Standing near the pool at the Belmont Hotel in what 2007 mayoral race runner-up Ed Oakley called "the best part of the city of Dallas," mayoral candidate Ron Natinsky this morning announced his five-pronged approach to implement the West Dallas Urban Structure and Guidelines plan. He said the first step is to designate urban innovation zones, the first of which would include the area surrounded by Interstate-30 to the south, the Trinity River to the north and east and the Sylvan corridor to the west.
"We'll move into a small, specialized area where a completely new menu of incentives, programs and regulations not used elsewhere in the city will be tested, and the goal will be to bring this vision into fruition," said the current Far North Dallas council member.
Created by the Dallas CityDesign Studio and approved by the city council March 9, the plan aims to put a put a walkable, complete-street face on an area fast becoming one of the city's most desirable places to live. But Natinsky said while the city has "a big box of tools," it doesn't have all the right ones.
"We need new tools in our toolbox, and we need tools that are specifically aimed at small and medium sized businesses that will be the foundation of the businesses in this planned area," he said.
The process of creating the plan included several public meetings, and Natinsky said he will work to ensure that input from citizens is given to city staff.
Natinsky also said the city must revise its guidelines so that the plan can serve as a catalyst to "help move the city forward." He said the city should give the private sector "a helping hand" by providing "innovative financial incentives not currently being used," temporary use permits, along with new parking and landscape regulations.
"To burden the development community with regulations that are not applicable to their specific business and piece of property are things that we have to look at," he said.
Finally, Natinsky said he wants to create a concierge service for developers -- a destination where they can discuss the plan with a knowledgeable staffer.
"We may have some failures, but if we don't try, we're not going to be able to be successful as we move forward," he said.
Council member Delia Jasso, who has endorsed Natinsky's candidacy, said the plan needs a cheerleader, and Natinsky is best suited for that role because he knows the complexity of urban development and the problems developers face.
"We can't afford a learning curve," she said after complaining that the windy conditions messed up her hair. "We've got too much going on right now."
Natinsky's exact five points weren't clear during the announcement, but campaign spokesperson Becky Mayad was kind enough to send along the following.
1) DESIGNATE URBAN INNOVATION ZONE. The Council will work with City staff to designate the CityDesign Studio Plan area as an Urban Innovation Zone. This will be a small specialized area where a completely new menu of incentives and regulations not used elsewhere in the city get tested with the goal of bringing this vision to fruition.
2) CREATE A NEW BIZ TOOLKIT. The Council will charge City staff to come back in less than six months with a new toolkit for the area. The business community's document, Putting it All Together, provides a host of ideas for what could be in the toolkit. Those ideas stem from meetings conducted with area developers and research into best practices in cities around the world.
Examples of the tools might include:
- A new temporary-use permit that is a hybrid between the city's current Special Events permit and a Long-Term Use permit. They would be used for interim, temporary or seasonal use businesses and events like art shows, pop-up cafes, and holiday decoration stores, etc.
- Revised parking guidelines that will let the driver decide where to park when patronizing a business rather than forcing each business to offer a set amount of parking spaces regardless of whether they are open or not
- More flexible landscaping requirements that encourage responsible use of our precious water resources and make sense for more compact urban neighborhoods like those that will become urban innovation zones.
3) OFFER CONCIERGE SERVICES. The Council will work with City staff to identify concierges whose job it will be to streamline the permitting and licensing processes for developers wanting to build or renovate in an Urban Innovation Zone.
4) ANALYZE WHAT WORKS. Once a set of tools have been approved by the Dallas City Council and applied to the Urban Innovation Zone, the City will watch to see which ones are effective and which are not (timeframe to be determined).
5) ROLL OUT NEW URBAN INNOVATION ZONES ACROSS DALLAS. Natinsky will work with fellow Council members and business/community and neighborhood leaders to replicate the CityDesign Studio process in similar neighborhoods around the city. The goal is to apply the successful tools there and perhaps test other innovative tools as well, based on other neighborhoods' specific goals and objectives.
Follow the author on Twitter @SamMerten.
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