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Deep Ellum Gets Its Way

Barry Annino was at council yesterday to cheer on the city's decisions to lay down the (new) law in Deep Ellum.

Lost in all the ForwardDallas! doings at City Hall yesterday was agenda item No. 50, regarding proposed zoning changes in Deep Ellum. You'd think, after all the furor over the neighborhood's well-documented problems in recent months, this would have been a big deal; ah, not so much. That doesn't mean there weren't folks lined up at City Hall to talk about the problems; to the contrary, tattoo parlor owners came to protest the ordinance that demands parlors now be separated by 300 feet, and dance-club owners showed up to damn the proposal that all clubs and bars in Deep Ellum now have to have specific use permits (SUPs). There was much talk about the mainstreaming of tattoos; stats about tats were offered up at the horseshoe, much to the giggling delight of council members who no doubt sport lower-back butterflies and dragons (Mitchell Rasansky, we're looking at you). And there was much talk, specifically from the owners of Lazerz, about how the dance club's really a sweet, safe place after all. But the discussion was fairly tepid, and the council swiftly passed the litany of regulations that will ostensibly change how Deep Ellum does business, so it can stay open for business.

Barry Annino, the president of the Deep Ellum Foundation and a member of the Deep Ellum Public Improvement District board, says the neighborhood got precisely what it wanted from council yesterday when it voted to: loosen parking restrictions for retail stores, restaurants and residential; force nightclubs to apply for SUPs; and force tattoo parlors to move 300 feet apart within the next 18 months. "The long-term goal is to make it a place where you can live, eat and hang out, not just a place you come down on weekend nights so you can abuse the neighborhood," he tells Unfair Park, the day after he was the only one to speak for the regulations in front of council.

Annino says the new regulations came about after several meetings with some Deep Ellum land owners (including Lou Reese and John Tatum) and attorney Rogert Albright and council members Pauline Medrano and Angela Hunt. They hashed out a plan to keep Deep Ellum on life support till the DART stations open in a few years--a move, Annino hopes, that will reduce the need for cars in Deep Ellum, those driven by patrons and residents. They took the plan to the city staff, which, Annino says, pretty much gave the committee everything it wanted. Which was?

Well, in short, no longer does the city require landlords to have one parking space per every residential space--which is great, Annino says, "because a lot of people don't have cars who live down there, and we are anctipating DART down there, so then you can walk around Deep Ellum." Also, you can now open up a store in Deep Ellum as large as 5,000 square feet without having to have a single parking space, where before the city required one parking spot for every 240 square feet of retail. And no longer will restaurants wanting to open sidewalk cafes need to add more parking; same goes for art galleries and "libraries," like that'll ever happen. On the flipside, dance clubs such as the 12,000-square foot Uropa, long identified as a problematic destination luring troublemakers down to Deep Ellum, will be required to have 90 parking spots, while smaller venues with, say, 2,500 square feet, will need nada.

"The goal is to get all these places smaller, a little bit more--what's the word?--unique," he says. "We want smaller bars, smaller clubs, not these big dance halls people pile into on weekends. The ordinance will eliminate the big guys. It's going to encourage retail, encourage restaurants, encourage service industries like a grocery store, which we're working on. Those kind of things. We want to make to a place to live as opposed to a place to abuse, like it is now. Now, it's not working."

The city will also require all clubs, whether they offer live music or dance clubs, to get SUPs, which demand that a business be "compatible with adjacent property and consistent with the character of the neighborhood." And, allegedly, they're tough to get: As we reported in January, every year city council has to approve an applicant's SUP, and a club such as Hush, linked to at least one violent crime in 2005, would probably get its application denied. Between the parking requirements and the SUP restrictions, Deep Ellum is working to rid itself of the dance clubs, one city ordinance at a time, which is why Lazerz's owner was downtown yesterday pleading its case as a good neighbor. Fact is, Annino says, he hopes they all move away--to Lower Greenville, if need be. Avi Adelman will be thrilled, but at least he won't be bored.

As for the poor tattoo parlors, among the only thriving businesses in Deep Ellum, Annino says this: "We have five on Main Street. That street was supposed to be cool retail, but instead it's tattoo parlor, vacancy, tattoo parlor, vacancy, adult novelty shop, two vacancies in a row, another tattoo parlor. We want other retail; people want retail. They don't want to be next to two tattoo parlors. What we're asking the tatto parlors to do is move 300 feet apart, that's all. We're not trying to kick them out." From the sound of it yesterday, they would beg to disagree.

"Look, all this means is that you have to be a good citizen, a good neighbor, now," Annino says. "You can't come in and have a sloppy place with crime in the front door. There won't be any excuses now. Those things will be over. Hopefully we will have some good galleries come in and get the creative people back. All of what we're doing is in the best interest of Deep Ellum." --Robert Wilonsky

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