Plan Commission Approves Lower Greenville Plan

Late this afternoon, the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve a plan to require businesses on Lower Greenville to obtain a permit from the city if they want to stay open after midnight.  According to Andrea over at Unfair Park, the center section of the chambers was packed with supporters.

The unified support for this effort is unprecedented in Lower Greenville — all of the surrounding neighborhood associations, major property owners (Andres Properties and Madison Partners), and business owners have come together to transform Lower Greenville from a dangerous liability into a remarkable community asset.  Many, many thanks to everyone who took off from work today to spend their afternoon at City Hall.  I know it was a long wait, but your presence spoke volumes about the broad-based support this important effort enjoys.

We’re taking back Lower Greenville and over the next twelve months, we’re going to see an amazing transformation.  Thank you to everyone who worked so hard on this!  The plan will now move on to the city council, and I’ll let you know when the public hearing is set (sometime in January or February).

Flower Mound Denies Gas Drilling Near Lake Grapevine

Last night, I attended a meeting of the Flower Mound Oil and Gas Board of Appeals.  One of the two public hearings of the evening involved a request by Keystone Exploration for variances for a hydraulic fracturing gas well just 220 feet from Lake Grapevine, one of the lakes Dallas uses for drinking water.  I went to speak against the request.

The meeting started at 6:30 p.m. with the other public hearing item up first (a request by another drilling company for a variance to drill within 1000 feet of a school).  The five member panel (with one alternate) asked excellent questions and were very engaged.  One thing that I found troubling about the company’s presentation was that their attorney kept threatening to sue the city and the panel members individually if the city didn’t grant their variance.

When the hearing was opened to public comment, many residents voiced their opposition with the proposed variance and dismay with the intimidation tactics.  Opposition representatives put on a very persuasive Powerpoint.  One very thoughtful gentleman even proposed the panel go into closed session to get advice from their attorney due to the company’s threats of litigation.  Interestingly, the panel did so, then returned.

One board member moved to approve the variance, and I was disheartened, but then no one seconded the motion, so I thought it had died for lack of a second.  Nope, another member seconded it.  It seemed to me the panel had been cowed by the threats of a lawsuit.  But wait — then the chair called the question, and each board member one by one voted “no.”  I guess it was some parliamentary procedural rule that requires them to make a motion to approve, then vote it down.  I don’t really know, but given the facts laid out at the hearing, I think they made the right call.

Our public hearing didn’t start until around 10 p.m. or so.  During Keystone’s presentation, they requested numerous variances, not the least of which was one to let them drill within 500 feet of a lake.  They claimed they would take safety precautions to make sure the chemicals used in the fracking process weren’t leaked into Lake Grapevine (220 feet away from the drill site, with land sloping towards the lake).

I had a chance to speak around 11:15 p.m., and I spent my three minutes urging the panel to deny Keystone’s variance request.  (At my request, the Dallas Water Utility also sent a letter to the board cautioning against granting the variance.)

I pointed out that Dallas uses Lake Grapevine for drinking water, and provides water to 23 suburbs, including the Town of Flower Mound.  (The city of Grapevine and the Park Cities water utility use also use the lake.)  While I appreciated that the fact that the company profiting from the gas drilling claimed they’d put in place various safety measures, there have been too many incidents across the country where fracking has contaminated drinking water.  Numerous levels of government are currently studying the safety of fracking — all the way from the EPA (whose study is to be completed in 2012) to several states, as well as local municipalities like Fort Worth.  So there is no assurance that the measures the company proposed will indeed be sufficient to protect Lake Grapevine.  Water in North Texas is too precious a resource to risk contamination.  I left around 11:30 p.m. and the meeting was still going on, with opponents stepping up to the mic.

This morning I was pleased to learn that the board unanimously denied the variance, noting that they were uncomfortable with the site’s close proximity to the lake and didn’t believe the proposed berm was enough to prevent floodwaters from carrying chemicals to the lake.  Thank you, Flower Mound!

TOMORROW: Plan Commission Hearing on Lower Greenville

Tomorrow, the City Plan Commission will vote on a proposal to require Lower Greenville businesses to get a permit from the city to operate after midnight. This effort enjoys broad, unprecedented support from all surrounding neighborhood associations, major property owners, business owners, the Dallas Police Department, and Councilmembers Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano. PLEASE SUPPORT THIS EFFORT AND HELP US CLEAN UP LOWER GREENVILLE by doing the following:

  • EMAIL the Plan Commission at Yolanda.Hernandez@DallasCityHall.com and encourage them to vote FOR this proposal.  Let them know how important this is for our neighborhood and for the future of Lower Greenville.  Give them your name and address.
  • ATTEND the Plan Commission hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, December 16 at Dallas City Hall (1500 Marilla St., Council Chambers on the 6th Floor).  Even if you don’t speak, your presence shows important support.
  • RETURN BLUE REPLY CARD in support to the city by noon today (if you own property within 200 feet of Lower Greenville, you will have received a reply card).

