The Gaston Bazaar controversy is not about racism, sensational media coverage, or even dancing.
It’s about parking.
In that, it is a primer for anyone interested in learning about politics in Dallas. We don’t have ward heelers, secret payoffs or smoke-filled rooms (or so we like to think).
Instead, we have real estate development, and the key to real estate development in Dallas – and especially in East Dallas – is parking.
No one, no matter how powerful and influential, can do a deal if there aren’t enough parking spaces to fulfill the land’s zoning requirements. That means any shenanigans revolve around securing enough parking spaces, or changing the zoning to a level that requires fewer spaces.
In this respect, the Gaston Bazaar controversy is no different than any other erstwhile real estate transaction in recent years, whether it be development on Lower Greenville Avenue, the decade-long tussle between merchants and residents in and around the Lakewood Shopping Center, or almost anything else that crops up.
In fact, neighborhood groups that have been successful in blocking unwanted development have learned, as Deep Throat once put it in a slightly different context, to follow the parking.
Why else would Mark Greenberg, who owns the Gaston Bazaar, start hollering that the residents of the Lakewood and Gastonwood-Coronado areas are racists because they don’t want him to hold dances at his business? To derail anyone from following the parking.
After all, it’s not like the people who live around the Gaston Bazaar – or anyone in East Dallas, for that matter – don’t already share their neighborhood with people of many cultures, races and ethnic groups. This is something Greenberg should know, since he lives near the Gaston Bazaar.
Yet Greenberg’s ploy worked with Dallas’ ever-vigilant news media, whose performance throughout this episode can charitably be described as naïve. If you’re not feeling charitable, then lazy and sloppy come to mind.
Given the opportunity to do a little reporting or to stick a camera in someone’s face for a round of late 20th-centrury American race-baiting, they chose the latter. Ain’t modern journalism grand?
Had anyone done any reporting, they would have learned the following (none of which, by the way, showed up in most local news media reports):
Greenberg can already hold as many dances as he wants at his business, and has been doing so for the past several months. He has a dance-hall permit, issued by the Dallas Police Department.
Technically, Greenberg still needs the specific-use permit he has requested to be in full compliance with City zoning requirements. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Dallas homes and businesses that aren’t in full compliance with their zoning – and it’s not like the City is going to send a code enforcement inspector to the Bazaar on a typical Saturday night to make a pinch.
Greenberg’s landlord, a company owned by Dr. Ludwig Michael, is suing the company that owns Cowboys, the country and western dance emporium located next to the bazaar at the intersection of Gaston and Garland roads.
The subject of the lawsuit? It’s about parking.
Michael’s company owns the entire corner, including parking spaces, except for the land that Cowboys occupies. Currently, Cowboys shares the parking spaces courtesy of a 25-year-old agreement, which was signed between the two companies that previously shared the site.
Michael’s lawsuit seeks to void the agreement, which would allow his company to control all of the parking.
Are these two things related? Don’t ask me to speculate.
First, I have no desire to be called a racist, which seems to happen with monotonous frequency to anyone who questions Greenberg’s motives.
Second, I’m not eager to become involved in a libel suit, and lawsuits seem to be as common in this affair as race-baiting. There are at least a half-dozen lawsuits either underway or being contemplated.
Make up your own mind.
My advice is to follow the parking.
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