Area residents took the opportunity Wednesday afternoon to look at — and ask questions about — the city of Bryan’s proposed development of its Midtown district.

City officials have described the large-scale, long-term project as an opportunity for master-planned development — and redevelopment — of the area bounded by West Villa Maria Road, South College Avenue, Wellborn Road and the southern city limits. Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson said that the corridor development would vibrantly connect Downtown Bryan and Texas A&M University. 

More than 200 area residents attended the afternoon public meeting, held from 4 to 6 p.m. at Harmony Science Academy. The open house included over a dozen design posters set up for residents to look at and ask questions of developers and/or city officials. 

The development group and city officials will present proposed zoning and land-use changes for approval by the city council within the next several weeks.

Among the proposed shifts are increasing sidewalk space, adding bikeways, adding and commissioning of art, and changing some streets — such as Old College Road, between South College and Howdy Lane — to one-way streets. Proposed maps also included traffic roundabouts.

Some residents have expressed gentrification and housing affordability concerns. Others have articulated excitement about building up an area that could attract businesses and promote pedestrian and cyclist activity between Downtown Bryan and Texas A&M. Still others expressed combinations of both sentiments. 

Consultants have split the study area into five “experience districts,” currently referred to as the Gateway, Railyard, Park, Union Hill and North of Northgate districts. The envisioned Midtown corridor is anchored by the proposed regional park being planned at the site of the former municipal golf course along Villa Maria Road.

The timetable on the full realization of the multipronged project could be 15 years or more, organizers said. Union Hill, the area with the intersection of Old College and College Ave at its center, could be the first area to see development work, which could happen within the next two years.

“This is the renewal of the heart of Bryan,” Nelson said. “There’s a residential component to that renewal, working to accelerate growth in a thoughtful way that allows individual landowners, homeowners and residents to take advantage of it through residential patterns.”

Landowners within various sections of the Midtown area would have the option to select from pre-approved building designs that, if used, would come with financial savings on costs. Outlines of structures on display Wednesday ranged from small cottage-like designs to larger walk-up complexes, all of which could increase population density in the district.

Matthew Petty, principal of Infill Group in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is one of six men tasked by the city to create the plans for the proposal. He explained that the proposal includes the use of pattern zoning or optional pre-permitting.

“When we talk about pre-permitting, we mean that there is a set of architectural plans that have already been reviewed by the city’s building safety teams,” Petty said. “You can go in and get a combined site development and building permit — and attached to that are the architectural plans.”

He said the team of planners looked across the Midtown district and have made recommendations for types of residential buildings that could make sense in different areas. Petty stressed that pre-permitting is optional, and that custom planning is also welcome.

Tiffany Thompson, a special education aide at Oakwood Intermediate School who lives in the Midtown area, expressed mingled appreciation of the importance of growth with worry about gentrification pricing out some residents, particularly some residents of color.

“My main concern is that it just feels like a mass gentrification project, to be quite honest,” Thompson said. “Sculptures are cool, and all of those things look nice, but we have a housing problem in this area. So while I am a lover of the arts, I also love rent that I can afford.”

According to city data, about 75% of home sales in Brazos County in 2011 occurred at a price below $200,000; in 2018, less than 37% of home sales fell under that price band.

She also said that the thorough nature of the proposed plans indicated to her that the city had already decided to move forward. 

“I think these ideas are good and necessary, but in moving forward, we need to be considerate of our residents,” Thompson said.

Nelson said he views the proposed project as something that will help all the city’s residents.

“There’s a place for retirees, for students, for young professionals, for families and we envision that there’s a piece of something for everyone,” Nelson said. “People of all income levels, people of all demographics — it’s gonna be racially diverse, educationally diverse, and it’s just gonna be Bryan — a renewed Bryan that’s got cool verve and will create more interesting places for people to live, work and play.”   

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