Possible East Dallas zoning changes could change more than neighborhood landscape

For the 15 years or so I have written this column, I have always tried to understand the other side, to look for a middle ground. Maybe there’s a way we can co-exist with teardowns. Perhaps we can figure out how to hire more cops and buy more library books and appease all the cranky, anti-tax government people among us.

But when the City Council changed the zoning this spring at the Timbercreek apartments at Skillman and Northwest Highway, I drew a blank. How can there be a middle ground anymore? The council tossed regular, ordinary, working men and women out of their homes — people just like you and me — so a connected real estate developer could make a buck by throwing up some more retail in the most over-retailed city in the country.

And if the Council did it to them, they’re going to do it to us. Over the next year to 18 months, it’s possible that three major zoning cases in this neighborhood are going to be decided. And given what happened at Timbercreek, I have absolutely no confidence that the Council will respect our wishes. They’ll give the developers what they ask for, and they’ll make it sound like they’re doing us a favor.

Their catch phrase? “Highest and best use,” which always means the zoning should be changed so they can make money, regardless of what the neighborhood wants.

I don’t write this lightly. But I’m worn out from fighting this fight, from reminding the people on the Council that we elect them and pay their salaries — not the real estate interests that now, more than at any time in the past 15 years, control this city’s agenda. The Hunt deal downtown, tax breaks for developers building next to NorthPark, and Timbercreek all show that. In fact, if it weren’t for the efforts of Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze (whom I worked with at the old Dallas Times Herald), would we know anything? Dallas’ Only Newspaper, for instance, relegated the White Rock Lake Emerald Isle project to the business and editorial sections, and what passes for TV news in this town devotes itself to crime that will scare the white, middle-class women in its audience.

So it’s up to us to keep an eye on their projects:

• Emerald Isle. “I have a deep-seated fear, also,” that the council will ignore the neighborhoods and give developer Mark Miller what he wants, says Mary Griggs, former president of the Emerald Isle Neighborhood Association, just south of the proposed site. And don’t be suckered by Miller’s latest concession, offering to build 10 stories instead of 25 in an area zoned for four stories. The real estate people I’ve talked to say that was his plan all along.

• Empty grocery stores. The Lakewood Minyard’s and the Albertson’s in Casa Linda and at Mockingbird and Abrams might not be grocery stores much longer, given Minyard’s focus on its Carnival concept and Albertson’s continuing financial woes. So what happens to the land? Someone would certainly love to try and stuff an Emerald Isle-style project on any of those sites.

• Greenville Avenue redevelopment. I could probably spend a couple of days a week doing nothing but following up the latest rumors about which block on Greenville below Mockingbird is slated for the John’s Café treatment. One report: A project similar to the new apartment/retail block on Lowest Greenville is in the planning stages.

• Redeveloping Henderson between Ross and Capitol. Serious rumblings suggest that someone with very deep pockets is trying to buy significant pieces of land along Henderson, perhaps to turn the parcels into the same types of apartment buildings that are closer to Central.

The point, of course, is that no one in the neighborhood is against progress. We just happen to think that progress isn’t spelled with two dollar signs. It’s about preserving our quality of life — and for most of us, that has nothing to do with helping developers make money.

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