Today at the City Council meeting….

Here are some highlights from today’s council meeting:

Apartments Crime Reduction Program – We approved an ordinance that will require apartment complexes with excessive crime rates to participate in a mandatory crime reduction program administered and enforced by the Police Department. Run-down apartments are a breeding ground for crime, so this new program is absolutely critical. As I said today, though, we can’t make crime prevention a burden that’s born solely by our police; we must invest MUCH more in code enforcement.

Little Forest Hills Conservation District – (District 9) On Councilmember Kadane’s motion, we denied this CD. On zoning cases, I generally defer to the councilmember who represents that district because (1) I believe the voters in that district elected that person to reflect their values (which will be reflected in the councilmember’s zoning decision), (2) voters can vote out someone who makes zoning decisions they don’t agree with, (3) that councilmember has usually worked closely with the community on zoning cases and can best represent their position. I am very supportive of CDs because I’ve seen in my own neighborhood how beneficial it’s been. Someone at the meeting suggested that CDs reduce property values. The facts belie that claim: property values have risen significantly in the M Streets and other CDs in our city; people like the certainty of knowing what type of development can go up around them. Councilmember Kadane had asked the LFH CD proponents to attain 65% support from all residents, and they fell short, with 58%. I know how hard their worked, and my heart goes out to them. I hope LFH is able to find another way to protect their trees and keep themselves “funky,” such as through a planned development district, as was suggested today. Otherwise, I fear we’ll lose what is one of the coolest neighborhoods in our city.

Goodwill Drop-Off on Haskell – Here, Goodwill wanted to put in a small building that would serve as a drop-off for donations. It wouldn’t have had any retail component at all. Surrounding neighbors worried about an increase in traffic on an already busy street, as well as the possibility that people would drop things off while the site was closed, resulting in litter and a haven for the homeless or theives. I worked with Goodwill and the neighborhood for months to try to reach a compromise, and delayed this case more than once. As a matter of right, Goodwill could put in a retail store today without special dispensation from the city, and that is a more intense use than a drop-off. However, at the end of the day, 41 property owners voted “no,” and 41 voted “yes.” With such a split, I couldn’t justify a zoning change. To me, the zoning on the ground is the default, and the property owner has to show a compelling reason to change it. Part of that reason may be that the neighborhood strongly supports the change. Here, that wasn’t the case, and I couldn’t support a zoning change. Goodwill is such an amazing organization and does so much for our city. I wish the neighbors had been able to reach a compromise here.

Far West SUP – Residents near the Far West club at Gaston/Grand had grown frustrated with problems stemming from the club — crime, noise, traffic, etc. Usually, bars have to have a short-term “specific use permit” that lets them operate under certain conditions. The SUP process involves a public hearing and approval of the City Council. A bar that causes problems runs the risk of the neighbors opposing the renewal of the SUP, so the bar has an incentive to be a good neighbor. That is dependent on an SUP that expires every couple of years. Here, for whatever reason, the City Council gave the predecessor to Far West a 99-year SUP. That’s nuts. At the request of the neighborhoods I recommended the city reduce the time period for the SUP and put other restrictions in place. After working cooperatively with the club owner and residents, we were able to reach an agreement on a 5-year SUP with traffic and safety requirements. I’m very proud that we were able to make this change.

Dog Run for CityVet on McKinney – I postponed this for a month so the applicant can work with the surrounding neighbors on trying to reach a compromise.

GPS System for Garbage Trucks – At a cost of $700k, the GPS system is supposed to help track trucks, reduce inefficiencies, and save money. That sounds good, but having ridden on a garbage truck, I saw firsthand some of the problems our sanitation workers encounter that slow them down: overgrown alleys being #1. If we cleared the problem alleys, we’d speed up service and prevent our men from speeding down streets to make up for lost time (not that they should be speeding anyway). I don’t really think we’ve got the money to do this, given today’s economy, but if we do have an extra $700k, I think we should spend it on giving our sanitation workers a raise. They make minimum wage right now, and $700k would almost get them to a living wage (a $3/hr. increase). Alternatively, we could spend that on cleaning up alleys, or hiring 1-2 mechanics that are needed to fix air-conditioners and heaters in the trucks (that are frequently broken). A majority of the council, including me, voted to postpone the matter and have a briefing to get more info.

UNT Law School in Downtown We unanimously authorized the City Manager to enter into final negotiations with the University of North Texas to establish a law school in what is currently the city courthouse. (We desperately need a new courthouse and will include that in the 2010 bond program.) The legislature has to approve the law school, but I am very hopeful that it will pass this session.

Lastly, I’m not shy about speaking up when I disagree with the Mayor, so I want to take a moment to compliment him on the way he handles public hearings. One, he is very respectful of the time people take out of their schedules to come down to City Hall, and tries to move up cases involving large groups of people. Before I was elected, I remember coming to City Hall and spending 8 hours waiting for our neighborhood’s case to be heard. This is a welcome change.

Two, even when a group’s time to speak before the Council has expired, the Mayor lets opponent/advocates come to the microphone and enter their name and opinion into the record. This takes a little time, especially with large groups, but I think it really shows a great courtesy to citizens who have taken off work to spend their afternoon at City Hall.

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