Combat zoning

Lincoln Property and Ray Nasher play it down and dirty with homeowners

It was clearly Nicole Lott's first time at Dallas City Hall.
This was obvious from the look in her eyes--that unmistakable deer-in-the-headlights look--that I detected when I walked up to her, reporter notebook flipped to an empty page, pen at the ready.

"Excuse me, but could I get your name?" I asked her.
"What?" she said, clearly surprised. "Me?"
Yes, you--the statuesque one with the pretty beige pants and the matching sleeveless vest with the shiny silver buckles down the front. Yes, you--the one with the big blonde hair and the sleek high heels and one of the most painstaking makeup jobs I've seen off a magazine cover.

Lott didn't like this intrusion--perfectly understandable seeing as how she was standing in a fifth-floor ladies' room in a line filled with other giggly ingenues, all of whom were badly in need of a toilet after four long hours sitting in the city council chambers.

But there was no way around this. After all, Lott's coach--not a pumpkin with four white horses, but a Lincoln Property Company charter bus--was parked downstairs in back of the building, snorting soot and ready to rumble northward. If I didn't chat with Lott now, I'd never chat with her at all.

With great hesitation, Lott gave me her name. She also told me that she worked as an apartment manager at The Village--that well-known magnet for college and post-college living, located on many acres of land just east of the Greenville Avenue restaurant and bar scene.

"And where do you live?" I asked.
"Where do I live?" she responded, startled anew. "Why do you want to know that?"

For a tall girl, Lott had an awfully short memory.
An hour earlier, a member of the City Plan Commission, Betty Wadkins, had asked if there were any Lincoln Property employees sitting in the packed council chambers. Practically everybody in the room had stood in response to the question, prompting Wadkins to ask another question. Did any of those Lincoln employees own homes in the area around Northwest Highway and Central Expressway--where Lincoln Property wanted a controversial zoning change that area residents strongly opposed? And if they did, would they please remain standing?

Most of the Lincoln employees sat down immediately. But a handful--including Nicole Lott--remained standing awhile longer.

How interesting, I told Lott as we stood together listening to toilets flush, that Lott just happened to work for Lincoln and own a home in the area where Lincoln wanted to transform 39 acres of empty pasture into office towers, an apartment complex, a retirement home, a hotel, and a big strip shopping center. Where exactly did Lott live?

"Did you really stand up?" one of Lott's bathroom friends whispered furtively to her as we all stood there, waiting for Lott to answer while admiring her silver buckles.

Lott bent over to do something to her shoe, and when she resurfaced, she replied coolly: "I live at 158 Easton," she responded.

Which, as it turns out, is nowhere close to Central Expressway and Northwest Highway. In fact, Easton is located on the other side of White Rock Lake, quite a few miles south and east of the traffic and noise and chaos of Ray Nasher's NorthPark land. Lott and her husband also were renters--not homeowners--I soon learned. None of which was what Betty Wadkins had in mind when she asked her question. (By the way, Lott isn't registered to vote, either; I checked.)

As Lott and I finished chatting, I turned to her friend--another loyal Lincoln employee. "And where do you live?" I asked.

But the friend had seen the punch line to the conversation--and she wasn't playing. "I'm just trying to go to the bathroom," she said, mopping her hands with a paper towel, her eyes searching for the nearest exit. "I just think--what's the point?" she said.

With that, the two women scurried out the bathroom door--then high-tailed it down a back stairway rather than risk having to field more questions standing in front of the congested City Hall elevators. Watching them go, I thought about what Lott's friend had said. The point, I wanted to tell them, is that you shouldn't play games when you come down to City Hall, especially when your boss has both hands extended, expecting favors from the taxpayers. And if you do play them, then you better be prepared for the consequences.

Which is, unfortunately, not how it's working out for Lincoln Property and Ray Nasher so far on this zoning case.

There was no way in the world that a taxpaying, home-owning citizen of Dallas could have attended last Thursday's City Plan Commission hearing at Dallas City Hall and not become utterly disillusioned with the people who have the power to make vital land decisions in this city.

For several thousand North Dallas homeowners, last Thursday was D-Day.
It was their day to state their case to the City Plan Commission--a 15-member panel of regular ol' citizens appointed by the Dallas City Council to make vital decisions, often involving millions of dollars, about who gets to build what, where.

On this particular day, the commission was supposed to vote on a zoning request involving one of the most lucrative parcels of undeveloped land in the city--39 acres at the southwest corner of Central Expressway and Northwest Highway. The land had long been zoned single-family residential. But Ray Nasher, who owned the land, and Lincoln Property, which wanted to develop it, wanted the zoning designation changed to commercial. If they succeeded, Lincoln had agreed to buy the land from Nasher and start building.

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