City Council Members Charge Each Other With Spreading "Fake News" Over Routine Zoning Change

Rickey Callahan, Wednesday.
Rickey Callahan, Wednesday.
City of Dallas
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This story, at least in part, is about a zoning change. But it's interesting, we promise.

On Wednesday afternoon, as new Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax sat in on his first city council meeting, the council heard an item about a seemingly innocuous zoning change. Michael Coker, a land developer, pitched it to the council: The owners of a big parcel of property at Military Parkway and North Saint Augustine Road in southeast Dallas wanted a zoning change from the city so that they could build six mini-warehouses on a plot that's currently zoned for retail.

City staff recommended approval of the change. So did the City Plan Commission, by a 14-0 vote. Neighbors, after receiving notice of the change, hadn't sent back any negative responses or shown up at any of the community meetings hosted by developers. This thing was seemingly a slam dunk.

Or at least it was, until Tiffinni Young, whose District 7 includes the Military Parkway and North Saint Augustine Road intersection, moved to deny the zoning change. Then Rickey Callahan, who represents District 5, which is adjacent to the proposed warehouses but doesn't include them, was recognized by the mayor and things really got weird.

After making it clear that he had "absolutely zero" to gain from the proposed redevelopment of the property despite his extensive real estate business in the area and having been chair of the local chamber of commerce in Pleasant Grove, Callahan came out swinging for Coker and the development team.

"I know these gentleman to be honorable men. They're trying to develop this. I've known them in the past. They've developed other properties here and I've always noted them to be very positive in whatever developments that they've chosen," Callahan said.

Any objections based on the desire for better development, Callahan mused, were moot because of the heavy power lines that span the property, as were neighborhood concerns that drugs would be dealt near the warehouses.

"Folks, you can sell drugs out of a gas station, an apartment, a house, a vehicle or you could just sell drugs out on the street corner," Callahan said. "That is just not, I think, a fair-minded assessment of the entire situation."

The property, Callahan lamented, has been vacant for more than a quarter century because the neighborhood has shouted down proposals to develop it, which hasn't been fair to the property's owners. Now, he said, a minority of people in the area were being marshaled — presumably by Young, but Callahan didn't say that — to oppose the project.

"Thirty-five years, every time they've gone out to try to make something happen to end their involvement in this property, a few have decided that 'Oh, we just don't want that.'"

Young didn't want to hear any of it.

"There’s a theme today of fake news, and so I want to clear up a few things because there have been some alternative facts presented already and I see that’s the theme of the day. I’m looking at the record here, it was a vote of 14 to 0, not 15 to 0. District 7 had a vacancy at the time," Young said.

This was her district, and Callahan damn sure wasn't going get away with meddling. "Let me say that there is something called neighborhood self-determination that I campaigned on, that I believe strongly in, and there are many neighborhoods around the property, not just the one that is the Fair Creek neighborhood," Young said.

There was a church in the neighborhood that might be interested in the property that's sat vacant for so long, Young said. "I’m sure they may be interested. I’m not sure," she said.

Given the chance to respond by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Callahan lobbed a similar "fake news" charge at Young, foreshadowing what one can only imagine a ballooning usage of the term around the horseshoe, before reading the writing on the wall. "These guys have just not been treated fairly at all, and I just resent the way this came down," Callahan said.

The 13 members of the council, including Rawlings, who decided not to speak on the zoning all voted with Young, and the zoning change was defeated, 14-1.

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