Organizers of last night's public hearing on the Bishop/Davis Land Use and Zoning Study at Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff tried to head off any contentious quarreling and outbursts from the get-go. "Be respectful to everyone. There really isn't any reason to not be," organizers said. Play nice, or stay off the swings.
Attendees who came to fight were warned to turn right back around: "We're not here to have an argument over the pro's and con's of the issue," former Dallas City Plan Commissioner Neil Emmons told the audience. Spontaneous applause erupted for comments about public transportation and the possibility of the area turning into a southern outpost of Uptown, but the Q&A with David Cossum, assistant director of the city's Sustainable Development and Construction Department, remained wholly civil, even downright procedural. If you love graphs and maps, you would have loved this meeting. The City's got a lot of them for you to look at online with regard to the study.
The first rule of Bishop/Davis Land Use and Zoning Study is that you ask only questions of Bishop/Davis Land Use and Zoning Study for the entirety of the hour and a half meeting and, and only after sitting through a basic overview of building height requirements with regard to residential proximity slopes (RPS) for each of the B/D plan's eight sub-areas. The point of a RPS, ostensibly, is to ensure that massively tall buildings (or buildings that feel massively tall in comparison) aren't erected next to smaller ones. (Check out Go Oak Cliff for a pretty good explanation of this.)
The other stand-out issues: What happens to the independent tire and auto repair shops in the area? The B/D plan doesn't allow any new ones to be established, and technically the existing ones are against the rules. But they've been grandfathered in
, and, should the owners ever sell or wish to change the use, they've got to go through the same hoops other businesses in the area would. (Correction:If the shops are sold, the new owner can continue said use as long as they get a certificate of occupancy.) Related: Nowhere are drive-thrus, tattoo shops, piercing studios or massage parlors allowed (I know!). Most of the commercial areas are zoned for antique-type and retail shops, residential use and restaurants, but only pending specific use permits.
But you wanna hear what got everyone hubbubbing, don't you? Journey with us, Friends, to the magical land after the jump.
A woman who's lived behind the Bishop Arts Cafe Brazil for some time, and who was dismayed with the allowance of five-story buildings in her area, asked Cossum, "What recourse do I have to fight this? I don't understand how 75-feet [height upper limit] is in keeping with the architectural standards of the neighborhood and the historic standards." Applause aplenty ensued.
Cossum opted not to take on the second part of her question -- that might have invited pro's and con's debate, after all -- and simply told her there are "ways to initiate" zoning changes. Requests to the city can be made, authorized hearings can be called. (So, she's not definitively screwed. But she is probably in for a hassle.)
Logistics, as well as aesthetics, drew strong reactions. A Luzerne Avenue resident spoke about the B/D study's hope-slash-assumption that cars and parking won't be too serious of a problem because of increased pedestrian activity: "I'm concerned about not addressing public transportation as an alternative to automobiles. It seems premature."
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Cossum's response: "That's a valid point. Part of this vision that the plan represents is a move to public transportation." Cossum admitted that streetcar and other public transport plans are "not following the same time chronology" as the developments in B/D. "But clearly the vision for this area is introducing new transit options."
Another hubbub came after a middle-aged guy offered "more of an opinion" and was asked if he could maybe make that opinion into the form of a question. He didn't really, and he directed his statement more at the larger audience than Cossum: "There's a lot of fear here. All's I have to say is get in your car, drive up to Uptown, drive around McKinney, drive around and look at it. See how vibrant it is."
To which someone shouted: "But we don't live there!" And there was much applause.
And that's really the crux of the issue: People choose Oak Cliff because it is not Uptown, not even close. The question is whether or not the B/D will result in an Uptown-like atmosphere. A woman I spoke with on the way out of the meeting expressed concern that new construction, as it does in the newer, planned parts of Dallas, "would look like some kind of Italian villa," and not the 70-year-old historic storefronts of the area. Time will tell. As it does.