After negotiations among adjacent neighborhood representatives, City staff and the Lakewood Assembly of God Church at Abrams and Vickery, the Plan Commission recently approved a Specific Use Permit application for a playground on church land.

The church requested a permanent permit for the playground, and staff recommended an initial five-year term with five-year renewal periods. But the neighborhood requested and received an initial two-year period, followed by five-year renewal periods.

Neighbors believe the initial two-year period will give the church an opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to abide by its representations, in which case the neighborhood won’t oppose future permit renewals.

The case was complicated by earlier poor relations between the neighborhood and the church’s former leader, as well as questions about activity on a large tract of land owned by the church adjacent to Abrams and north of Vickery.

Grading and landfill work has been initiated on the property, which formerly was part of an estate. But the church has told the neighborhood that it has no specific plans for the site, which it said will remain vacant for the time being.

PARKING WOES: The Board of Adjustment recently granted a requested parking variance for an import grocery store at 1923 Greenville, despite the opposition of five area neighborhood groups.

In effect, the Board’s decision restored the site’s lost “Delta” credits, despite provisions of the Greenville Avenue Modified Delta Ordinance – that means the store will be able to open without providing any parking whatsoever.

This case was the second test of the Modified Delta Overlay, and it’s the second time in two years the Board has overridden the Overlay. Both decisions came despite a 1986 Greenville Avenue parking study that identified a 925-space parking deficit between Ross and Belmont.

The parking problem has worsened since the study, as restaurants have paved over head-in parking for outdoor seating (which by the way, continues to be completely unregulated by the City with no parking requirement and little attention paid to whether seating areas are placed in City right-of-way).

The staff recommended approval of the variance because the grocery store will close at about 6 p.m., causing staff to reason that the store won’t contribute to the area’s evening parking problem.

Just down the street, a case affecting 1905 Greenville is scheduled to go before the Board Aug. 10. In this case, the applicant constructed a 1,206-square-foot building without providing off-street parking, contending the covered area does not constitute “floor area”.

This case differs from the earlier modified Delta case because it involves newly constructed floor area, as opposed to abandonment of the use for 12 months or more.

Neighborhood representatives will be watching to see if the Board is serious about helping Lower Greenville neighborhoods with parking problems.

ALLEY ACTION: The Vickery Place Neighborhood Association apparently is making progress regarding its severe alley problems, which were reported in an earlier column. Reacting to neighborhood pressure, the City’s Streets and Sanitation Department promised the alleys would be graded in July.

DALLAS PLAN UPDATE: Various neighborhood community groups are continuing discussions about the Dallas Plan, which is the City’s effort to develop a capital spending program for the 21st century.

It is expected that various City neighborhoods will be seeking projects for their areas, and East Dallas doesn’t want to be left out. Among possible capital spending items that would benefit our neighborhoods would be the dredging and cleanup of White Rock Lake, further repair and preservation of Fair Park, and possibly City participation in housing rehabilitation.

FEE FOUL: The City Council recently adopted a new ordinance to control alcoholic beverage retailers, but the approval had a twist; Neighborhood groups that want to file termination cases against such businesses must pay a $500 application fee.

You may recall that last month, this column indicated the Plan Commission had recommended an ordinance that would require a special use permit for any business that makes 75 percent or more of its gross revenue from alcohol sales. The ordinance also prohibits alcohol sales within 300 feet of churches, public schools and public hospitals.

Although the Plan Commission recommended that neighborhoods pay $500 to file termination cases and businesses pay $600 to apply for a permit, the commission recommended a one-year waiver of both fees to allow an initial cleanup period.

The Council, however, deleted the waiver program.

As a result of the application fee, the ordinance is almost completely useless for neighborhood groups – particularly those in less affluent areas of the City, where renegade bars and liquor stores are big problems.

The Council also expressed concern about further litigation involving the ordinance, and the City attorney’s office has worked hard to craft new language so as not to run afoul of state law.

Of course, anyone who can pay a filing fee can go to the courthouse and file a lawsuit, but that doesn’t mean the lawsuit will be successful or even that it can survive dismissal or summary judgment.

MUNGER CONTROVERSY: At its July 8 meeting, the Plan Commission authorized City planning staff to call a public hearing to determine proper zoning for an area roughly described as the intersection of Collett and Reiger, near Columbia.

Most of this area is within the Munger Place Historic District, although three lots near the Columbia intersection are just outside the historic district.

You may recall that this area was the site of a hotly contested zoning case involving a car wash at the northeast corner of Collett and Reiger. Also, in what appears to have triggered the staff’s recommendation for a general study of the area, a termination case has been filled with the Board of Adjustment to terminate Bonnie’s Grocery, which is a non-conforming use on Collett between Reiger and Columbia.

The termination case was put on hold by the Board pending Plan Commission action to study the area’s zoning.

Both staff and the neighborhood believe it makes sense to consider the area as a whole when dealing with zoning issues rather than dealing with each tract on a piecemeal basis – which takes longer, costs more and is fraught with the potential for disparate treatment of property owners.

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