The B.S. Plan

Can I tell you the worst part in this whole exercise the Dallas City Council and the mayor are going through about adopting a so-called "comprehensive plan" for the city? Forget what's in the plan. Whatever's in it, it's irrelevant.

In fact, that's the worst part. This deal about adopting a master plan to determine what kind of city we're going to be in the future is a bunch of totally empty, hypocritical, two-faced, blah-blah drivel. You want to know what kind of city we're going to be? Watch what they do to the Timbercreek Apartments at the next council meeting.

They're going to dump more than 1,000 mainly Latino families out on their ears so a powerful developer can make money on the dirt. In a direct 180-degree contradiction of all the oily, high-minded bleating in their so-called plan, they're going to tear up a perfectly viable, healthy low-income community.

They're going to give a big wet City Hall blessing to the developer so he can take a rolling, timbered, 44-unit tract on a gorgeous creek and bulldoze it into the Stone Age. Instead of a peaceful home for thousands of working-class people, we'll get some fat Wal-Mart-style box in there that will vacuum-hose the cash out of people's pockets for the next 10 years and then shut down and blow town.

They're going to tell you and me that this is progress. Why progress? Well, because City Hall, which can't balance its checkbook, collect the parking fines or keep track of the library books, is broke. Imagine that! And by dumping these families out on the street and churning the property, the city will be able to gin up some new revenue to feed its tax habit.

The steward of this debacle is city council member and mayoral candidate Gary Griffith, in whose district Timbercreek is located. But Griffith is not sponsoring the implosion of this community because he's a mean guy. He's not.

He honestly believes that the residents must vacate and the developer must be allowed to churn the dirt because City Hall's first duty is to serve the god of dirt-churning, whom we shall henceforward refer to as "CHURNO!" And this is where we get to the red meat.

The city council is almost certainly going to enact its new master plan into law next month. From there on out, the city council is supposed to obey the plan's lofty premises in making all future zoning decisions. The plan, which they call "ForwardDallas!" (oh, please), says: "Creating opportunities for affordable housing throughout the entire region is a necessary component of the ForwardDallas! Vision." Isn't that special?

But according to the law of CHURNO!, if some baggy-pockets real estate developer comes along and buys a piece of dirt, then he is guaranteed a profit on that dirt even if he paid too much for it. And it's City Hall's most sacred duty, according to the law of CHURNO!, to make that profit happen. How? By changing the zoning for him.

Oh, you bought some dirt that was zoned multifamily? The apartments on it were chugging along just fine until you bought them. But now you've borrowed all sorts of money, and anyway you want to double your money in a couple years, so you want the city council to change the zoning. Turn it into retail zoning. Then you can scrape the apartments, peddle the dirt to some big-box retailer if you've played your cards right and make ooh-la-la's of money. CHURNO! will be very pleased.

In all sincerity and without a sneaky bone in his body, Gary Griffith told me that this is why Timbercreek needs to be turned upside down and the babies and the mamas shook out. He said he asked Trammell Crow Company, the developer that bought the property last year, if they could keep the apartments on it or replace them with new apartments.

"They told me on several occasions that with every inquiry they made toward any type of multifamily development, it didn't work economically on that property. They said they explored that and were not able to find anybody who could put together a program to make it work economically, which means they may have paid a lot for it."

But apartments are on it now. They are small apartments--1,084 units averaging 710 square feet each--and 30 years old, built in 1976. But they're there.

"I think those apartments are rapidly becoming toward the end of probably their useful life," he said. "I mean, they're 30-plus years old. Apartments get run down, and continuing to fix them up is a larger and larger battle."

But they aren't run down yet. I toured them the other day with one of the tenants, and the place actually is quite beautiful. Say this for Trammell Crow: They seem to have spent a lot of money keeping the place up and policing the grounds since acquiring it.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze