Dallas City Hall's Record Gives South Side Landowners Good Reason to Be Paranoid

We spoke here last week about a large section of the city near the new University of North Texas campus that has never had city sewer service. Newcomers and people unfamiliar with the city's southern hemisphere might find it hard to believe, but we have substantial expanses of unimproved ranch land within the city limits, and much of it is in the area around the new UNT Southern Dallas campus.

See also: So Is "Grow South" About Helping the People or Just the Real Estate?

Landowners here say the city has money in its existing bond funds to bring a sewer main somewhere reasonably near them. They think the city is stalling, however, in order to run some kind of scam on them -- get their land cheap by waiting them out or forcing them to sell, then flip their land to some insider, bring in the infrastructure and allow Mr. Insider to reap the benefits.

Sounds pretty paranoid, eh? Yeah, well, I need merely point to Dale Davenport, the car wash guy on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, to maybe help explain why people get paranoid about Dallas City Hall: The city sent him an eminent domain threat letter saying they needed his property for a project. Now nobody at City Hall will name the project or admit sending the letter, but they still intend to get his property some other way. So is Davenport paranoid or is he just pissed off? You tell me.

Anyway, last week I told you that the city council member for the district near UNT explained to me that it's too early to bring sewer into the area around the campus because no comprehensive plan has yet been devised for the area. "We need a plan," Tennell Atkins told me.

I reported that. Then all weekend I got calls from landowners in the area telling me they'd been going to city meetings for years where they were shown plans for a new sewer main right through their neck of the woods.

Hey, let me clear something up here first. We are not talking about the city building a sewer line right up to people's property. Generally speaking, that's a property owner's responsibility: If you bought land that had no sewer connection, then presumably you got it cheap, because there was no sewer connection. Now if you want to build or develop it, then you need to pony up the money to connect your land to the city sewer main in your area.

That's not really what we're talking about. This area has no city sewer main anywhere reasonably close to it. Building a main will cost tens of millions of dollars. Mains were built decades ago in new areas in the northern half of the city to enable development there, but it was never done here.

You could still say that's tough. They knew what they were buying when they bought it. But we have an important intervening factor here. On the assumption that the disparities between north and south in this city have everything to do with a history of racism, City Hall has set forth specific targeted goals in a program called Grow South. Mayor Mike Rawlings in particular has made Grow South a cornerstone of his tenure, vowing to do pretty much whatever it takes to overcome economic disparities between white and black Dallas.

So here we are. We've got this very handsome brand-new campus of the University of North Texas plunked down right in the center of the area I'm talking about. UNT would seem to be exactly the kind of major economic generator the city says it's looking for in southern Dallas, except that it is abutted by territory that lacks basic urban infrastructure.

In several city planning exercises since 2009 there has been broad agreement that UNT-Dallas needs residential development near its borders in order to thrive as a full-scale residential college campus. But you can't do residential development, especially apartments, without urban sewer service.

A 2009 city document called, "The UNT-Dallas Plan Executive Summary" calls for sewer service four times and even names a specific nexus, near the site where a new DART rail station was being planned. Last week property owners were dismayed to learn that the DART rail station will be indeed be built, but it will be built on a septic tank system because the city still refuses to bring sewers to it.

The city's existing plan for the area under the rubric "ForwardDallas" (all one word) promises an extended sewer main for the area and names a route. In 2011 Kimley-Horn, a design consulting firm, carried out a major study of the area around UNT to help the city plan for development. The Kimley-Horn document (see below) shown to landholders in 2012 shows a new sewer main coming straight into the area in question.

So here's what the landowners are saying to me: 1) The city says it's going to do whatever it can to help southern Dallas catch up with northern Dallas. 2) It's got the bond money already. 3) In spite of what councilman Atkins says, the city already has plan after plan showing exactly where the line needs to go. But they won't do it.

Why? Here's one theory. A guy down there said to me, "They don't have enough people down yet," meaning the right people haven't had time or the money to buy up the land at the prices they want to pay in order to be standing on the shore when the ship comes in.

Paranoid? I remind you of the car wash man. At the very least you can't blame people for wondering if the name needs to be changed from "Grow South" to "Slow South" -- better than "No South" but not by much.

20120416 UNT Dallas Exhibit by Schutze

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