Trust no one

The City Plan Commission won't let Hillwood Development or city staff play them for saps

For instance, Leggio asks why the transportation staff offered up what he describes as a series of "poison pills" that would have killed the east-side rail option--proposals that made Houston Street either too narrow for rail, or so wide as to slash deeply into Hillwood's property.

Leggio doesn't know for certain, but he isn't averse to a little speculation.

"You consider what [Hillwood is] doing," he says. "They're building a huge planned development--entertainment, office, retail, and residential. What have you got at the West End? Entertainment, retail, residential.

"If you bypass the West End going into the arena, you'll take all those customers into the arena. Transportation and roads--where you place them or don't place them--they'll create boom towns and ghost towns."

In other words, Hillwood didn't exactly have an economic incentive to make it easier for all those cash-carrying customers to get to the West End.

Greed, or as Leggio described it in an interview, "rapacious development," might explain Hillwood's motives in this conspiracy that some plan commissioners see cooking. But what might motivate city staff to screw the West End?

Nothing, according to Dybala, the man who took the beating at the plan commission meeting.

"I do not intend to do anything other than serve the city in going through this process," Dybala says. "I know that the city planning commission has indicated that they were unhappy they didn't have all the information when the transportation committee was reviewing the proposed thoroughfare plan amendment. There's no question they didn't have all the information. In fact, we still do not have all the information we would like them to have."

Fact is, no one has all the information. DART is still reviewing the potential routes, and city staff is waiting for DART, sorting through traffic data and trying to decide where the best spots for rail and roads are.

It's not a conspiracy, Dybala says. It's a deadline problem. The city council wants to take up the issue of streets by the end of October; the city is committed to extending Houston Street before the arena opens in 2000; and DART and city staff are still crunching numbers, trying to see what might work.

According to Dybala and Hillwood attorney Del Williams, the best information available right now indicates that running tracks parallel to Houston Street to the east of Hillwood's property raises unworkable headaches for traffic and hazards for pedestrians at five intersections--unworkable, that is, unless DART can come up with its own solution.

They're working on it.
In the meantime, the best option, according to city staff, is to find another route--either zigzagging across Hillwood's property from east to west, or elsewhere.

The plan commission, on the other hand, says it's better to keep all the options open. If it turns out that DART doesn't use Hillwood's property, the developer can have it back.

Dybala says there will be plenty of opportunities--and plenty of proposals--to make adjustments before the council makes its decision on the thoroughfare plan, probably some time next month.

As for Hillwood, Williams says there is "absolutely no conspiracy" between staff and the developer, other than to avoid traffic snarls and squashed pedestrians at their new development. "The pedestrian safety concerns are very, very real," he says.

Blaydes points out that DART rail runs through the heart of downtown, and the tracks haven't yet been littered with corpses.

Williams denies that what's driving Hillwood and city staff is competition with the West End, pointing out that Hillwood has agreed to finance a pedestrian plaza linking the arena development and the West End. (Hillwood would be reimbursed by a special city tax district.) A number of parties are interested in the rail routes, and Hillwood plans to work with all of them, he says.

Besides, he doesn't even know what "rapacious" means.

At the end of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Fred C. Dobbs dies badly, isolated by his own suspicious mind, shot down by banditos.

No offense to the commissioners, but it's probably too much to hope that anything that entertaining will happen at the next City Plan Commission meeting. Of course, Bogey only had to deal with bandits. The plan commission is facing off against a developer that was willing to tear apart the suburb of Westlake to complete another development.

Whatever happens, after the vitriol the commissioners unleashed on city staff last time around, there's some fence-mending to do. That, says City Councilman John Loza, may require some help by the council.

Loza appointed Leggio to the plan commission, and the councilman says Leggio isn't the first of his appointees to city boards and commissions to come to him and complain that staff was being less than forthcoming.

"That idea and the trend concern me greatly," he says. "And I can't sit here and tell you that I will guarantee to you that they always provide us with as complete information as we would need to make a rational decision.

"It frustrates me...I have had more than one come to me and tell me that he or she didn't feel like they were really in a position to make a decision on something because staff didn't provide them with all the information they needed."

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