Eric Reed of Andy’s Frozen Custard presents plan for Lakewood store to neighbors.

Forty neighbors from East Dallas gathered at Matt’s Rancho Martinez to hear from representatives of the owners of the Skillman Live Oak Center and Andy’s Frozen Custard about the plans to rezone several parcels and locate an Andy’s Custard on the site.

The meeting was hosted by Melissa Kingston, the District 14 Plan Commission Member appointed by Council member Paul Ridley.

As The Advocate reported earlier, Canadian investor Sun Life Assurance bought the center that includes Chips and Matt’s in August 2015. A 2016 purchase added the vacant Wells Fargo office and drive-thru to Sun Life’s holdings. Sun Life also owns the Buzzbrews building and the EDDC building, but those lots are not included in this rezone request.

As shown on the site plan below, the building housing Chip’s and Matt’s is zoned Community Retail (CR). Behind the center, in four separate tracts, is parking and the vacant Wells Fargo building. Two parcels are zoned for multi-family (MF-2A), one is zoned for parking (P) and the Wells Fargo building is Limited Office (LO-2).

Sun Life’s request is to change these four parcels into Community Retail (CR) zoning and replat the entire site into a Lot 1 for the existing building and parking and a Lot 2 for a proposed Andy’s Custard. The owners also want to re-locate an existing city right-of-way in the middle of the parking lot to the eastern boundary of the property to connect with the alley and place trash dumpsters there.

Site plan for Andy’s Frozen Custard.

Staci Bowen of Crestview Real Estate, who manages the property for Sun Life, reviewed the aerial and new site plan for Andy’s. She noted the existing multi-family zoning and said Sun Life did a study that showed structured parking with multi-family above the parking could be successful but decided that “we bought it as a retail center, and we want it to stay as a retail center.”

“In that process,” Bowen said, “Andy’s approached us about locating a store in Lakewood.”

When Bowen’s review ended, rapid-fire questions about traffic, garbage, street-racing, noise and lights from neighbors began. A neighbor two blocks down on La Vista asked why they wanted to place a commercial business that’s open until 11 p.m. next to a residential historic district.

But there are a few dining establishments in the area that stay open late. Buzzbrews is open 24 hours. Cosmo’s and The Pour House are open until 2 a.m.

Several questions were focused around the difference in height restrictions between the existing multi-family and office zoning and the proposed retail zoning. The MF-2(A) zoning has a 36-foot height limitation, and the LO-2 zoning has a 95-foot height limitation. The requested CR zoning has a 54-foot height restriction.

For all of these classifications, the limitation drops to 26 feet for the portion of the site adjacent to the residential district to meet the requirement of the residential proximity slope in the zoning code.

Eric Reed, from Springfield, Missouri, is the Andy’s franchisee for Dallas, Oklahoma and Central Florida. He operates seven stores in Dallas (including one in Lake Highlands) and seven others in Orlando, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Reed connected better with the neighborhood attendees, noting accommodations he has made in other neighborhood locations, his focus on hiring local residents and his support of community schools. Reed said his deal is a 35-year land lease, and he is not buying the site outright, which is typically his preference.

Reed acknowledged the traffic impact of his operations. The Wells Fargo curb cut already in place will be used to enter and exit the business, which is busiest 7-10 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. “Peak production” is 45-55 cars per hour with a 60-second drive-thru time.

Meeting attendees tried to reconcile the appeal of Andy’s as a walkable neighborhood business with the request for CR zoning.

“It’s not just a nice little ice cream shop,” one neighbor said. “This CR zoning runs with the property and if Andy’s fails then the CR zoning could allow so many other things that are not good for the neighborhood.”

The sentiment seemed to be thumbs up for an Andy’s but thumbs down for a complete rezone of the 3 acres to CR. If Andy’s closed, the zoning of the entire site would still be CR, which opens up a range of opportunities for a redevelopment that might not be so welcome to the neighborhood.

A path that Crestview chose not to take was a Planned Development District (PD) where  site plans, landscape plans and uses are subject to detailed city approvals. Bowen said they thought about a PD but wanted to clean up the parking, abandon the current right-of-way, relocate the dumpsters and were told that “city staff doesn’t like PD’s.”

Kingston spoke toward the end of the meeting.

“We are not going to rush this process,” she said. “This is not going to be the only meeting. I want your questions answered. I want feedback from the community. I want to understand what y’all think.

“This is a very big ask. They have sold it as a, ‘You’re getting a custard shop.’ That is not accurate. They are asking not only to upzone a substantial portion of the site; they are also asking to drastically change traffic patterns, reduce walkability and replat the site, meaning they could do a larger development in the future. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

As Kingston wrapped up the meeting, she said, “I don’t like this. I believe what being is proposed right now is inappropriate. That said, this property doesn’t function as well as it could. There are some changes that could make sense.”

Had Crestview met with Kingston prior to this neighborhood meeting and heard her come out so strongly against their proposal, this meeting wouldn’t have happened or at least the agenda would have looked different. There could be a path for Andy’s, as the neighborhood warmed to Reed and the idea of a local custard shop, but in its current state, this rezone request seems DOA.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.