A month into his first term, new District 14 Council member Paul Ridley sat down with the Advocate to discuss his plans, policies and perspectives on issues facing Dallas and District 14. Ridley earned more votes than incumbent David Blewett and challenger Elizabeth Viney in May’s general election and beat Blewett in the June 5 run off. An attorney, urban planner and architect by education, Ridley, 68, has retired from private practice and says he will be a full-time Council member.
Among several priorities, Ridley wants to increase the supply of affordable workforce housing. “We are tens of thousands of units short on affordable housing,” he says. ”And we’re not creating much. Various mechanisms can be used, some are zoning related, some are public-private partnership related.” He would like to institute a payment-in-lieu option where a developer can choose to contribute to a fund instead of setting aside affordable units in a new project so the city can use this capital to erect new affordable units and rehab existing units.
“Another priority is to fix our permit process, which is clearly broken and has been for a number of years,” Ridley says. He will champion more staff, more technology, more virtual pre-development meetings and clear guidelines to have a maximum 30-day period to receive approval. “We are driving developers to Plano and Frisco because it’s so difficult in Dallas.”
Public Safety will be an issue in the upcoming budget discussions. Ridley had just read of Mayor Eric Johnson’s request for 275 more police officers and is unsure about that budget priority. “I still am a proponent of looking for efficiencies in the police department and increased productivity before we spend tens of millions of dollars on new hires. We have manpower that we can better utilize, including putting more officers on the street by civilianizing desk jobs. I would like to still pursue those initiatives.”
As of this writing, Ridley had not conferred with Chief Eddie Garcia but has spent time with Deputy Chief Israel Herrera, head of the Central District, on the specific problems of bars disrupting neighborhoods, street racing and people driving unregistered ATV’s on city streets.
Ridley does have another important personal priority around the implementation of CECAP, the city’s climate action plan passed by the previous council.
Development and change vs neighborhoods and status quo
Balancing the competing interests of neighborhood voices with the change that development brings was a core message in Ridley’s campaign.
“Well, those sometime are in conflict,” Ridley says. “I seek opportunities to bring those interests together and reach consensus those projects that can be compatible with neighborhoods.
“At the same time, I ran on being protective of neighborhood values and neighborhood character and neighborhood self-determination. On the Plan Commission, I balanced the two interests by having the development we need in appropriate locations compatible with neighborhoods.”
Where can we put higher density in our neighborhood to accommodate housing needs?
Ridley identified major intersections, such as Central Expressway and Northwest Highway, and Lakewood as spots where higher-density housing could be developed and not break a campaign promise.
The tension between development and neighborhood was also the top priority for both the business and neighborhood leadership of District 14.
Brad Grist, executive committee chairman of the Greater East Dallas Chamber, says he hope Ridley’s first priority will be to “ensure we find responsible ways to marry quality development with neighborhoods.”
Jean McAuley, president of Lower Greenville neighborhood Association (LGNA), spoke about Ridley’s priority in a similar fashion: “We want our local businesses to thrive, but we should respect our neighborhood’s quality of life.”
The Lot and Local Traveler rezone at 3G
The Trailhead, the mixed-use development at the Gaston-Garland-Grand intersection, was approved by the previous City Council in spite of the Plan Commission’s recommendation to deny. In his only council meeting as of this writing, Ridley made a motion to delay approval. His motion failed, and the ordinance passed 14-1. As the lone dissenter, Ridley said more time was necessary for the new council to consider the facts and that the old council had approved the project without any discussion. Was he surprised at the unanimous vote? “Well, I was a little surprised my second (council member Chad West, who seconded the motion) didn’t vote for it,” Ridley says. “But I felt it necessary to make a statement.”
Parking Ordinance changes
Empty parking garages, the emphasis on walkable urban neighborhoods and other current mobility trends have prompted the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) to take a hard look at Dallas parking ordinances. Many planners call the current parking requirements for office, retail, hotel and multi-family outdated as lifestyles change and different transportation options increase.
