Combat zoning

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

It is no exaggeration to say that I have never seen so many freshly scrubbed, Farrah Fawcett look-alikes in one room at one time in my life--a casting call for Baywatch could not have brought out more babes.

And while I actually did track down one Lincoln employee who lived within two miles of NorthPark--and who dutifully remained standing for both Betty Wadkins questions--everybody else I talked to lived far away. Mesquite. Las Colinas. Lakewood. Arlington.

"I didn't think I could be shocked any worse than when I was seeing Lincoln employees stacking the chambers that day," says the homeowners' zoning lawyer, Michael Jung. "But the underwhelming reaction the plan commission had to it was an even greater shock. I thought packing the employees in would backfire on Lincoln. It didn't."

Nor did it backfire when Lincoln made a shameless, last-minute attempt to counter the opposition by hand-delivering a brand-new development proposal to commission members the night before the hearing--a proposal that Lincoln was describing as a concession to the homeowners. Never mind that the homeowners never were given a copy. Never mind that the media never were given a copy--in fact, I had to beg to get one page of it the following day after the plan commission meeting ended. Never mind that nobody at City Hall had a chance to study it and make sense of it. Never mind that it was nothing more than an obvious ploy from the same development boys who fought another neighborhood 10 years ago and convinced a previous plan commission and city council to change the zoning at the corner of Forest Lane and Inwood Road so they could build another big office and retail complex.

Lincoln never built that project--in fact, the mess of a zoning ordinance that Lincoln successfully rammed through City Hall in connection with it eventually gave us the Tinseltown multiplex and a lawsuit that cost the taxpayers $5 million last year.

Last week, with the Dallas City Council chambers literally choking with stink from the deceit and underhandedness that continue to be displayed by the Nasher-Lincoln partnership, it was hard to imagine that anyone on the City Plan Commission would go along with what amounts to a cynical charade.

But when Mitchell Rasansky, the plan commission member whose district the project is in, moved to reject Lincoln's proposal, it was clear that he did not have the votes. It was clear that there was probably a slim majority on the commission that, incredibly enough, stood willing and ready to give Lincoln and Nasher their zoning change. Instead, the commission voted to postpone a decision until October 24 in hope that the two sides can work out a compromise.

Lincoln's biggest cheerleader on the commission was 44-year-old Ed Oakley, a social liberal with a decidedly pro-business perspective. Oakley lives in Oak Cliff but spends most of his time in Oak Lawn, where he works as a construction and maintenance contractor for a development company that owns four gay bars. He announced at last week's meeting that the first time he ever stepped into City Hall in 1991, he watched the same North Dallas homeowners successfully fight Ray Nasher on the development of that property.

And it's clear that Oakley has no intention of seeing that again. In a two-hour conversation he and I had several nights after the vote, he made it clear that his opposition--and that of some of his fellow commissioners--was in large part due to impatience. He was just sick and tired of all these North Dallas homeowners coming down and whining about a piece of land that's destined to be developed.

"If they fight a war," Oakley said, referring to the next six weeks, "I think the votes are there on the plan commission to pass some reasonable plan--no matter if they pack that room again. I think the will is there."

Oakley repeated several times that there is nothing he has seen or heard so far from the homeowners to convince him that an enormous new development that would generate an estimated 21,000 additional car trips a day would be bad for the neighborhood.

OK. But what if the 200-plus homeowners who packed the council chambers last week--or tried to--were all from Oak Lawn? Where many of Oakley's friends and business associates live? Where Oakley has made his living for the past 15 years? Where three years ago he ran for the Dallas City Council and lost?

Oakley had to think about that for awhile. "I haven't been put in a position with people where I had to go to work with them the next day, or go to church with them, or sit next to them in a restaurant," Oakley said. "I haven't had that."

Well, maybe it's time you did.

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