With a 14-1 vote, the Dallas City Council approved the written ordinance confirming the rezoning for The Trailhead, a mixed-use development proposed at the Gaston-Garland-Grand intersection on the site of the former Lot and Local Traveler restaurants.
Two weeks ago, in a unanimous voice vote, the Council overturned the City Plan Commission’s 9-4 denial of the rezoning request. The Council’s approval came with the conditions of a 75-foot height limitation (six stories) and an affordability requirement of 9%. That’s an estimated 27 units. Developer Mill Creek Residential has proposed a maximum of 305 units and up to 20,000 square feet of commercial space with a public Santa Fe Trail connection.
When the City Plan Commission approves a rezone request, the decision is forwarded to the City Council for consideration. An ordinance governing the real estate is included for the Council to approve, putting the rezone into the law books. When the Plan Commission denies a rezone and the case is forwarded to the Council for review, the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t bother to write an ordinance since the chance of the Council reaching the 12 votes (out of 15) necessary to reverse the Plan Commission is a high bar.
That’s what happened in The Trailhead’s case. Wednesday’s agenda item to review the ordinance would typically be an “administrative function.” But this case has been complex and controversial, so nothing has been an “administrative function.” On top of that, city elections resulted in a different Council from two weeks ago, with four new members sitting around the horseshoe.
Thirty-four speakers registered, and 21 citizens connected through video technology to speak to the Council about The Trailhead. All speakers were opposed to the project, most asking for a delay so the four new Council members could review the details of the case and come to their own conclusion, having never considered or voted for it prior to Wednesday’s meeting.
Many speakers also voiced concern over what appeared to be a speedy decision two weeks ago, with no Council discussion and no roll call vote after more than two hours of public comment.
Two weeks ago, District 2 Councilmember Adam Medrano made a motion to approve the ordinance, and it was quickly seconded. There was no discussion among Council members, a voice vote was taken and the rezone was approved.
Mayor Eric Johnson, who ran the Council meeting and handled the voting procedure, addressed questions regarding the vote and approval from two weeks ago that many found unusually quick.
“The public shouldn’t judge the amount of deliberation that has gone into a case, or the attention or how much care, by how long the discussion lasts,” Johnson said at Wednesday’s meeting. “There is a lot of discussion that takes place with individual council members. They get tons of communication in every format you can imagine — emails, on the phone, in person, in the streets. I don’t want anybody to take it personally on how quickly or slow the discussion happens.”
Roll call votes are “statistically” a rarity, Johnson said, and voice votes “are not a statement of anything in terms of not caring as much about the item.”
“If there is an impression created by the process that it was rushed somehow, for folks who don’t normally watch City Council meetings, that’s maybe how it looks, but it’s not the reality,” Johnson said.
Even Blackmon said she thought the process unfolded pretty quickly two weeks ago — she had prepared remarks discussing her motion to approve the rezone but couldn’t move fast enough to start discussion prior to the voice vote. Blackmon came to Wednesday’s meeting with the same remarks she had prepared two weeks ago, and this time she went through her reasons for supporting The Trailhead.
Blackmon said “over the last few weeks” she did “listening and learning” about the project. She spoke with “neighbors, small business owners, community groups, TxDOT and the City of Dallas traffic department.”
She spoke of the need for housing so “people who work in the community can live in the community,” using the example of a first-year teacher at Mata Elementary biking the Santa Fe Trail to work.
She addressed the traffic issue, citing discussions with traffic professionals who convinced her that the intersection, when improved with the TxDOT plans, will be “more pedestrian friendly, more bicycle friendly and will provide better connections for those that are not in a vehicle.”
“This intersection will be ready for thoughtful, well-managed growth, and I believe this proposed project does that. It will provide multi-modal trail access to residents and accessible housing options to those that want to live in our neighborhood,” Blackmon said during the Council meeting.
Blackmon cited the City’s recent vote to extend the Santa Fe Trail and said that, considering the City’s investment in trails, “it only makes sense to have smart development around it.”
“I believe this is not developing White Rock Lake. It is not intrusive to the skyline around the lake. It is below the tree line, the creek, the Oncor lines and the trail trestle,” Blackmon said. She summarized her support of the project, saying she weighed The Trailhead development against “leaving this plot of land in the hands of chance and hoping for the best.”
One of the four new Council members, Paul Ridley, ran for his Council post on a platform of “not accepting threats to our neighborhoods and quality of life from undesirable developments and unsustainable growth.” True to his campaign and his voters, Ridley came out against the rezoning and the ordinance.
“I have serious concerns about this development project for many of the same reasons that we have heard 30-some speakers voice today,” Ridley said during the Council meeting. “It is particularly important that we carefully consider this matter, not only because of the great level of interest of stakeholders and neighbors but also because our own Plan Commission recommended denial. That causes me to pause, to wonder why.”
Ridley also questioned the “lack of public discussion around this dais of the merits of the project two weeks ago” at the last Council meeting.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Ridley made a motion to delay the item until the next Council meeting in August, following the Council’s traditional summer recess, so he and the other new members of the Council could review the details of The Trailhead. After a roll call vote, his motion to delay was denied 12-3, with Ridley and Council members Chad West and Jaime Resendez also voting for the delay.
After a few questions from other Council members, Johnson called for a roll call vote on Blackmon’s motion to approve the ordinance. The final tally was 14-1 in favor of approval with Ridley the lone dissenter. Included in the votes for approval was newly elected District 2 Council member Jesse Moreno. The real estate is located in the far eastern corner of his district. He did not speak during the discussion of The Trailhead ordinance.
At least for the entitlements.
Mill Creek now moves into finance, design, permitting, construction and leasing apartments and retail space. Some might say the hard work of successfully developing an estimated $70 million project has just begun.