With even Oak Cliff homeowners associations split over the Bishop Davis Land Use & Zoning Study, if nothing else yesterday's public hearing at the City Plan Commission proved that not everyone in Oak Cliff marches lockstep with all the changes afoot on that side of the Trinity River. Despite the staff's recommendation that the plan commission approve the plan, it still had many questions and concerns -- and, in the end, it voted to leave the study of the study "open" and its suggestions "under advisement."
It took a while to get to the Oak Cliff plan -- this ate up a lot of time -- and even after that, the commission voted three times to extend the 15 minutes initially allotted for both sides to speak. And those who spoke out against the changes to the zoning expressed myriad concerns ranging from increased traffic and parking issues to the effect it would have on tree lines. But the opposition's most repeated concerns revolved around the 70-foot (four- to five-story) structures that the rezoning would allow in otherwise two-story home neighborhoods and the perception that many voices from the community have yet to be heard.
"We want to make sure that we hear all the concerns," plan commission chair Joe Alcantar told Unfair Park minutes after adjourning the four-hour-long meeting. He explained that the commission will reconvene on May 20 to continue the public hearing before the proposed zoning changes are passed along to the city council. Alcantar said more time was needed "to make sure everyone is aware of what the plan is."
At least three families that Unfair Park spoke with said that the first time they'd heard about the proposed plans was when they opened their mailboxes to find a blue letter from the City of Dallas advising them of yesterday's public hearing. This, even though the plan's been in the works since the summer of 2004 -- when "several North Oak Cliff stakeholders met to consider how to proactively influence the changes they saw coming to their community," according to the final report done in '09.
Before the meeting was called to order, property owner Joe Alcala sat outside council chambers perusing the blue hearing invite he'd received in the mail. Alcala said he was there to learn more about the plans, as was 11-year Oak Cliff resident Loretta Harlan, who said, "I don't know much more than what's in the letter." Which wasn't much.
The commission asked to hear first from those who support the proposal. Rick Garza was the first to speak. He chaired the 12-person steering committee that put together the proposed plans. Garza gave a brief overview of the history of the study; he also said that 7,000 visitors have been to the the study's Web site, in addition to the 800 who had attended past "community outreach meetings" held to discuss the study and the proposed plans.
Larry Good of Good Fulton & Farrell, the architecture and design firm involved in crafting the rezoning proposal spoke next. "This is a very carefully crafted study and land use plan," Good said -- a plan, he insisted, that "recognizes the diversity of the neighborhood" and its "existing conditions." A dozen more followed Good to the podium, speaking in support of the plan before the time ran out.
Monica Acosta Zamora then spoke. She said she's lived in Oak Cliff for 44 year and told the plan commission she represents 400 residents who live due south of the Bishop Arts District who are opposed to the plan. Their biggest beef, she said, has everything to do with the "four- or five-story" mixed-use developments mentioned in the plan.
"When you have four-story [buildings] that will block your view of the sunshine, come on," she said. "It's gentrification."
Then came Art Garcia, who said he owns a home and property in areas affected by the plan. Garcia served as a member of the 12-person steering committee that developed the plan.
"I am in a difficult position," Garcia said, mentioning that many of the people behind him who support the plan are friends. "I'm not completely against the proposal," he insisted. But he too expressed concerns ranging from the ratio of "proximity slopes" to the 70-foot structures. Said Garcia, "a lot of the residential owners concerns haven't been heard."
Michael Amonett, president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League and third-generation Cliffdweller, agreed with Garcia on that point. "The city should send cards to everyone so that everyone can participate. not just those on e-mail lists," he said. It should be noted that he spoke against the plans as a commercial property owner, not on behalf of the OOCCL.
"We're not playing Monopoly here," he told Unfair Park after the meeting. "This is where we live and work." He said he worries that some of Oak Cliff's "authenticity" could be lost if the plans are approved as-is.
"In this process, it's easy to anticipate," Garza told us when asked if he was surprised by the opposition's comments or concerns -- especially, he said, because of a "significant amount of disinformation." Garza referenced a group of Spanish-speaking residents who attended yesterday's meeting under the false understanding that if the city approved the zoning changes, then their property could be taken by eminent domain.
Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce president Bob Stimson attended the hearing, though other engagements meant that he couldn't stay until the end. We tracked him down this morning.
"I'm thrilled that the plan has gotten this far and is headed down this path," Stimson said. "At the end of the day we'll end up with a plan that is a community vision."