Oh, what a muddy mess we’ve dug up

since funds to repair the alleys supposedly aren't available, they are simply abandoned

Updating you about last month’s column concerning a rumored City abandonment of alleys in some older sections of East Dallas, the feedback from neighborhood residents indicates this is a growing problem in many areas.

For example, residents of the Vickery Place neighborhood report the City has been telling them that some of their alleys have deteriorated beyond repair in the foreseeable future.

Since the alleys – left unrepaired – become rutted, trash-strewn and knee-deep in mud, the City deems them unusable. And since funds to repair the alleys supposedly aren’t available, they are simply abandoned.

One neighbor reported that the muddy alley behind her house had become so difficult to traverse that a garbage truck remained stuck for four months because no other vehicle could retrieve it.

Other neighborhood residents tell of police and fire units unable or unwilling to use the alleys for fear of becoming stuck.

Needless to say, affected residents aren’t happy about this problem, and some are vowing to turn up the heat on City Hall for a solution.

As many of you are aware, late summer is review time for the City budget. If you’re among those concerned, talk with your councilman about this problem, and follow through to ensure that money is budgeted for alley repair and maintenance.

You have to wonder about the value of living in a big city and paying taxes if our alleys are abandoned by police, fire and sanitation workers, only to be turned over to burglars and stray dogs.

CURTAINS FOR THE D-1?: In a surprising development, the Texas Supreme Court recently delivered it’s long-awaited opinion on the City’s use of a D-1 (“dry overlay”) district to control alcohol-related uses in our neighborhoods.

The Court struck down the City’s South Dallas D-1, which prohibited businesses from selling or serving alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of residentially zoned properties not located on a freeway service road or certain other specified streets – unless the owners applied for and received a Specific Use Permit from the City Council.

As you may recall, a group of South Dallas liquor store owners originally brought the suit against the suit against the City to prevent enforcement of the D-1.

The bottom line is that all D-1 overlays (including one contemplated for East Dallas) are legally invalid.

The Court agreed that the Legislature, by passing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, pre-empted ordinances of home-rule cities from conflicting with State statutes. The Court ruled that for State Law to pre-empt a City ordinance, it must do so with “unmistakable clarity”.

Interestingly, the code was amended in 1987 and 1991 to strictly limit cities’ ability to use zoning to regulate alcohol-related businesses, undoubtedly because the liquor lobby foresaw increased municipal regualation.

But a careful reading of the Court’s opinion leaves several alternatives for cities to regulate alcohol sales. For example, the State liquor code permits local governments to regulate alcohol sales. For example, the State liquor code permits local governments to regulate the location of businesses that derive at least 75 percent of their gross revenue from on-premises liquor sales.

Also, a city charter may prohibit liquor sales in all or part of the city’s residential areas. And an incorporated city may prohibit the sale of beer in a residential area by charter or by ordinance. (Longtime East Dallas residents will recall the enactment of the East Dallas beer ordinance some years ago.)

Of course, the Dallas Development Code already prohibits the sale of alcohol in residential zoning classifications, as well as within 300 feet of a church, school or public hospital.

The practical meaning of all of this is that the D-1 as a tool to clean up proliferations of alcohol-related businesses in certain parts of the City has been eliminated, at least for now.

The City still can use the approaches described in this column, however, and City staff has indicated this approach is likely.

Beyond that, the only apparent way to change the situation is to take on the liquor lobby in the halls of the Texas Legislature.

WHAT’S UP?: Updating some earlier land use matters scheduled for Council review March 24, amendments to the Hollywood/Santa Monica Conservation District were approved by the Council; congratulations to the neighborhood for its hard work with City staff.

Also, the controversial San Francisco Rose parking lot zoning case at Greenville and Marquita was decisively rejected by the Council, with only Mayor Steve Bartlett supporting the zoning change. The property owner must wait two years before trying again.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES: Among items being discussed by the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee are changes involving temporary signs.

The City limits use of temporary and portable signs to one 30-day period each year. But the ordinance appears to be rarely enforced.

The City recently hired four new inspectors to enforce this ordinance, triggering an outpouring of protest from the surprisingly well-organized owners and operators of temporary and/or portable signs.

ZOAC members appear unlikely to make the ordinance less restrictive, but the Plan Commission and Council may be more sympathetic.

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