Walk On, Dallas, Walk On. Forward, Preferably. For a Change?

Courtesy Scott Dorn
The Signature Pointe complex, which is indeed complicated

In last week’s paper version of Unfair Park, Jim Schutze described his day at the annual meeting of DowntownDallas, or, as Jim calls it, an unofficial fief of the Belo Corporation. The story talked about the unveiling of the “Where is your D-spot?" ad campaign, which we revealed this morning, and a speech given by Christopher Leinberger, who wrote a book that says future real estate investments will be focused on building around urban centers, not the ‘burbs.

Schutze tied it all together with the forwardDallas! plan and the Andres brothers’ attempt to turn the Carnival on Henderson Avenue into a mixed-use development. He summed up Leinberger’s statements in one key sentence: “The neighborhoods that hunker down and shut the door to exciting new mixed-use walkable development are going to be sorry.”

Which brings us, at length, to what follows after the jump.

Council member Angela Hunt was also at the meeting and wrote about it on her blog. She disagreed with Leinberger’s conclusion that Dallas is a walkable city and ended with, “I welcome other ideas about making our city more walkable!”

I was right there with her -- usually am. Dallas is far from being a walkable city, and soliciting ideas to help make that a reality sounds great. The Andres brothers’ zoning proposal was an excellent way to promote walkability, but that was in Pauline Medrano’s district. And those who blame Hunt for the Whole Foods fiasco in Lakewood should read what she says about how things ended up the way they did.

So when I heard about a zoning proposal by Fairfield Residential to replace the Signature Pointe Apartments with a mixed-use development that included a Starbucks, Corner Bakery and Potbelly in Hunt’s district, it seemed to fit in with Dallas’ forwardDallas! plan and the whole walkability issue. It sounded like a slam-dunk to me, but when I heard the rezoning was denied by the City Plan Commission in October and Hunt was not supporting it, I was totally blown away.

“There had to be some explanation,” I told myself. “If Hunt has a problem with it, then there just has to be a good reason that I can’t see.”

After looking at documents and speaking with Hunt, the developer, and neighborhood residents opposing the zoning and those in favor of it, I was still left miffed as to why something like this was on the brink of getting the middle finger by Hunt and the rest of the city council at the February 27 agenda meeting, especially since the developer had scaled down the retail and changed the height of the building to accommodate the opposition.

I also went over to the apartments, which are right across the street from Central Market on Lovers Lane. The complex is more than 30 years old and is boarded up with a chain-link fence surrounding it. When I drove up, a security guard (hired by the developer for 24/7 security) immediately came over to see what I was doing. I told him that I was just taking some pictures, and he let me be.

There are plenty of complexes worse than this in Dallas, and several of them are still occupied. However, I learned that in 2007 before the apartments were shut down, the property was a crime haven, resulting in 200 calls to 911 and a visit from the FBI’s anti-terrorism unit.

All this led to my story in this week’s paper version of Unfair Park, which explains the case in detail. One of the more surprising things I learned was that Hunt hadn’t met with the residents supporting the rezoning, many of whom live right behind Signature Pointe. At first, Hunt told me that she hadn’t been asked to meet with anyone, but when a couple items were brought up to jog her memory, she said her staff hadn’t followed up with one request and the other was a situation where she couldn’t attend because her father is ill.

I don’t think there was any conspiracy to avoid meeting with them, and I sympathize with her as she deals with a difficult family issue. Hunt told me that she finds it more helpful to meet with a smaller group of representatives rather than attend community meetings where the developer is educating people about the project. “That isn’t as helpful to me as meeting with people until after they’ve been educated,” she said.

Here’s the bottom line: The building will be four stories instead of the three allowed in the current zoning. The number of proposed units has been reduced to 389, and the developer says the current zoning for the property allows for approximately 390. Fairfield showed me approximately 400 letters from proponents of the rezoning that were sent to Hunt. The apartments will be nice (in the $1,500/mo. range), and the retail will give residents walkable access to more stores in addition to the Central Market, Tom Thumb and other commercial sites near the property.

What’s the fuss? Well, the opposition doesn’t want the retail, thinks traffic will increase substantially and hates the idea of it being four stories instead of three. Hunt doesn’t like the idea of up-zoning (changing the zoning for more density or commercial) because it will set a bad precedent.

At the request of the city, the developer did a traffic study that concluded there wouldn’t be much of a change in traffic for the area. As for the fourth story, I gotta chalk that one up to the old fuddy-duddies. The “no retail” stance is most difficult to understand. There’s a Central Market right next door and a Tom Thumb across the street, so it’s not like this retail is infringing on a secluded residential neighborhood. Also, it’s right near the corner of Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue. When you think about that area, do you think it’s dominated by residential development? Of course not.

As for Hunt’s beliefs, they’re much easier to digest than the neighborhood opposition. Hunt may be just 36 years old, but she’s old-school. She likes to keep neighborhoods the way they have always been, and in some ways, I really admire that. However, this stance can lead to a bad precedent of its own. Forget about setting the precedent of allowing up-zoning for a second, and think about the precedent of telling developers that when they buy land, they’re stuck with the zoning currently allowed on the property. Simply put, this denies progress, and Dallas is already known for that. Isn’t it time for a change?

Hunt should be commended for postponing the vote on this until March 26 because the Plan Commission denied this case with prejudice, meaning it would have taken 12 votes to approve it, and a denial would mean the developer would be stuck with the current zoning for two years. She also agreed to meet with Fairfield and all residents supporting or opposing the zoning at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Ozona Grill & Bar on Greenville Avenue.

The developer has done everything the city has asked. In fact, city staff recommended approval of the previous zoning until it was denied by Commissioner Neil Emmons at the Plan Commission meeting. Fairfield has improved its project since the original request, but the opposition is hell-bent on not having any retail, which makes it impossible to find a reasonable compromise.

The development is going to have upscale apartments and condos, a lot of nice retail, and is very close to a DART station. This project exemplifies forwardDallas!, and if this thing doesn’t happen, the city might as well shit-can the whole plan. On March 26, we’ll find out how forward Dallas really is. --Sam Merten


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