Dallas Morning News Opinions – Published: 29 November 2012 08:46 PM
Does it have to be this difficult? For five years, the city of Dallas has struggled to enact a zoning ordinance for the Oak Cliff Gateway, an area adjoining the residential area of East Kessler Park and bounded by Interstate 35E on the east, Interstate 30 on the north, Beckley Avenue and Zang Boulevard on the west, and Davis Avenue on the south. City leaders, in particular Mayor Mike Rawlings, have expressed enthusiasm about this area becoming a showcase for new urbanism redevelopment. That effort now seems to have been abandoned.
The Gateway has the potential to become a model of urban development, providing the same positive impact on north Oak Cliff that the Klyde Warren deck park is expected to have on Uptown and downtown. But under current haphazard zoning, developers can build on individual tracts without considering how each development affects the remainder of the Gateway and without providing assurance that the result will further the city’s espoused goal of enhancing inner-city livability.
City Hall invited East Kessler Park residents five years ago to provide their thoughts on the Gateway’s rezoning. Those comments were incorporated into a comprehensive land-use plan, of which the major aim was guiding development that emphasized walking and biking and minimized negative high-density impacts, such as traffic and parking, upon adjoining single-family neighborhoods.
However, in January 2010, when the land-use plan was officially adopted, city coffers were too depleted to afford the staffing necessary to translate the plan into a zoning ordinance governing development. To take up this slack, a Gateway steering committee of developers, community representatives, landowners and other local stakeholders formed in late 2010 to draft a zoning ordinance that would be submitted to the City Plan Commission for approval.
In March of this year, after more than a dozen steering committee meetings and two community meetings, the committee met to vote on a proposed ordinance. During that meeting, according to the steering committee’s minority report, the committee “experienced a heavy-handed campaign on the part of Methodist Hospital to invalidate neighborhood desires and to advance private agendas at the exclusion of promoting what is best for the area as a whole.”
In June, the city purported to take back control of the Gateway rezoning process. Since then, all has been quiet on the city front, so quiet that in mid-October the steering committee asked the mayor and City Council why it could not “get a straight answer on when a public hearing will find its way onto the agenda of the City Planning Commission. Is this case delayed, suppressed or forgotten?” No explanation has been provided.
In early November, Trammell Crow Residential announced a $19 million, four-story, 200-unit apartment project on nearly three acres of land near the Trinity Town Homes on East Greenbriar, with a healthy subsidy from the city. While it is fortunate that the Crow project isn’t some massive high-rise — something the current zoning would allow — it is troubling that the city approved this project in the face of the Gateway’s unresolved zoning issues.
Why have those five long years of community involvement and investment to appropriately rezone the Gateway disappeared into the black hole of bureaucracy? And why is the city willing to allow development on a case-by-case basis without regard to the Gateway as a whole? This is a troubling mystery, given that the foundation of the mayor’s GrowSouth plan is to strengthen and engage neighborhoods.
It’s critical that we get the Gateway zoning case posted on the Plan Commission agenda. Otherwise, a great opportunity for an Oak Cliff Gateway emphasizing “walkability” and “bikeability” will be irretrievably lost.
Tim Herfel is president of the East Kessler Park Neighborhood Association and may be contacted through http://www.eastkessler.org.
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