St. Regis: Council Unanimously Approves Zoning Change

Today, on my motion, the Council unanimously approved the proposed zoning change for the St. Regis Hotel at Cedar Springs Blvd. at the Katy Trail.

I am very protective of the Katy Trail and Turtle Creek — both are great assets to the surrounding neighborhoods and our city. When zoning changes have been proposed in the area, many residents have expressed their concern that if too many tall buildings are constructed right next to the Katy Trail, it will result in a “canyon effect” with shadows looming over the trail.

When I consider zoning cases, I put great weight in the opinions of those who live closest to the property — they have to live with the change. I also consider whether the proposed change would be better than what could be built with existing zoning. When the proposed zoning doesn’t provide improvements or benefits to the coummunity, I have not been afraid to vote against the proposal.

For example, when a zoning change was proposed at Routh and the Katy Trail several months ago, I opposed the change because the proposed development did not significantly improve upon what was already allowed. The property was too narrow for the developer to offer additional setbacks from the trail, he refused to put all the parking underground, and there was no detailed development plan for the development.

Here, I have worked with residents, the developer, Friends of the Katy Trail, and the Oak Lawn Committee to address residents’ concerns and create a development that is far better than what would be built under the current standards.

Height seemed to be a sticking point here. Currently, the maximum height allowed is 200′ (I’ve rounded all numbers for simplicity). Such a building would be wide, would significantly block others’ views of the Downtown skyline, and loom over the trail.

Instead, we slimmed down the tower to allow better view corridors and pushed it 150′ back from the trail to reduce any canyon effect. On the other 78% of the site, we reduced the height of all buildings from 200′ to 95′ (and only 60′ for the townhomes by the trail). Next to the trail, instead of a 200′ tower set only 40′ from the trail, there will be 60′ townhomes set back 57′. The mass of the hotel and residences will actually be LESS than permitted under current zoning.

Other positive changes: All structured parking will be underground; the developer submitted a detailed development plan; St. Regis will construct and maintain a trail connecting the Katy Trail to Cedar Springs Blvd.; and the building will be LEED certified (energy-efficient).

Lastly, the St. Regis will bring significant economic development and tax revenue to our city, with no tax abatements or other incentives from the city. It’s important to note that I do not include this in my calculus when evaluating a zoning case; the proposed zoning must stand on its own with regards to land-use policy, not economic impact. I mention it as a positive effect resulting from this development.

Overall, I am very proud of this project. It was a challenge to me, the developer, and the community to push to make this the best project it could be. I think in the end, we have achieved a project that will be a great asset to the area and our city that greatly improves on what was permitted under the existing zoning.

Whole Foods – The Real Story

I was troubled recently when Whole Foods announced that it was withdrawing its proposal to build a new store on the old Lakewood Minyards site, and instead was going to reuse the old building. What troubled me was that Whole Foods seemed to blame the the neighborhood and plan commissioners for the decision.

See, Whole Foods couldn’t build their new store with the current zoning standards, so they had to get a zoning change. Like any zoning change, the process involved meetings with the neighborhood and the area’s plan commissioners. The process is inclusive, but not excessively onerous.

After a number of meetings, Whole Foods announced two weeks ago that they had decided not to build a new store because of the so-called challenging and lengthy zoning process.

I wante d to set the record straight. I spoke with Whole Foods’ Seth Stutzman two days before they publicly announced their decision, and he explained that after they got into the zoning case, they did a cost comparison of building a new store versus redoing the old Minyards store. They were shocked to see that the redo would cost $4.5M less than a new store. It would also allow for a more environmentally-friendly store.

I asked Seth, if the zoning change sailed through, would they consider constructing the new building? He said probably not, because of the significant cost savings.

I don’t begrudge Whole Foods’ business decision. What bothers me is their attributing their decision to the “onerous” zoning process when the real reason for their decision is financial.

Whole Foods tried to clarify their position, but never explained it to the media as clearly as Seth did to me. So I wanted everyone to have the benefit of this information.

I liked the proposed new store, but I’m sure that Whole Foods’ redo will be great. I’m thrilled they’re coming to Lakewood, and I’m excited about a “green” store. I just want to make sure our inclusive zoning process is not blamed for a business decision.

Vickery Place Conservation District Addition Approved

Today the City Council unanimously approved adding 13 blocks to the Vickery Place Conservation District. The additional blocks will true up the district’s boundaries and will now include all the homes from Goodwin to Richard, Greenville to Homer, the 5100 block of Goodwin, and the 5400 and 5500 blocks of Bonita (with the exception of commercial properties on Greenville).

Neighbors in both the original CD and the appended blocks worked very hard to ensure that these additional blocks were included after the original Vickery Place CD was approved last June.

Congratulations to everyone who were actively involved in this project!

Vickery Place Conservation District Approved

Last Wednesday, the Council unanimously approved the Vickery Place Conservation District.

Vickery Place is one of the oldest neighborhoods in District 14. The conservation district is generally bounded by Greenville, Laneri, Richard, and Goodwin. Sixty-seven percent of the ballots returned were in favor of the conservation district. Congratulations to the residents who have worked so hard on this!

Council Approves Staff’s Comp Plan

I am very sad to report that the City Council passed staff’s version of forwardDallas! today. Only the least significant changes proposed by the Plan Commission made it into the version passed today. The big changes, the ones that kept neighborhoods and property owners in the driver’s seat when it comes to zoning and planning for their area, didn’t make it in.

