Renaming Ross Avenue

Yesterday the Plan Commission voted against renaming Ross Avenue “Cesar Chavez,” and now this debate comes before the City Council. Since much of Ross Avenue is in my council district, I wanted to share my position on this issue.

Some have implied that the looming threat of renaming Ross Avenue should be used to force the City Council to change the name of Industrial Boulevard to Cesar Chavez. I cannot emphasize how strongly I disagree with that argument. Under no circumstances should Ross Avenue be used as a political pawn in the Cesar Chavez debate. Doing so is an insult to the property owners along and near Ross Avenue, the very constituents I was elected to represent. I have heard from them loudly and clearly that they do not want to change the name of the street because of its historic nature. I share those concerns and will not support changing the name of any part of Ross Avenue.

Frankly this debate has taken time away from more important city issues. The residents I talk with are concerned about crime, code enforcement, and the poor condition of our streets. That is not to diminish Mr. Chavez’s accomplishments or his worthiness to have a street in Dallas named for him, but no street renaming should consume this much of the council’s time or energy.

This debate has also become unnecessarily divisive, when it didn’t need to be. The blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of the city. First of all, if the intent was to give Industrial Boulevard a “riveresque” moniker, the Trinity River Committee should have stated upfront that only such names would be considered. That would have eliminated this whole debate about Industrial being named after a person.

Second, the Trinity River Committee made a mistake by approving (on Dwaine Caraway’s motion, seconded by Elba Garcia) a public survey about proposed names for Industrial Boulevard (Mr. Rasansky voted against doing so, and I’m not on that committee). If the committee wasn’t going to respect the outcome of the survey, or make it a legitimate vote with real ballots, then it shouldn’t have taken a vote at all. There were already signs at that meeting that this was becoming a divisive issue, and at that point, the city should have nixed the public poll.

Third, the Trinity River Committee had no business proposing that Ross Avenue — which isn’t anywhere near the Trinity River project — be renamed for Cesar Chavez. That was a cheap political trade to “protect” Industrial.

Lastly, once it became apparent that there was support within the Hispanic community to name a street in honor of Cesar Chavez (or another Hispanic leader), the mayor should have pulled together a small, racially diverse group of leaders from across our city, representing all parts of Dallas. He should have tasked them with proposing to the council at least three streets for renaming, with the following caveats: The proposed streets could not be historic and the property owners on the streets must be supportive of the change. This would have headed off the devisive Ross debate and prevented an “all or nothing”/”you’re either with us or against us” mentality that is pervading what should have been a collaborative, celebratory discussion.

Dallas’ Hispanic community is an integral and important part of our city and their heritage should be honored. Some have argued that renaming a street for Mr. Chavez is not appropriate because he doesn’t have strong ties to Dallas and because we have so many great hometown Hispanic leaders we could honor with this distinction. I greatly respect Mr. Chavez’s legacy, but I, too, would prefer to see a Dallasite honored in this way. We are so lucky to have so many Hispanics who have made remarkable constributions to our city, and I’d love to see us preserve their legacies by naming a street after them. However, I defer to those in the Hispanic community to decide who they believe is most deserving of this honor.

Woodard’s Zoning Case

This post is a couple of weeks late, but I’ve been working feverishly on the city budget.

Two weeks ago, the council voted on a request for a specific use permit by Woodards Automotive on Ross Avenue.

The Woodards zoning case was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make on the council. I met with nearby residents, met with the Woodards, read and re-read SUP requirements and the PD standards, lost sleep on it, and came to a decision. Not that any zoning decision is easy, but this one was particularly difficult.

On the one hand we have a family-owned business that’s been on Ross 80 years and employees 38 people. They are good people who, by all accounts, do good work. They had asked for a 20-year SUP that would allow that property to be used for automotive services (NOTE: the SUP runs with the LAND, not the BUSINESS, so if they moved tomorrow, that land could be used for automotive services by someone else for 20 years). They also asked to be exempt from most of the landscaping and streetscape requirements of the Planned Development District for Ross Avenue that was approved in 2005 (wider sidewalks, etc.).

The zoning that prohibits automotive uses on Ross Ave. was approved in 2005, before I was elected to the City Council. The streetscape and zoning standards were intended to entice new development along Ross. I wasn’t on the council then, but the conclusion was that among other issues, auto uses (all 32 of them) were holding back the street from redevelopment, so those uses were prohibitted.

In 2005, most of the auto businesses got three years to relocate. Woodards and several others got five years. On Monday, the Board of Adjustment denied two Ross property owners (whose time limit was up) an extension to continue to operate. A third property owner who had submitted an extension request withdrew his. A fourth (which I understand is owned by Mr. Rasansky) continued to pursue his request for an extension.

I then thought, yes, but Woodards has been in business for 80 years. Shouldn’t that be grounds for an exception?

I thought on that for a long, long time. But here’s the problem with that: the zoning change — the SUP — runs with the land, not the business. There’s no way around that, and there is absolutely no legal way to tie the SUP to the business. If that’s the case, why is this piece of land different from the 31 others that have auto uses? I was concerned that granting the SUP here would open the floodgates to all the other properties with auto businesses, and then what would be the purpose of the PD?

I had developers who had invested and were investing along Ross tell me that they were investing based on the new zoning that outlawed auto uses. Many nearby residents came down and pleaded for the council to stand behind the PD that the community had worked so hard on, and deny the request for an exception.

When I met with Woodards, I asked them if they were granted a 4-year SUP, if they would move at that point. They said they didn’t know; the market might not be right then. So there was no certainty that an extension would help them relocate. (However, if at the end of two years in 2010, they still have not found a place to relocate, they can seek an extension from the Board of Adjustment.)

What it came down to for me was: if we create a new zoning standard to transform an area, how do we carve out exceptions and still obtain the intended results? How do we fairly decide who meets the standard for an exception and who doesn’t?