Fight Over New Apartments Shows Dallas' Growing Pains

When Kat Truitt walks to the neighborhood Central Market at Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue, she passes the Signature Pointe Apartments, which face her condominium complex on Milton Street. These apartments once housed Hurricane Katrina evacuees who brought significant crime into the neighborhood, Truitt says. Signature Pointe is now vacant, boarded up and fenced off.

The owner of these apartments, Fairfield Residential, purchased the 12.85 acres in 2006 for $22.5 million. The developer shut down the complex in November 2007 after helping find new housing for the residents. Instead of updating and repairing apartments built in the 1970s, Fairfield asked the city to change the zoning so it could tear down Signature Pointe and build a mixed-use development with new apartments, condos and retail.

This is known as up-zoning, the process of changing the zoning in an area to allow greater density or commercial use. This is a polarizing issue because some people feel this is an infringement on neighborhoods, while others see it as progress.

Truitt is excited about the retail that will come along with the zoning change and says she's helped gather support from 45 of the 62 condominium owners in her complex, Birchbrook 2.

"You can hop on the DART from here and walk over to Central Market or Tom Thumb, and the retail that [Fairfield] is proposing is not conflicting," she says. "It will just be complementary."

Norma Minnis of the Lovers Amesbury Neighborhood Coalition, a group formed to oppose the zoning, disagrees. She says the $130 million project is too high and dense. Minnis also opposes any retail.

"When you have retail encroaching into a residential neighborhood, it changes everything," Minnis says. "You are damned if the retail is a success because it will want to expand, and you're damned if it's a failure because then you're left with a mess on your hands."

Truitt says she is frustrated with city council member Angela Hunt for not meeting with her and other proponents of the zoning even though she has met with Minnis and other opponents. Truitt also says the members of the neighborhood coalition, including Minnis, don't live adjacent to the site, and many live in Sheffie Kadane's district.

"I don't feel the love and don't feel the respect I deserve as one of her constituents," Truitt says.

Steve Stamos, development manager for Fairfield, says dealing with Hunt has been a difficult process because she has been meeting with members of the coalition but not with supporters.

Hunt counters she hadn't been asked to meet with supporters of the zoning, though Truitt provided the Dallas Observer with an e-mail she sent January 29 to Hunt asking her to attend a February 2 community meeting. Hunt responded in less than an hour, saying she had a conflict, but she'd ask her assistant to work with Truitt to find a meeting date.

Hunt was also reminded of a February 12 meeting, which she says she had to cancel because her father has been battling health problems. Although she hasn't met with the group favoring the zoning change, she says they have been properly represented.

"The developer is well-represented by PR people who can contact folks in the media, can frame this a certain way, and can get photos and stories in D magazine," Hunt says. "Neighbors with concerns about it aren't represented by anybody."

Truitt says Hunt is being "bamboozled and hoodwinked" by the neighborhood coalition and City Plan Commissioner Neil Emmons.

When the zoning case was heard October 11 by the Plan Commission, Emmons made a motion to deny the developer's request with prejudice. This meant it would have taken 12 of the 15 council members to approve the zoning when it was heard by the city council February 27, and if denied, the site would have to keep its current zoning for two years.

The developer has changed its zoning request since then, scaling back the retail and reducing the height of the building from 72 feet to 47 feet, among other changes. It hasn't been enough to change the mind of Minnis, who owns three condos in the area. She says this would set a dangerous precedent, leading to future up-zoning in the neighborhood.

Emmons met with Minnis and representatives of the Lovers Amesbury Neighborhood Coalition on February 20, along with the developer and its representatives. In his summary of the meeting e-mailed to Hunt, Emmons said it was important to meet with those who objected to the zoning because the proponents "had reached consensus" and "have been ably represented" by consultants for Fairfield. Emmons left little hope that an agreement could be reached between both sides.

"This case has been the subject of hundreds of hours of study for a year. I do not believe that additional time will yield an increased level of consensus," Emmons wrote. "This case will be precedent setting, and, in fact, the next case has already been filed seeking increased allowable density by the same applicant."

Fairfield was hoping the zoning case would be sent back to the Plan Commission, but Stamos says the meeting with Emmons changed his mind, and now Fairfield preferred to let the city council make the decision. Stamos also criticizes Emmons for not letting him know there were any problems with the zoning before the Plan Commission meeting.

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