Sincerely,

  • Diana Souza, Belmont Neighborhood Assn. President
  • Patricia Carr, Lower Greenville Neighborhood Assn. President
  • John Scarborough, Lowest Greenville West Neighborhood Assn. President
  • Will Short, Vickery Place Neighborhood Assn. President
  • Ted Thompson, Greenland Hills Neighborhood Assn. President
  • Michelle Love, Hudson Heights Neighborhood Assn. President

A FEW FACTS….

Why is this being proposed?
Lower Greenville has lost its balance: too few restaurants, neighborhood pubs, and merchants open during the day and evening, and too many bars open only late at night. Nearby residents put up with the crime, noise, traffic, litter, and other problems that this over-saturation of problem bars brings to our neighborhood. Taxpayer dollars and city resources are thrown away in a losing battle to keep the area safe and under control late at night. Worst of all, YOU have few places to shop and spend quality time with your friends and neighbors. The retail mix does not reflect the surrounding area’s makeup.

Why not just crack down on the “bad bars”?
The legal processes that the city has at its disposal to address this imbalance of businesses are not enough to fix the problem. When the city is successful in auditing a bad bar and persuading a court to close it down, another bad bar just takes its place. The process starts over. This piecemeal approach to enforcement has been tried for years and is never going to fix Lower Greenville. This proposal allows citizens to have input about who is open late at night, and holds bad operators accountable.

Are you trying to shut down Lower Greenville at midnight and close all the bars?
No! The goal is simply to bring some balance back to Lower Greenville and reduce the impact of businesses that operate late at night, not close down all bars or eliminate all nightlife. No businesses will be shut down as a result of this proposed permitting process. All businesses may continue to operate until midnight with no permit.

What other changes are envisioned for Lower Greenville?
If this permit requirement is approved, the city will spend $1.3 million of 2006 Bond Funds for an extreme makeover for Lower Greenville. Starting NEXT SUMMER, the blocks between Bell and Alta will be repaved with wider sidewalks, street trees, antique lighting with matching trash bins and benches, parallel parking, and improved pedestrian crosswalks. The rest of the street from Belmont to Bryan will be redone in the 2012 Bond Program.

  • Who supports this proposal?
    Belmont Neighborhood Association
  • Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association
  • Lowest Greenville West Neighborhood Association
  • Hudson Heights Neighborhood Association
  • Vickery Place Neighborhood Association
  • Greenland Hills Neighborhood Association
  • Major property owners
  • Business owners
  • The Dallas Police Department
  • City Councilmembers Hunt and Medrano

City Unveils Plans for Trail Safety Improvements

Following the tragic accident on the Katy Trail that took the life of Lauren Huddleston in October, I met with board members from the Friends of the Katy Trail, park staff, public works staff, and police to discuss an immediate action plan to address trail safety.  I challenged them to come up with a comprehensive plan within 45 days.  This memorandum is a summary of the resulting work plan.

The plan is robust and addresses both immediate and long-term safety needs.  Here are a few highlights of the immediate improvements:

  • Increased police presence on the trail
  • Improvements to the street crossings at the Katy Trail at Harvard Dr. and at Knox St.
  • Restriping the Katy Trail
  • Updated trail safety guidelines

I am most excited about the following two aspects of our plan which I believe will have a long-term, positive impact:

First, we have created the Dallas Trail Safety Advisory Committee, comprised of city staff, key park board members, a nationally-recognized local trail planner, and members of key stakeholder groups.  This group will begin meeting this week and is tasked with developing consensus on appropriateness and feasibility of various ideas of improving trail safety.  Some of their topics of discussion will include:

  • Facility design standards (width, separation, etc.)
  • User behavior and concerns
  • Regulation and enforcement (police, radar signage, speed limits, etc.)
  • Pertinent city codes and ordinances

Secondly, we are launching a dynamic advertising campaign to promote trail safety.  Elements of the campaign may include:

  • Trail signage
  • Brochures/flyers/ banners/posters
  • Billing inserts (water bills, etc.)
  • Advertisements (newspapers, billboards, magazines, etc.)
  • Public service announcements (radio and television)
  • Internet applications (websites, social media, etc)
  • Retail and office applications (bike shops, running stores, veterinarian, clinics, etc)

My thanks to Assistant Director of the Parks Department, Willis Winters, and his team, as well as the Friends of the Katy Trail, for working diligently to develop this important, comprehensive safety plan.

