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'Why over here?': Residents raise gentrification concerns in their Denton neighborhood

Ruthie Vermillion, a longtime Denton resident, is part of one of the families raising questions about what’s happening on her street.

DENTON, Texas — People living in the most inexpensive place in Denton are glad about some of the new development. But they have real concerns about the recent rezoning for mixed-property use.

Ruthie Vermillion, a longtime Denton resident, is part of one of the families raising questions about what’s happening on her street.

“I came here when I was four,” said Vermillion.

After more than 50 years of memories at their East Oak Street home, there are a lot of questions about what's happening around the house once owned by her mother who was known by pretty much everyone in Denton. 

Her mother, Dessie Henderson, passed away on April 30, 2021. Her mother earned the nickname “Chief” of the neighborhood because she took care of everybody.

“Everybody knew her by Chief, because she cooked for everyone,” said Ruthie Vermillion, “She was an inspiration and she talked to people and tried to turn them around and stuff."

Their Denton property remains in the family thanks to a City Re-Build program. It’s easy to tell it’s a newly remodeled home on their block, too. 

But, the new four-unit apartment building across the street has Ruthie raising questions, and she’s not alone.

“Why over here?” said Vermillion. “Why bring this over here? And they said they want to bring more."

More because Denton Mayor Gerard Hudspeth shared the same builder is planning yet another complex nearby. Current zoning allows the developer to build apartments in Ruthie's neighborhood.

There are restrictions, though, on what the developer may build. The mayor and fellow council members like Brian Beck all want ongoing development, as long as it doesn't target vulnerable neighborhoods.

The four-unit apartment building got the attention of Mayor Hudspeth when he canvassed the neighborhood months ago. He has since spoken out to make sure it’s something he and the entire council are talking about straight from the heart.

“Gentrification can look like upgrades,” said Mayor Gerard Hudspeth, “But what government and municipalities should not do is accelerate that."

As the first Black mayor of Denton, Hudspeth is leading the conversation with his colleagues about some of the concerns in Denton neighborhoods occupied primarily with people of color. Just like the mayor, Vermillion is concerned the same rezoning may push longtime families out of this part of Denton.

Beck told WFAA that he too also welcomes hearing from constituents about their concerns when it comes to any change in zoning. While the new zoning allows for some mixed-used commercial, it does come with some restrictions. 

Beck didn’t want Vermillion’s particular neighborhood changed to a full-use commercial, but he does support mixed-use. In conversations with WFAA, Beck used an example of allowing mixed-used for a daycare or a structure that may house both residential and small businesses.

But Vermillion wants to make sure families like hers with homesteads in Denton don’t lose out to development. Something her mother expressed as well after seeing the apartment building go up across the street.

“My mother would not have wanted that,” said Vermillion, “When she saw it she said 'What is this?'"

Hudspeth encourages people concerned about development in their neighborhoods to attend council meetings. He wants to keep the door open to addressing any concerns about gentrification in any form not only on the council but even more so from residents.

“I just want to raise awareness,” said Hudspeth, “If people say, 'Hey don't worry about it,' then I understand.”

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