The chambers were packed, with the vast majority wearing stickers saying “CPC Yes.” Speakers spoke very eloquently about why it was so important to adopt the CPC changes.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Garcia moved to approve the version of the plan approved yesterday by the Council Committee. She accepted a change from Linda Koop, with whom I’d discussed changing the definition of “transit corridors” to make them more focused on transit than land-use. That change made it into Dr. Garcia’s motion.

I moved to amend the motion, to add back all the significant CPC changes. Councilmember Rasansky seconded my motion. He and I were the only councilmembers voting in favor of the amendment, and against Dr. Garcia’s motion. forwardDallas! passed 12-2. (The Mayor was absent.)

Response to DMN Editorial on Comp Plan

In a bold move, the Dallas Morning News proclaimed the staff’s version of the forwardDallas! comprehensive land use plan to be the best thing for Dallas since a toll-road through the middle of the Trinity river.

I know I shouldn’t be sarcastic in my blogs, but it’s hard not to. Three things about this editorial really got my goat:

(1) “Transit corridors disappeared….[S]tripping out transit corridors, which designate where DART stations and denser developments will be built, leaves a gaping hole. “

You know what a transit corridor is? Let’s start with what it’s not. It’s NOT a “Transit Center,” which is what Mockingbird Station and West Village are. That’s a mixed-use development with retail and residential at or near a light rail stop. Those make a lot of sense, and they remain in the CPC’s version of the comp plan.

I would point you to a transit corridor in Dallas, but we don’t have one, so you’ll have to settle for a definition from the staff’s proposed comp plan. It’s a long section of street that’s supposed to become a corridor of dense mixed-use development (imagine Mockingbird Station or West Village stretched out along miles of road). It is “focused around bus rapid transit corridors” according to staff’s plan. The mass transit component of the corridors makes sense, because otherwise, you’d just have an insane traffic jam from all the residents of the dense developments along the corridor. Sounds neat, right? Well, it would IF THERE WERE ANY PLANS FOR RAPID BUS TRANSIT ALONG ANY OF THE 135 MILES OF TRANSIT CORRIDORS PROPOSED BY THE PLAN.

I talked to DART, and guess what? There are NO bus rapid transit routes in our city today. According to DART’s long-range plan, over the next 24 years, there may be a total of TWO roads in Dallas with “BRTs.” There are no plans for such service on the other 130 miles of staff’s proposed transit corridors. Oh, and don’t even think about what transit corridors might mean to the residential neighborhoods along the route to have dense multi-family and mixed-use development encroaching on them. The “Transit Corridors” can go anywhere from a block to a half mile into surrounding neighborhoods (but will somehow supposedly “mitigate” any negative effects to the area).

(2) The editorial also laments the silly Plan Commission’s meddling into two years of hard work by the consultant and staff. Well, fact is, the consultant and staff have been reluctant to incorporate input from the public into their version of the plan since the process began. Sure, there have been minor tweaks here and there, but for the most part, they have made quite a show of “receiving public input,” but have done nothing to incorporate such input into the plan. Having lots of meetings and creating a database of public comments are MEANINGLESS unless the input makes its way into the final product. The Plan Commission, made up of citizen volunteers from every council district in the city, examined the input from residents, business groups, neighborhoods, and community leaders, and (gasp! shock!) incorporated the will of the people into the plan.

(3) Lastly, God forbid that neighborhoods and property owners have input into the future of the city: “City leaders are hoping to send the message that Dallas is open for business. But by giving neighborhoods more power than other stakeholders, the city appears skittish about progress.” I’m not sure how any of the changes give neighborhoods MORE power than other stakeholders; the changes the CPC made just ensures they’ve got a seat at the table.

The most important thing about this editorial is seeing what the crux of staff’s arguments are going to be to pass their version of the plan. Mainly, “the CPC is moving us backward, while the consultants and staff are moving us forward.” It’ll be the song and dance of “the CPC likes the status quo and just doesn’t like change,” when in fact, this document creates great, positive changes, but keeps the reins in the people’s hands, not city staffs’. Staff can guide and advise and suggest, but at the end of the day, it’s the residents and tax-payers who must live in this city. And your voice matters.

Council Committee Approves Comp Plan Without Any Public Hearings

Well, the five-member Council Comprehensive Plan Committee just met, and it was a sham meeting.

Staff explained very generally why the most significant changes the Plan Commission recommended were bad. Staff explained that transit corridors are terrific (even though there are no plans for mass transit service to them); that the map is perfect as it is (even though it doesn’t focus on specific areas of change and protect our neighborhoods as stable); and that a bottom-up, community-focused planning process is wrong — we need staff telling us how our communities should be.

Despite the fact that the City Council hasn’t even held a SINGLE public hearing yet; despite the fact that 13 of 15 CPC members support all the changes; despite the fact that the COMMITTEE DIDN’T EVEN DISCUSS THE MAJORITY OF THE CPC’S PLAN; Mr. Oakley nonetheless moved to approve the minor changes proposed by the CPC, but not the major ones I mention above. The Committee approved it on a vote of 4-1; I voted “no.”

Care about this? Well, we may pass this plan on Wednesday, the way things are going, so come down to City Hall at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14 at 1500 Marilla St. and let us know what you think.