Saturday, November 21, 2009

Putting Lipstick on a Pig in Southwest Richardson

"Stop these attempts to put lipstick on a pig when the patient is on life support." So says a southwest Richardson homeowner leader. Does he have a point? I mean other than showing by example how horribly confused a point can get by mixing metaphors. Let's find out. First, the background...

The Richardson City Council held a work session November 3 at which leaders of three southwest Richardson homeowner associations pushed for redevelopment in that area. I blogged about it in "Politics of Complaint: Development Moratorium". (I know that "pushed for redevelopment" and "development moratorium" sound contradictory. Stay with me.)

On November 20, one of the three HOA presidents, Andrew Laska, posted an editorial on The Richardson Echo titled "Widespread support for Heights Plan but some blog comments misguided". He doesn't link to my blog. He doesn't name me. It may just be vanity on my part to see myself as one of his targets. If so, let's pretend anyway, just for fun.

Laska says, "Others have brought up issues of ethnicity. This too is misplaced if not a ignorant and insulting criticism." Again, he doesn't say who the "others" are, but I did follow up my original blog with another titled "The Hispanic Elephant in the Room" in which I pointed out that the city council work session was attended by the council, city staff, three homeowner association presidents and various members of the public, almost all of whom shared something in common, or rather, lacked something in common. It's right there in the title - Hispanic - so it's kind of hard for me to deny that I brought up ethnicity. But "ignorant and insulting?" Come on. I anticipated such criticism in my third blog on the meeting, titled "Did I Just Play the Race Card?", so I don't need to say anything more about my own comments. I will note that Laska goes on to talk a lot about the diversity in his neighborhood. Talk about the diversity in Richardson is good. Even better would be to get more of that diversity represented at city council meetings so that the possibly different interests and careabouts of the different stakeholders in Richardson gets presented. I'm not saying that's his responsibility, just that it would be good. [Update: Destiny Herndon has outed herself as the target of Laska's criticism on this point. I'm happy to give her the rightful credit (blame?).]

Laska says that my perception that "people didn't know what they wanted" was untrue. He says that when one HOA president said "developers ask what do we want and we never know" she was using the royal "we" and referring not to herself and her fellow HOA leaders, but to the city itself. I'm not sure how this refutes my original perception. Laska's call for a "long-term plan for redevelopment areas" is good, but it doesn't change the fact that what the HOA leaders presented was lacking in specifics of what would be acceptable uses for properties along Spring Valley Rd, US 75, and Belt Line Rd. Laska seems to be arguing, not that my perception was wrong, but that it's premature to demand specifics at this stage of the planning process. If so, fine.

Laska also took exception to my characterization of the HOA leaders' presentation as inconsistent. The HOA leaders decried neighborhood blight (fine). The HOA leaders called for aggressive code enforcement of commercial properties (so far, so good). Yet at the same time, Laska insists that steps like "painting and adding a new roof to a 40-year-old minimal retail building" must stop. Laska is welcome to see it otherwise, but I see it as inconsistent to expect an aggressive code enforcement program to succeed while simultaneously putting a moratorium on painting and roof repair. The Heights plan calls for both.

Despite the objections raised by Laska to the observations I made in my previous blogs, I am largely in agreement with the "2009 Heights Plan for Excellence." Rather than continue to nitpick our differences, let me spell out the areas of agreement I have. The plan contains five areas:

  1. Code Enforcement: I'm all for this. All property, both residential and commercial.
  2. Roadway and Sidewalk Improvement: I'm all for this.
  3. Land for Park/Playground: I'm all for more parks, everywhere, not just in the Heights area. I'll support Heights. I hope they'll support other neighborhoods.
  4. Review of Zoning: I'm all for this. The city should continously review zoning in all areas of the city. If the city hasn't been doing this all along, it's dropped the ball.
  5. Redevelopment Master Plan: I'm all for this. I'm surprised that the city doesn't have this already. I've seen master plans for the city. What the heck do they cover if they don't include redevelopment in the plan?
That's it. Five areas. I agree with all five. It looks like I agree with the "2009 Heights Plan for Excellence" across the board. Wait a minute. That fourth bullet, "Review of Zoning," carries with it a call for a moratorium on redevelopment while the review is carried out and a master redevelopment plan is drafted. Laska calls for a "moratorium" to "stop these attempts to put lipstick on a pig when the patient is on life support."

I contend the city should do both: aggressively enforce current zoning and building codes while simultaneously develop and execute a master redevelopment plan. The city should come up with incentives to encourage developers to demolish and redevelop blighted properties in the area consistent with a master redevelopment plan. But in the meantime, let's at least repaint the aging buildings we do have at least once in a while. The city should encourage, maybe even insist on, and certainly not forbid, building owners to paint their aging buildings, to repair roofs, to put up new facades, to fill potholes in their parking lots. Drop the call for a moratorium on redevelopment and I'll support the "2009 Heights Plan for Excellence."

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