Lowering the Bars

How Lower Greenville neighborhoods snookered club owners right out of business.

Property owners on Lower Greenville got snookered. They agreed last year to new regulations governing late-night hours for bars. They didn't agree to get put out of business.

They were snookered by the neighborhoods. I should love that, because I love neighborhoods. But, you know, snookered is snookered. In the long run this particular snooker may even be a good thing, but that still doesn't make it right.

I have been talking to people for two weeks about this. They're all scared to death of City Hall and lawsuits, so they all wanted to talk on a no-names basis — even the neighborhood people.

Chris Gash

The story they tell is pretty consistent. The difference is that the neighborhood people are proud of themselves for it and the property owners are monumentally pissed off.

It happened like this: The neighborhoods went to the property owners originally and asked them to go along with a rezoning effort aimed at getting rid of the "bad operators." Only the bad operators.

That meant the plastic-cup buck-a-drink puke bars wreaking havoc on surrounding neighborhoods. City council member Angela Hunt promised to release millions of dollars in street improvement money for the area if the property owners lined up behind a major rezoning aimed only at the puke people.

So the good guys agreed. In spite of grave misgivings, the principal property owners endorsed a plan by which every business on Lower Greenville that wanted to stay open after midnight would be required to go before a city board to get something called a "special use permit," or SUP.

The SUP process says this to a bar owner: "Yeah, you have a proper lease. Yeah, you have the right liquor license. Sure, you pay your taxes and your fees. And, yes, the law allows you to stay open until 2 a.m. But we say now that you also have to have an SUP to stay open until 2."

To get an SUP, you have to go before the city plan commission and maybe also the city council. If they don't like you, you don't get the SUP. If you don't get the SUP, the city can fine you $2,000 every single time they catch you doing business after midnight.

But Hunt and fellow council member Pauline Medrano, a coauthor of the new regs for Lower Greenville, promised the property owners that only the bad guys would have trouble with the city. That way the good guys would get the benefit of all that money Hunt would release to fix up the street, and the process would cleanse the neighborhood of puke, which should be a good thing.

So here comes the snooker. The property owners vow to me that this was a complete snooker, as far as they were concerned. They did not see it coming. The neighborhoods agree it may have been sort of a snooker, but they tell me it was a snooker for the good. Hunt wouldn't talk to me about it on the record, but I am convinced she was not in on the snooker.

You're a tenant. You have a bar. You get your special use permit. You are ready to rock and roll, right? Oh, wrong! Because the minute you get your SUP, along comes the city to say, "You now have new zoning."

You say, "Nah, not really. Same old zoning, just a little old SUP saying I can keep using the old zoning I already had."

City says: "An SUP is new zoning."

You say: "OK, if you say so. It's new zoning. So what?"

City says: "With new zoning, you have to get a new certificate of occupancy" ("CO" in City Hall parlance).

Listen. If you are a business in a building more than 20 years old, the words "new CO" uttered by a Dallas city official are equivalent to "I hate you, and I'm carrying your baby."

Here comes the man in the white car with his ticket book. Electrical outlets four inches too low? Ticket. Old-style breaker box? Ticket. Square-footage of bathrooms, ceiling height in bathrooms, flooring material in bathrooms, ticket, ticket, ticket. Now, show me your grease trap.

Property owners told me last week that when their tenants began to scream, the city said, "All right, we'll back off on the CO if you back off on the SUP."

In other words, give up the SUP, agree to close at midnight, and we'll forget about the new CO. You can keep your old grease trap. Oh, that was the lady's room? Well, whatever. You're cool. Just shut 'er down at the witching hour.

One of the few people with enough nerve to discuss this with me on the record was Theresa O'Donnell, director of the Dallas Department of Sustainable Development and Construction (a department whose name I have always thought should be lengthened to "Sustainable Development, Construction and Green Transit-Oriented Walkability").

O'Donnell said the version I got from the property owners was not wrong. "I think it's easy to see why they would understand that," she said.

But she sort of suggested they might want to keep their heads down instead of whining to reporters about it. All of a sudden, I understood why everybody had been so terribly off the record with me. I'd be scared, too.

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39 comments
CDRhom
CDRhom

We'll see how happy they are when those boarded up buildings become eyesores and gang banger hang outs.

