Jim Schutze has an excellent piece in the Observer about what he describes as the growing pressure developers are exerting on the planning staff at City Hall. He’s keying off a DMN editorial a few weeks ago, which followed an attempted smack-down of Angela Hunt over what should have been a benign request on her part for a developer to do a little more homework prior to having his deal for a Lovers Lane and Skillman development approved by the council. We’ve already talked a bit about that issue in a couple of cage-match posts here and here.

Anyway, Schutze’s point is well-taken: When real estate money is flowing, developers always want to develop, and given that as a general rule a new project always is better than an old rundown one, city council reps and city planning people work hard to make sure Dallas gets its fair share of development money. And to ensure that each neighborhood in the city is protected, we rely on our council rep and his/her appointed plan commissioner to review proposed projects, sort through neighborhood opinion and then do the right thing.

No question it’s a messy, painful process. Look at what happened a few months ago with the Whole Foods controversy in Lakewood; the neighborhood response was almost as if WF had individually knocked on random doors and then slapped whoever opened the door, provoking a loud outcry. In that case, I was in favor of bending the existing zoning rules for WF, but I understand the importance of existing zoning for that site, and I can live with what happened because our council reps and planning commission reps did their job: They met with all comers and, in the end, WF took the process into account and made their decision.

But as Jim points out, the messy part of the whole planning/zoning approval process in Dallas is what makes it valuable. As individual residents, we don’t have the time or expertise to evaluate every deal and offer an opinion (at least, not an informed one). And we certainly don’t want city planners dictating from on-high what will and won’t happen in our neighborhood. So we have the process (the DMN derisively calls it a "fiefdom") of generally allowing the council rep to make the call in his/her district. They know best what the constituents want, and they’ll take the heat if they don’t make most of the people happy most of the time.

Why try to change something that works, Mayor Leppert?

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