If there's one thing Unfair Park has taken away from the high-stakes civic lesson that's been the Cityplace Sam's Club case thus far, it's this: The notices sent to homeowners telling them about proposed zoning changes in their neighborhoods are terrible.
The notices are meant to let people who own property within 200 feet of a site up for rezoning know about the change, in case the neighbors object to, say, a big honking warehouse store in their 'hood. In practice, the city's complexly layered levels of special zoning make the notices opaque and essentially meaningless. Mixed-use zoning, for example, sounds like just the thing many people say they want: dense, walkable outcroppings of businesses and homes that reflect their neighborhoods. Sometimes that is what it means, but thanks to Byzantine mechanisms like planned development districts and specific use permit waivers it can also mean a 130,000-square-foot discount Sam's Club.
That's what happened to residents in East Village, who yesterday lost in their fight to win a temporary injunction that would have temporarily blocked work on a Sam's Club at U.S. 75 and Haskell Avenue. Even the judge who ruled against them chided the city for its lack of transparency, despite Assistant City Attorney Christopher Caso's repeated assertion that notices sent to neighbors were "perfect."
Councilmember Scott Griggs agrees there's a problem.
"It's disheartening. Our notice needs to be better," he says, "I don't think the notice was adequate."
Griggs' District 1 is facing a major rezoning of its own with the Oak Cliff Gateway, a 890-acre area that includes Lake Cliff Park in far North Oak Cliff. Residents of the area have been given as much access as possible, including copies of the zoning ordinance for the area and consistent updates from Griggs about the City Plan Commission's activities. Tonight, the first of at least two town hall meetings about the gateway will take place in Methodist Central Hospital's Hitt Auditorium.
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"We put out all the details for everyone to read 60 days before the first CPC briefing," Griggs says. "That's to give the public time to review and to give comment. That's the best way to create trust with that type of transparency. Tonight we're going to have a meeting to say, 'These are the issues that we know about, these are the issues that we're going to work through, and is there anything that we're missing.'"
Plans for the area include exactly what many East Village residents thought they were getting instead of a Sam's, multipurpose, walkable development serviced by public transit.
Griggs hopes that similar transparency will become the norm citywide.
"The city notice procedure does need to change," he says. "Citizens need to get ordinances sooner so they have look at them and to give feedback."