Since April 2012, when the Oak Cliff Gateway Advisory Committee conveyed its recommendation to the folks at Dallas City Hall, our civil and elected officials have not demonstrated a sense of urgency to complete a zoning case that will lay the groundwork for millions in city tax revenues along the Trinity River Corridor, offers opportunity to protect several established neighborhoods, and establishes a framework for better living amenities and a desirable quality of life in a diverse, urban setting.
Land use and zoning discussions in the Oak Cliff Gateway area have been going on far too long. These open ended discussions hurt our community. After months of inquiry and prodding we are not much further along than when the land use study was adopted in 2009. Why has dialog and momentum been allowed to stall? Where is the leadership behind this case? Earlier this week, during a candidate forum for District 1 at Tyler Street Methodist Church, the answer may have started to unfold.
I asked both candidates the same question: “Why do city staff members continue delaying action on the Oak Cliff Gateway zoning case? Do you have an update?”
Councilperson Delia Jasso responded that the case is moving along. She stated that she had been briefed on this case a few days earlier. Jasso said a new staffer has been hired to manage the process. She also stated that stakeholders would need to assemble again because the advisory committee made some last minute changes that need to be reconciled. “We are working to get it through the process,” she said, and ended her statement with a seemingly dismissive wave.
A closer look: Most of her statement is true. While the Gateway Advisory Committee has not met since March 2012, a few members have continued to press on getting the case on the City Plan Commission agenda. We began inquiring directly to staff members, administrators, the city manager, and the mayor’s office. A backlog of zoning cases and a shortage of staff were cited as reasons for the delay. After some prompting, a solution came forth from Councilman Griggs and Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans to allocate special funds for a temporary hire to review and manage the Gateway Zoning case – someone with experience, who would not take too long to get up to speed on the case. On the matter of “last minute” changes to the recommendations, well this is untrue. The recommendations were finalized in March 2012 and shared with the city staff for review, reconciliation and completion. As of April 2012, this zoning case remains in an inbox at city hall.
I also asked Councilman Scott Griggs the same question. His response was markedly different. “The short answer”, he said, “is this zoning case should have been done months ago.” He informed us that city staff tends to back off when a project or issue affecting two districts is not a priority shared by both council persons. He told us that he is in favor zoning changes in the Gateway and that he has pushed for the case at every opportunity. Griggs said that he is in favor and in a hurry because residents are dragged into too many one-off, single purpose zoning cases. He reminded us that within months we will see the arrival of a streetcar. He highlighted the fact that institutional investors (Trammell Crow Co., for example) have started to acquire and develop property along the river levee. Griggs spoke about how it is important to prepare the Gateway for new development and to have a framework in place to protect existing neighborhoods.
A closer look: Indeed, Griggs has demonstrated more than a casual interest in the Gateway zoning effort. He attended several Gateway Advisory Committee meetings and he setup a consultation with the team at the City Design Studio for ideas on open space, development incentives and street grids. Griggs also continued to work on public amenities like the bike path on the Jefferson Bridge and the expansion of the streetcar line presently under construction across the Houston Street viaduct. Griggs appears more active in seeking solutions to go forward rather than accepting staff’s dithering pace.
Keep in mind that a zoning case, like any other public issue, needs a champion. In most zoning cases, these champions arrive in the form of paying customers – property owners and their representatives seeking to change development rights. Champions for this type of zoning change come from political leadership.
The Gateway Advisory Committee is a classic, community-based, grassroots effort. While it was initially assembled by city councilmembers Delia Jasso and Dave Neumann, the advisory committee raised its own funds, hired a respected planning team (Good Fulton & Farrell) and initiated community involvement to assemble a set of recommendations for the zoning ordinance. This work was informed by base maps and the land use plan passed by the Dallas City Council in 2009. After months of dialog with residents, neighborhood associations and other stakeholders, the advisory group chose to draft its recommendations within the framework of the city’s form-based zoning ordinance known as Article XIII. The process of developing these recommendations is very well documented on the Oak Cliff Gateway blog (www.oakcliffgateway.wordpress.com). Nothing has been added or changed to the recommendations since March 2012.
Post by Michael A. Mendoza