Person
Person

I remember hearing this would be the easiest SUP in the city, but the city ended up completely giving in to everything the neighborhood associations demanded. There was absolutely no buffer between the bars and the neighbors. I agree there were some bad bars that had to go, but there's a few that got lost in all this that shouldn't have had to close.

Not that difficult
Not that difficult

Dear Bar Ownerz:

I be a needin' some additional moneyz for my reelection. Pleeze make a zee drop at zee usual time and location. A C of O and what's SUP shall be provided. In lieu of the ah monetaree donation, please deliver yo properteez to my mafia backerz at pennies on the dollah foh the redevelopment to be subsidized by zee taxpayahs (suckahs!). Thanks you foh playin' (don't playah hate!). Booyahcah!

Signed,Leader of the Idiocracy all up in this town

This is your world. Stop lying to yourself that it will fix itself.

jharris214
jharris214

I'm interested to know which bars are considered the bad bars? If they are the reason for bringing in a clientele that is responsible for the decline, then why haven't they been called out directly, instead of going through all this mess?

James Miller
James Miller

Building codes keep people safer and relatively free from injury. The property owners are clearly aware their buildings are not up to code.

I don't see the problem here. Bring your building up to code or suffer the consequences. If you don't like the building codes then vote to change them.

abuckley1970
abuckley1970

A new CO has not always been required just because an SUP was acquired for something this specific - case in point, the beer and wine SUP required for general merchandise stores in D-1's after the city went wet last November. The underlying use (the store) was the same. Once their SUP was approved to sell beer and wine, they only had to pay $30 for the add-on to the EXISTING CO. All it took was an application, a copy of the approved SUP ordinance/site plan and $30. Within a week of council approval, the CO would have the add-on - it had to before it could get the city's TABC ($100) application stamp of approval. The late hours could have been an add-on in this case for those who had current CO's already. Not sure what happened there...

Paul: this area included in PDD 842 is zoned CR, LO-1, and MC-1 with a modified delta overlay - there's no MO-2 here.

GlamWitch
GlamWitch

WEEELLLLL MY PRETTIES... Let's see how you Auntie EM'streeters are gonna like abandoned, 80 year old, too expensive to renovate, easy to break in, rat infest, and "ooops... I didn't leave that broomstick in the oven? That was my old tennant. CHACHING... vacant lot for sale, get your ticky-tacky condo lot right heeeerrreee!" Ya'll gonna miss the "Yellow'ed" brick, soon enough.

Greenvillite
Greenvillite

As you can probably tell from my name, I am a resident of the Lower Greenville area. Even as a resident as who generally supports the PD and SUP concept, I do think Angela Hunt and City Staff pulled one over on the property owners and operators on Greenville. (Ok, at least Angela did. I'm not sure City Staff had it together enough to pull thw wool over anyone's eyes when this PD was passed.) I attended those public meetings. It is a little too convenient, overly simplistic and obviously biased for Schutze to (a) blame the neighborhood people and (b) pretend that Angela Hunt doesn't know exactly what is going on. Schutze's reporting on this topic is at best uninformed, but I suspect lazy and/or intentionally sensationalistic are more like it.

Heck, the neighborhood people didn't even get themselves organized until months after the PD passed. They certainly were the great puppet-masters Schutze makes them out to be. Opportunitist in more recent times, perhaps, but not the masterminds. That would be Angela's job. Angela doesn't drink alcohol, and she would've had those bars closing at 10 pm if she thought she could get away with it. She selectively returns calls, avoids commenting and otherwise behaves just like a seasoned politician. And let's not forget that Angela is a lawyer, and as such, is presumably not as nieve, innocent and stupid as Schutze makes out to be. And he knows it!

And the operators and landlords are no innocent victims here. They (ok a minority of them) have run the area into the ground, spent as little as possible and done generally whatever they wanted for years. As a result, they now have this PD. The phrase "pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered" comes to mind.

Having the operators and landlords follow the code (lest we want more Terelli's-style fires) is not unreasonable. They've had a year to get their act together, and it is not the residents' or the City's problem that they waited until the 11th hour to begin to do so. That said, the City's approach of saying, hey, we won't enforce the code if you don't ask for an SUP (that you have the legal right to seek) is shameful (not surprising but definitely underhanded). While we are on the subject of the City's response - anyone else notice they were Johnny on the Spot with tickets but slow as malasses in all other aspects of this process?