Council Approves Important City Court Improvements

While serving as chair of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee, one of my goals has been to get the council more educated about and involved in the city’s court system.  For too long, the city had neglected the municipal courts, resulting in back-logged cases, a low collection rate on fines, out-of-date or non-existent court technology, poor customer service, and an inefficient use of tax dollars and city resources.

So for the last three years, we have improved how we select our municipal judges as well as embarked on a much-needed efficiency study of our courts.  Both efforts have resulted in substantial improvements in our court system, and provide a blueprint for continued changes.

I remember when Councilmember Jerry Allen and I toured our municipal courts three years ago along with judges, bailiffs, court administrators, police, and prosecutors.  One thing that stood out was the inefficient system for processing police citations.

Boxes of handwritten tickets were delivered to the court daily.  The tickets were sorted by one group of people, scanned in by another, then another group manually entered the information into the computer system.  The process was not only unnecessarily labor-intensive, but rife with opportunity for mistakes.  If a date were mistyped or a name entered incorrectly at any point in the process, the ticket could be tossed.  That meant people violating the rules of the road would go unpunished, as well as revenue being lost to the city.  The process could take as long as ten days to enter a citation into the computer system.  So if you wanted to pay your citation, you couldn’t for at least ten days.

So yesterday, the Council approved a contract for a new “e-citation” process which will help eliminate this tedious and outdated manual paper ticket process currently used by our police and courts.

Phase 1 of the new system will cost $620,000 over five years but will result in saving and revenue enhancements of $1,370,000.  This project is part of the ongoing implementation of our efficiency study, and in January and February, we will bring to additional changes before the council for approval. 

Over the last year and a half, we’ve made significant progress:

  • Collection of fines is up $3 million
  • Average revenue per case is up from $69 to $83
  • Docket capacity is up 70%
  • The time it takes to get a court date has been reduced from 9 months to 3 months

I’m proud of these significant improvements to our court system and pleased to have had the opportinity to work with my council colleagues and city staff who were equally committed to making these much-needed changes.

Exciting Changes Coming to Tietze Park!

On Wednesday, the City Council approved some exciting improvements to Tietze Park that will begin next month.

In early November, Park Department staff, Tietze Foundation board members, and my appointee to the Park Board, Wayne Smith, met to go over the new enhancements to Tietze Park. There will be a new loop trail around the entire park as well as new connecting sidewalks to join some of the existing pathways. There will also be several new benches around the park mounted on concrete pads, a new ADA-approved water fountain, new trash receptacles, some new picnic tables, and a portable restroom enclosure. The total cost of this project is $254,808, paid for with 2006 Bond funds.

There will also be shade structures installed by the contractor that were paid for by the “The Friends of Tietze Park Foundation.”  Brick pavers that were sold by the Foundation will also be installed during this project. Work should begin in January 2011 and completed by November 2011. The City of Dallas and District 14 are fortunate to have a group like the “Friends of Tietze Park Foundation” to assist in this wonderful renovation project at Tietze Park!

City Council Votes to Prohibit Panhandling in Downtown

Panhandling is an ongoing problem throughout our city, particularly in Downtown Dallas.  This type of public nuisance detracts from our efforts to create a safe, vibrant, livable Downtown.  Residents tell me panhandlers make them feel unsafe, while business owners tell me they’ve lost customers as a result of aggressive soliciting. 

After working with the Downtown Dallas Association, I’m pleased to report that today the city council voted to prohibit panhandling in Downtown, Uptown, Victory, and Deep Ellum.  (We couldn’t make the ban citywide because courts have concluded that soliciting money is protected by the First Amendment, so the government must have a compelling reason to infringe on such a basic right.  Here, we’re trying to protect the region’s economic engine, Downtown Dallas.)

The city’s current panhandling ordinance prohibits pandhandling anywhere in the city after sunset, prohibits aggressive panhandling anywhere in the city at any time, and prohibits solicitation near locations where citizens could have cash, such as near ATMs, parking meters, banks, fuel pumps and car washes.

The amended ordinance will prohibit panhandling anytime of the day or night in the core Downtown area, including the Central Business District, Victory, Uptown and Deep Ellum.  Solicitations in these high tourist, high pedestrian areas hinder the city’s goal of promoting tourism, pedestrian traffic, residential development and economic development.