Life isn't fair. It's why kids starve. It's why puppies suffer. It's why the people who live next to Cityplace will soon also be living next to a 130,000-square-foot Sam's Club.
Dallas' City Plan Commission confirmed this afternoon that yep, the big box Trammell Crow has planned for the corner of Carroll Avenue and Central Expressway, much to the chagrin of neighbors, is in fact a done deal. All that's left is for commissioners to put their rubber stamp on the final development plan, which should happen next month.
Neighbors, most clad in red shirts and "No Mega Store" buttons, were optimistic entering Thursday's hearing that the CPC would vote to reopen the zoning debate, which could undo the decision it made, apparently unwittingly, to allow an enormous big-box store so close to the city center.
The fact that the city was even considering reopening debate was a small miracle orchestrated by Plan Commissioner Bobby Abtahi last month after the commission postponed consideration of Trammell Crow's final development plan. They also enjoyed the advantage of public opinion, it being fairly clear that the East Village they were sold by developers did not include a 100,000-square-foot retailer. Unless, of course, you buy the suspiciously positive results of Trammell Crow's telephone survey.
It must also have given them heart to see a Trammell Crow rep stand at the dais and warn the CPC that reopening the zoning case would have a "chilling effect on the development community" and "make the city of Dallas look bad." If nothing else, it proved the righteousness of the cause.
He also denied that his company had ever misled anyone.
"The accusation that we have somehow baited and switched or not been fair in our representations -- that's just not correct."
The wind started leaving their sails midway through Abtahi's gentle grilling of city planner Neva Dean. After establishing that it probably wasn't quite clear on the city-issued zoning-change notification cards that the request for mixed-use zoning at the Cityplace site would also open the door for a 100,000-foot retail store, Abtahi paused.
"If we were to reopen the hearing," he continued after a preemptive expression of regret, "would the city be required to go ahead with their development plan and approve their permits?"
Dean, after some off-stage murmuring among city planning execs and legal staff, said yes. "Staff believes that we have a valid ordinance, and we are moving forward with that."
Put another way, Trammell Crow will already be likely have already begun building the Sam's Club by the time the renewed zoning debate really gets under way, likely while preparing a lawsuit against the Plan Commission for reneging on the original zoning deal.
By the time District 2 Plan Commissioner Gabriel Soto got around to introducing a motion to open the zoning case, he got a reluctant second from Ann Bagley, who explained later that she didn't want to motion to die for lack of a second.
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After the meeting, neighbors milling about in the City Hall flag room vowed to continue to fight the development, they're just not quite sure how yet. Jonas Park, the Korean-born yoga instructor-turned-neighborhood activist, spoke mainly about how unfair the process has been, about the phantom, Sam's-less "East Village" they were shown, about how Trammell Crow reps had seemed to listen eagerly to his proposals to urbanize the Sam's Club by eliminating surface parking and creating a more "park-like setting" only to thoroughly ignore them. They preyed on his naive trust. His heart, he says, is broken.
The one potential upside, aside from tractor-sized barrels of animal crackers within biking distance of downtown, was grasped for by Abtahi.
"I don't know if we'll come out of this with very many positives except that a neighborhood that wasn't very organized before" has come together and now has a pretty good foundation for future activism.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.