“While I support a periodic review of the parking ordinances and right size what the market really requires, I think the decisions should be particularly local,” Ridley says. “Greenville Avenue has little on-site and limited off-site parking. If we eliminate parking requirements for Greenville businesses, we will see a proliferation of bars because zoning doesn’t limit the number of bars.”
The late night SUP gives the City some oversight, but Ridley believes parking requirements act as a ceiling to keep the number of bars on Greenville at a manageable level.
LGNA is also concerned about the potential proliferation of bars along Greenville in a battle that has lasted generations. McAuley says she hopes the City won’t allow too many exceptions under existing regulations, upsetting the tenuous balance that seems in place right now.
What to do about I-345?
I-345, the short federal highway that connects I-45 and U.S. 75 (Central Expressway), bisects District 14 as it divides Deep Ellum from Downtown. There has been a decade-long debate that has grown in decibel level over the years about the future of this elevated highway.
“I-345 is approaching the end of its structural life and there are several options to consider,” Ridley says. “I-345 has been a barrier separating Downtown and Deep Ellum since it was built. I would like to see that barrier removed and substitute something that liberates the land currently under the highway for economic development and stitching those two areas of the city back together.”
Richmond Avenue improvements
Ridley plans more public input on the Richmond repaving “hybrid” option of one protected bike lane heading east and the south side of the Richmond curb retained for automobile parking.
“I slowed the process down,“ Ridley says. “Let’s get it right, and put it out to the citizens.”
What will he hear? Some citizens like bike lanes, and some citizens don’t want to give up their right to park on Richmond.
Board and Commission appointees
Even though council elections are held in May and the official swearing-in is in June, the current members of boards and commissions appointed by Blewett can serve until October 1. Ridley says he would prefer that the current appointees step down so he can move forward with his selections and wrote letters asking them to step aside prior to October 1 so he can get his team in place. A few have responded they will resign, but most have not, he says. Ridley says he has “a good idea” of who he will appoint to the big ones — Plan Commission and Park Board — but will not publicize those selections until he can officially nominate them.
Led by Council member Omar Narvaez, the City has asked members of the short-term rental (STR) ownership community and neighborhood advocates to find a compromise on regulating short-term rentals in Dallas. Previous committees on this issue led to suggestions that Ridley says he questions.
He’s skeptical about whether STRs are compatible at all with single-family neighborhoods, saying they deprive the City of affordable housing and benefit real estate owners who curry tourists.
“Who are we going to favor — our permanent residents or tourists?” says Ridley, noting that most STR’s aren’t registered and don’t pay hotel occupancy taxes.
Residential high rise inspections
According to Ridley, Dallas does not have an inspection requirement for buildings older than 40 years. In the aftermath of the Surfside, Florida, condominium collapse, Ridley says he intends to push for the adoption of an ordinance requiring owners of buildings more than 40 years old and above a certain height to perform structural inspections on a periodic basis.
The inspections would be done by licensed engineers hired and paid for by the owner and the reports filed with the city. The reports would be reviewed by the City, and major structural repairs called for by the engineer would be required for the building to maintain a certificate of occupancy.
“It is not unreasonable for these buildings to be inspected for such a life safety issue,” Ridley says.
Accessibility and Communication
Ridley will continue the tradition of a District 14 Facebook page, and his email address for citizen contact is firstname.lastname@example.org. He says he’ll periodically send a newsletter to constituents, keeping them abreast of District 14 issues.
The City provides Council members with two staffers. Ridley has a liaison, Max Sanchez, already on staff, and an assistant, Kayleigh Rice, to support his outreach and help District 14 residents navigate City Hall. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. The District 14 phone number is 214-670-5415.
The Council next meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11, ending its summer recess. Budgeting for the next fiscal year will be front and center. Check with the Advocate for dates and times of neighborhood meetings to be held discussing budget priorities.