By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The parking question has been especially contentious.
Marc Andres said to me, "I believe there are more parking spaces than there are cars looking for parking spaces on Lower Greenville on any day of the year with the exception of St. Patrick's Day. The idea that there is not is an untruth."
So what is wrong, and how can it be fixed? Here we come to an even deeper-running bone of contention. Two Dallas City Council members—Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano—are strong defenders of neighborhoods who know a lot about entertainment district problems because of their districts. Hunt, whose district includes Lower Greenville, is convinced that trying to solve things with police patrols and liquor laws will never work. She says the cops, who do their very best to deal with the realities, tell her the same thing. "It's very simple," she told me. "If you ask the police, they will tell you it's a zoning problem that has created this monster, because the solution is a zoning solution."
She has a specific formulation in mind, based in part on a successful campaign to clean up Deep Ellum, which is in Medrano's district. Basically it involves a "planned development district"—the same thing the people in North Oak Cliff want for the Bishop/Davis corridor.
Planned development districts are funny little zoning law creatures used mainly by developers in the past to carve out legal islands not subject to citywide zoning laws. Now neighborhoods are using them as a way to have a say in exactly what kind of business can and cannot exist within the district.
In Lower Greenville, Hunt told me, "the solution is to create a planned development district that is extremely simple. It simply requires businesses that plan to stay open past a certain hour to get a permit from the city and go through a public process."
Not everybody agrees. Those permits, called "special-use permits," are anathema to many property-owners, including the legitimate ones. Marc Andres told me the last thing he wants is to have to go before some City Hall hearing every year in order to hang on to property rights and uses that are his by right under the law now.
I attend a lot of City Hall hearings. But I get paid. If I didn't, I would want to stay away too.
It's more than a hassle factor, Andres told me. In order to get a good business tenant, a landlord must be able to attract an investor willing to sink a good piece of cash into a location. Andres said no serious investor will do that if he thinks the city might yank his permit to operate the business at the end of a year.
I talked to Barry Annino, who is on the board of the Deep Ellum Public Improvement District (sort of like a planned development district). Annino said the special-use permit process works. He said Deep Ellum has been able to run off bad operators and allay the fears of trusted investors by helping them get extended permits from the city.
"You can get more than one year," he said. "The people we don't know that are new and have no track record, it is one or two years. But there are some that are five years."
Adelman, the Lower Greenville activist, thinks it's the only way to go, because the only viable solution is a clean sweep. "If they don't make the decision to really improve this area the way they say they want to, together, it's not going to happen. The patchwork approach doesn't work."
There is a reason not to dismiss the Andreses too quickly as landowners who just don't want to be pinned down. If you look right around the corner from Lower Greenville on Henderson Avenue, you will see an entire street where Andres Properties has created a vital, booming and congenial entertainment district. So maybe they know what they're talking about.
But so does Angela Hunt. I doubt anybody has a better grip on what good neighborhoods expect and demand of adjacent commercial districts than she does. That's one thing the landlords must grasp. Hunt does not speak for herself. She speaks for the neighborhoods, with a lot of knowledge.
Pretty good cage fight, though. Out of that match-up alone—Hunt and the landlords—we ought to see a solution born that will serve the entire city well. Comes from my mantra as a young man. "Let's you and him fight." Easier on my knuckles.