I have not been involved in the residents' response (other than a passive observer), and it seems to me that the residents are the least culpable here. They are doing what you would expect residents to do - asking to have the code enforced on neighboring businesses, asking the police and city staff to help keep crime and noise down and opposing businesses that can't follow the law and cause problems for the residents. And the City is enforcing (or at least attempting to enforce) old and new laws, which is the City's function (if not necessarily its reputation). Of course, see the previous paragraph on what else the City is doing. And while the operators and landlords are doing what they often do (i.e., cutting corners, defering maintenance and repairs, asking for foregiveness instead of permission all in the name of operating a business), their transgressions do not necessarily deserve a "pass" just because compliance eats into the bottom line.

I for one am tired of listening to the whining and overly dramatic predictions from the landlords and operators, and now you can add disgusted with the City's (including Angela) underhanded approach to my list of things of which I'm tired. Greenville Ave. is not going to turn into a ghost town with tumbleweeds and boarded up shops. That is rediculous, so stop it. This is a growning pain for the area, one that other entertainment districts have gone through in the past. No one likes it or wants to experience it, but on the other hand, no one really benefited on a sustainable basis from the state of affairs that has existed for the last several years there either.

People just need a little perspective here. Residents need to remember it didn't happen overnight, and it isn't going to be fixed (whatever that means) over night. Operators (and particularly landlords) need to own up to their responsibilities - you bought and/or rented this property, so take care of it. And the City, oh, where do I start? Well, why don't you try to get some of the same perspective the residents need to get and start with the worst problems first. Then, next time the SUPs are up for renewal, chip away at a little more. As for Angela, she might try transparency. Isn't that Mayor Rawlings idea? We'd all like to see a little more of that from her.

Commercial Landlord
Commercial Landlord

Just face it... The city governments have way to much control over our commercial property through Uniform Commercial Code and is updated often and for good reason when it applies to new construction but when its applied to exhisting properties without regard to legal noncompliance its a deal breaker for many people wanting to upgrade their property. Change of ownership and change of use also trigger the required updates. This is one of the greatest downfalls of our inner cities and probably talked about the least. This was a free country and all this code was not observed so closely until the mid eighties in my town. The envy of the world america was with all its freedom. Look at us now! If you want to live in a new neighborhood then maybe you should move to one. It always baffles me how we let a handful of people dictate us from city hall. The reality is that the almost the whole neighborhood is out of code both residential and commercial. Maybe the bar owners should start reporting code violations of all the residential properties in the area. What a back log that will be on the inspectors and city officials. The irony is that while we take our commerce globally to country's with little or no code we restrict our own commercial buildings and make harder and harder on the small start up companies that made this country great.

Travis Rex
Travis Rex

So, according to Jim, we are to believe Medrano and Hunt DIDN"T know what was going to happen? If they didn't one assumes that they would step in and help remedy the situation. As it stands, it seems both are content to sit back and let Lower Greenville become devoid of anything, good or bad. At least there is some admittance to this being "dirty pool"..just more dickish behavior from the city and the LG NA's and HOA's.

Paul
Paul

A couple of items -- 1) This is the direct result of the law of unintended consequences.2) This is also City Council vs City Staff --- Just who do you think really runs this place?3) The area is zoned MO-2.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

Plywood on the windows is better than noise and parking hassles?

Ask them again about that in 18 months. I'll bet their perceptions will have changed measurably by then and they'll remember drunken frat boys pissing on their begonias with a nostalgic fondness rivaled only by that felt for Troy Aikman & a winning Cowboys organization.

Paul
Paul

The reason why the property is valuable is that the landlords have been able to get rents in excess of $15k/mo for 1500 ft^2 or >$10/ft^2 with nonconforming businesses.

Your concepts of development are in contradiction to the development that has occurred on the Bishop Arts District, Uptown, or various section of Henderson.

You also contradict your self. At one point, you talk about LG being off of the beaten path and then you talk about this being a destination "entertainment district". You are also pointed out the main difference between Deep Ellum and LG in that LG is primarily a residential area and DE was not.

As far as a developer buying up the properties that has already happened.

The concept of an "entertainment district" is a false flag.

If the occupancies are so wonderful for people with significant discretionary income, then why aren't these businesses in Addison, Plano, Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands, Lakewood, Preston Center, Uptown, Victory, etc.?

As far as I am concerned the City has failed again and again to enforce the zoning requirements in this part of Dallas.

This area of Lower Greenville is zoned for Community Retail and MO-2. If you are not aware of what the conforming uses are for these designations, please go to the Dallas P&Z website and look it up.

