the decision to keep it secret.

I also get that the council members are entitled to speak candidly about potential applicants and perhaps don’t want their true feelings about an individual to be known by everyone in town.

It’s just that the city council is not a “paid position” the way someone who answers to a municipal administrator is paid. The city councilman or woman is the “boss” at City Hall … and doesn’t belong in the same category of employee as the people who report to the council.

Thus, these laws designed to keep matters crystal clear at times get a bit murky.