Under the city's development code, the proper time for opponents to voice their concerns about the Sam's Club proposed next to CityPlace was a year ago this month, before the City Plan Commission and City Council unanimously approved a zoning change for the property to allow a 100,000-square-foot warehouse store.
That neighbors generally weren't aware of that possibility, having understood the project as West Village-style collection of shops and restaurants, was neither here not there. And so, when they arrived at the Plan Commission Thursday to speak out against the development plan, they were stymied with a terse declaration from a city attorney: "This is a ministerial function of the Plan Commission. This is not a public hearing."
But the matter isn't quite as settled as it seemed. Just after the Plan Commission voted to delay a decision on the development plan for 60 days, Commissioner Bobby Abtahi slipped a letter to David Cossum, the city's interim director of development.
The letter, signed by Abtahi and seven of his colleagues (a majority of the body), asks the city to consider reopening the zoning process for the Sam's Club property.
This isn't just a pretty-please. Under Plan Commission rules, the letter automatically triggers a public hearing within 30 days, at which time the commission will decide whether or it wants to formally review the zoning of the property. If a majority votes yes, then the Plan Commission and City Council decide whether to make any changes. In theory, at least, this means the city could rewrite the zoning to ban big-box stores.
"I actually think it's important to get input from the public and city staff and the city attorney's office to determine what the options will be moving forward," Abtahi tells Unfair Park.
It's too early to speculate on what those options might be, he says, but he's hoping there's a way to keep sprawling, 100,000-square foot retail stores away from the urban core.
"My position is we deserve a better project from the developer, regardless of who's going in there."
Alex More, a Dallas attorney helping organize the anti-Sam's Club forces, says it will be a major coup if the Plan Commission votes to reopen the zoning debate. As it stands, opponents are limited to scouring the development plan for elements that might conflict with the current zoning ordinance. With the zoning process reopened, there's a chance of actually stopping the project.
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"The bottom line is, we want to remove the language from the ordinance [allowing 100,000-square foot retail and home-improvement stores] and still have mixed-use development with retail and restaurants," More says. "That's the development were looking for in that area."
Trammell Crow's zoning rep has not yet responded to a request for comment.