By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Lowest Greenville has deteriorated to where it's very little retail and a regional bar attraction, which is not what's really appropriate for an area surrounded by neighborhoods," she says. "And it's a waste of our well-trained police officers, because we are having to pull those officers out of the neighborhoods and off the streets to make sure that one patron doesn't murder another patron."
So, about a year and a half ago, she and Medrano began "tossing around" the idea of a Planned Development District, whose initial plans called for a more limiting PD—one that restricted rooftop patios, light and noise levels, and mandated double doors to help dampen loud music. But after months of haggling with neighborhood associations, businesses and property owners, everything was stripped from the plans except for the requirement that businesses staying open past midnight go through the SUP process. "We started off with a very complex plan, and ended up with what we're told is the simplest PD in the entire city," Hunt says.
The SUP process calls for these businesses to be held accountable to the neighborhood by presenting themselves and their reputations before the City Plan Commission, which will conduct a hearing at which time neighborhood associations, neighboring businesses and the police can offer evidence of their behavior—good and bad. "There's hopefully going to be a greater sense of responsibility on their part to the surrounding community," Hunt says. "Right now there's no sense of concern. There's nothing at stake if the bad bars aren't good neighbors."
While convincing city officials to name the names of the bad bars is an impossible task, there are a number of businesses that remain open past midnight that "have proven to be good neighbors," Hunt says. Greenville Avenue Pizza Company, The Libertine, Winedale Tavern, The Cavern and Taco Cabana are businesses Hunt says should have no trouble obtaining long-term permits to operate after midnight. But bar operators who consistently pop up on police reports and cause problems for the neighborhood won't have an easy time.
"Right now we have the six area neighborhood associations, representing thousands of people affected by this, voting in unison to support [the PD]," Hunt says. "And there's a unity that speaks volumes about the problems down here, the proposed plan and the desire to work together to improve the area."
Of course, not everyone on Lowest Greenville thinks a planned development district is the answer.
Sitting on a stool at the Service Bar, Neil Ludwig sips a drink at the bar. Ludwig is the self-described "general manager/head janitor" of Service Bar, Sofrano's and Whisky Bar. And most nights he can be spotted walking the sidewalks, keeping an eye on his bars and clientele.
"We know there's problems down here," he says, while swirling his drink. "And we want to do everything we can to fix those problems, but we don't want to put businesses out of business who are doing the right thing because of the ones that are doing the wrong things." Because Ludwig feels the PD is too restrictive and will hurt good and bad actors alike, he has formed the Lowest Lower Greenville Avenue Business Association—and hired a lawyer.
Craig Sheils represents the new business association as well as a handful of the bars and businesses that will be affected by the PD. Shiels says that even if the PD eliminates the bad element, the time-consuming nature and costs involved with the SUP process may discourage "prospective businesses" from moving in.
Instead, Shiels advocates for a permit system that would be just as tough on bad actors, but would involve fewer applications, fees and hoops for businesses to jump through than the convoluted SUP process does. His permit idea has found some support with area businesses, but it's failed to gain any traction at City Hall.
"The permit process would just look at police calls and raw data, not allowing for additional input," Hunt says. "And it wouldn't address the cumulative effects from things like traffic and inebriated people all in one area."
And based on her conversations in recent weeks with property owners like Andres Properties and Madison Partners, two companies that control the majority of the rental properties on the Lowest Greenville strip, Hunt believes that the SUP process won't be so onerous that good businesses will refuse to move into the neighborhood. "It's not going to prohibit daytime businesses like clothing shops, bookstores or coffee shops from moving in," she says.
Simon McDonald of the Libertine and Chris Penn of Good Records disagree. Each moved to the area in recent years after operating businesses on the outskirts of Deep Ellum; each run businesses that are held up as examples of "good operators." But both say that the PD and the SUP process might have dissuaded them from relocating to Lowest Greenville.
"I'm worried that there will be some good businesses that fall by the wayside," McDonald says. "Maybe they don't have enough support from the neighborhood or can't afford the SUP [$1,170] and the legal fees involved with applying for it. But some of these clubs need to go. I think it's time for a change, but I'm just not sure this is the best way." If the SUP process was in place today, he says, "We would have definitely moved somewhere else, because that's a big expense to a small business in an already very expensive process."