Rumors of war
Susan Allen came home recently to find city procedures for recalling a city councilman stuffed in her mailbox. As president of the Moss Farm Alliance and Concerned Homeowners Association, Allen saw this as a sign that her neighbors in this northeast Dallas community were very close to declaring war on their city councilman, Alan Walne.
To hear the neighbors tell it, Walne has turned a deaf ear to their adamant opposition to rezoning a piece of property at the northeast corner of Greenville Avenue and Royal Lane. The developer is Craig Evans, son of former Dallas Mayor Jack Evans and a longtime friend of Councilman Walne. The property is zoned for offices and neighborhoods; Evans wants to rezone the property for retail and put a 24-hour Walgreen's there.
A former park board member who works in his family's auto glass business, Walne is aware that his constituents are discussing a recall petition, but he does not understand why they are so angry with him. He says he does not know how he would vote on the issue, which hasn't even come before the Dallas Plan Commission yet. As far as he is concerned, his neighbors want him to kill the deal before it goes through the proper procedures, which he says would be "unfair and possibly unethical."
The last undeveloped corner in the area, the property sits across from a small office building, a church, and a park. A busy intersection, this is the only place along the 26-mile city bike path that comes up to street level and crosses a main thoroughfare--making the corner treacherous for drivers and cyclists alike.
A 24-hour Walgreen's, neighbors contend, would increase traffic and make the corner that much more dangerous.
"It's already so congested, there's an accident there almost every day," says Michael Quilling, a longtime resident of the area and a lawyer. "And there's no need for retail there. All the retail a half-mile away in three directions has failed. A block north there's an empty Wolfe Nursery just sitting there. There are strip centers sitting half-empty. We're concerned this will fail, too. If it goes in, the neighborhood will boycott it."
Quilling has a petition signed by 1,000 homeowners opposing the rezoning. "Walne needs to get behind it and oppose it today."
In May, Craig Evans called Allen and asked her what she thought about putting in a Walgreen's at the corner. She told him she didn't think the neighborhood would be thrilled with any retail development. Allen later learned that Evans applied for rezoning the very next day.
But Allen and the seven other neighborhood groups that border that intersection never heard anything about it. Then, in mid-August, Allen started getting phone calls from homeowners whose houses bordered the property. They had been notified that the issue was coming up for a vote in the Plan Commission in the next two weeks. It was slated for the consent agenda, because the commission had not fielded any opposition to the issue.
"There had been no opposition," says Allen, "because no one knew Evans had formally requested rezoning."
Walne says he advised Evans to meet with homeowner groups and explain his plans, but Evans chose not to do so. Allen and the presidents of the other homeowners groups were also upset that they had not been notified of the rezoning request. The groups previously had been on a list in City Hall entitling them to early notification of issues such as these.
Elected to the City Council in May 1996, Walne says that he did not know he was supposed to renew the groups on the list every year. He has since reinstated them on the early notification list. At the behest of Walne and Bill Blaydes, district representative to the Plan Commission, the commission vote was delayed until September 11.
Afraid that Craig Evans' powerful political connections would guarantee his success, the community turned to Walne for help and advice on how to preserve the current zoning. Instead of giving assistance, Walne told his constituents what a fine developer and what a good person to do business with Evans was, because, in Walne's words, "he does what he says he's going to do."
Fearing that Blaydes and Walne would override their wishes, residents attended a town meeting Walne held in mid-August on the budget. At the end of the meeting, Walne finally allowed the residents to discuss Evans' development proposal.
"He was visibly annoyed that we were there and wanted to discuss this," says Allen. Instead of acting sympathetic to the wishes of his constituents, he again touted Evans' credentials and warned them that other developments allowed under the current zoning--a recycling drop-off facility, outside storage facility, a bank--might be less to their liking.
"It was clear he was just echoing this Highland Park developer's position," says Bill Hendrix, a longtime neighborhood resident. "A city council person is supposed to represent the interests of the people who put him in office."
Maybe that is why Walne is having problems. The residents of this neighborhood may have elected Walne, but the Evans family also mightily helped him get into office. Longtime family friends Jack Evans Sr. (who died earlier this year), Craig Evans, and his brother, Roy, gave a total of $3,800 to Walne's campaign war chest over the last year and a half. Jack Sr. and Craig Evans donated a chunk of that money--$1,300 to be exact--in February.
In late August, Evans agreed to meet with neighborhood residents at Moss Farm Elementary School. Neighbors were more than a little unnerved when Evans drove up to the meeting in the same car with Blaydes. After listening to Evans explain his plans for the property, the 300 residents in attendance unanimously voted to oppose the development and the required zoning change.
Evans has requested that the September 11 Plan Commission meeting be postponed until after he arranges a meeting between neighborhood residents and representatives of Walgreen's.
"I try not to involve myself in zoning cases at this point," says Walne. "I want to allow the planning commission to do what they're there for."
At the recent town hall meeting, Walne told the people in attendance that he didn't want to get involved and that it wasn't a political issue. That particularly incensed Quilling. "If he doesn't get off the fence and support his constituents, he will find out very quickly just how political this issue is," Quilling says.
Neighbors plan to picket Walne's house and office as well as forthcoming City Council meetings. And if that doesn't work, they say, Walne might very well be facing a recall election.
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