Why Plan?

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Jung says no matter what anybody calls the map now--vision illustration, ink blot, bubblegum joke--developers will use it as a statement of city policy in the future.

"So we convene one of these six-month processes," Jung says. "Whoever it is that likes what the guy from Portland, Oregon, painted onto Lakewood Shopping Center 15 years ago will hold that up and say, 'Game, set and match. The official policy of the city of Dallas is that I should get what I want for Lakewood Shopping Center.'"

Experience has taught Jung that all the best intentions and promises in the world will be meaningless sooner than anybody thinks, and at that point what will count will be the document. Only.

City council member Angela Hunt represents District 14 in East Dallas and Oak Lawn rimming the Park Cities. She thinks the overall thrust of the comprehensive plan will be pressure for massive redevelopment.

"As we increase densities in the city and have more concrete in Uptown and State-Thomas, for example, it's essential that we require developers to set aside concentrated green space," Hunt said last week. She says this plan doesn't do that, and city staff and the consultant have told her they don't want to do that.

"The response I get is, 'As a general policy matter, we want to encourage green space, but we don't want to over-regulate with this plan.'"

The problem with that, she says, is that staff and the consultant have been happy to regulate in the other direction. For example, the plan goes into exhaustive detail on parking regulations in order to allow developers to provide fewer off-street parking spots.

"The drafters had no problem making this a regulatory plan when it benefits developers," she said.

Virginia McAlester is a nationally recognized author and expert on urban residential architecture and for years has been one of the most influential voices for neighborhood preservation in Dallas. Like Jung and Hunt, McAlester also has been through bruising battles over zoning. She thinks the comprehensive plan is a great idea in theory, but she says the city will pay in blood if the plan gets rushed through the approval process before the kinks are out.

"A comprehensive plan for Dallas that directs where new growth should go and that does it in exciting mixed-use walking neighborhoods, like the Uptown/State-Thomas area, will bring our city a host of economic and cultural benefits and will give people choice in where they live and how they live," McAlester told me.

"But we don't want our great enthusiasm for this higher density and new urbanism in the right place to rush us into a plan that might have some unintended consequences and could damage some of what's good about the city.

"The plan as a whole has a chance to do something wonderful for our city. We simply have to make sure that the details of the plan as written match the wonderful visions that it puts in our minds, and that's not there yet."

I also spoke last week to former council member Veletta Lill, who represented District 14 before Angela Hunt. Lill, a strong supporter of the plan, was too polite to call me a nutcase--we were at a small table at the Lakewood Starbucks--and she said, "I'm hesitant to use the word paranoid."

But I get the impression she thinks I'm a paranoid nutcase. So what? So does my wife.

The plan is just a plan, she said several times. "This is not zoning." She said the map really isn't a map. "It's blobs of color on a page." She said a process is already in place, once this initial stage of the plan has been adopted, to do focused mini-plans for specific neighborhoods providing the level of detail and reassurance that McAlester, Hunt and Jung look for.

Lill is a smart person; she was a great representative for District 14; her credentials as a defender of neighborhoods are above smirch. But Mike Jung is real smart too, and so is McAlester, and so is Hunt.

Right now the plan is supposed to get its final full briefing before the city council next week. At the plan commission hearing on it I attended at the end of last week, city staff hadn't even finished a final draft!

They're not even done writing it! The rough draft is hundreds of pages. And they want the council to start deliberating on it next week? That's crazy.

At the conclusion of last week's plan commission hearing, Neil Emmons, commission member for city council District 14, said: "I believe this comprehensive plan represents the constitution that will undergird all future zoning petitions. There is nothing more important in my opinion that we will ever consider."

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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