TimCov
TimCov

I wonder how people in the neighborhoods will feel when there are a bunch of abandoned buildings on that section of Greenville and their property values go down accordingly. This is the kind of regulations that cause that to happen.

Watching South Detroit
Watching South Detroit

Anyone wonder why businesses flee Dallas and out to the suburbs? The city discourages any kind of new business with its mind boggling bureaucracy and red tape.

Rkey46
Rkey46

I think when the businesses close then the taxes will dry up which will make someone in that area have to make up the loss nudge nudge wink wink home owners.

Djteel
Djteel

so people are driving home drunk on the freeways earlier. .nothing good happens after 10pm in dallas anyway.and by midnight the freaks are out on the streets .

Paul
Paul

Code enforcement comes through the neighborhood on a regular basis. The owner of an apt bldg tried to remodel without permits and the number of red tags made you think that the front was red.

Code enforcement also checks on things like vegetation, lawn care, and alley encroachments. It seems that the section of Lower Greenville between Ross and Belmont did not exist as far as Code Enforcement and P&Z was concerned.

I would like to know how many people think that public intoxication, fighting, rapes, assaults, and gunfire are acceptable.

I wish we had Bishop AD or Knox Henderson instead of Lower Greenville.

I wonder how many PI arrests there were in the Bishop AD last year?

The only conclusion that I can come to is that the people who think that all is hunky dory on Lower Greenville and there are nice polite white table cloth establishments where adults come to socialize and discuss Proust and Hegelian philosophy over a glass of chardonnay have never been down here or are shills for the bar owners.

There is no comparison between Lower Greenville and the other so called "entertainment districts" as Lower Greenville is the land of two buck chuck and 38 specials.

As far as the crack about the outlet is 4 inches too low, get real. This just means that the building was not properly inspected when the original CO was issued

LGB
LGB

Come on Schutze, you cant be serious. Hunt wasnt in on the snookering? Yeah right.

MAW
MAW

I'd bet money Angela Hunt saw the snooker coming! How could she not?

Texasdave60
Texasdave60

Do you wanht your cake? Oh, Heavens no! You can't eat it...

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

So I guess a lot of good operators have gone out of business, huh, JS? Which ones would those be?

WashHater
WashHater

So...when the tax base provided by the businesses that are being shuttered by this bullshit evaporates, I'm sure all the locals won't mind their property taxes going up to cover the difference, right?

Sacrilicious
Sacrilicious

Nothing like convincing the Thanksgiving turkey to willingly put his neck on the chopping block.

NothingFace
NothingFace

It's Sofrano's, Yucatan, 180 and Service.

Paul
Paul

Which area are you referring to? When I looked on P&Z's map it showed MO-2 for the PDZ overlay for this area of Lower Greenville.

This wouldn't be the first time that there is a complete disconnect between city staff and the council.

Great points that you are bringing to the discussion.

JimS
JimS

You yourself say you have not been involved, and I'm afraid it shows. People who say they represent you have been very involved from the very beginning. The way staff is handling this is not at all typical. See Abuckley above.

Travis Rex
Travis Rex

"This is a growning pain for the area, one that other entertainment districts" So you live in an entertainment district?

Paul
Paul

Codes? ... HaHaHa ... We don't need no stinking Codes!

jfpo
jfpo

Not only do I think Hunt was aware of the "snooker," but has been orchestrating it behind the scenes. That's probably why she wouldn't talk to Schutze. She has made her personal disdain for bars very clear.

JimS
JimS

Places like Santa Fe and Carmel, not that I want us to be that, are created by very tough zoning and regulation. Lax regulation creates crap.

Me
Me

how old are you?

Paul
Paul

On average AVT has been rising 10% per year in this area.

abuckley1970
abuckley1970

you have to read the actual ordinance to see the underlying zoning. MO-2 is a mid-range office district for offices and hotels with limited retail - typically found adjacent to major arterials.

I know this PD by heart. LOL

Paul
Paul

Thank you.

Thank you very much for your inputs to the discussion.

abuckley1970
abuckley1970

height gets weird. there are additional requirements that determine final building heigh in MO-2.

I work with several. :)

Paul
Paul

Hmmm ... mid range office district for offices? ... boy that sure could shorten my commute.

What are the height restrictions?

Thanks for your input.

Which developer do you work for? ... ;-)

 
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