Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Richardson Debates Rain Barrels

The Richardson City Council spent a loooonnnng time Monday evening deliberating one homeowner's desire to install a rain collection system. Or rather, how to hide the fancy rain barrel, whether a hedge or trellis or fence was needed to shield the purported eyesore from passersby.

Ironically, the assumption everyone made is that privacy fences are not themselves eyesores. Which, of course, they are. If it were as hard to get a permit to install a privacy fence in Richardson as it is to collect rainwater, the city just might present a more attractive face to the world. Those fences are really ugly. In many cases, uglier than whatever it is they are meant to hide, like a rain collection system.

After the jump, how the rain barrel debate represents a missed opportunity on something serious.

The rain barrel debate may have been frivolous, but hidden in the discussion was the solution to the more serious issue of the night, the future of the Brick Row development. Jeffrey Weiss has the story in The Dallas Morning News Richardson blog.

Brick Row, a mixed-use, transit-oriented development near the Spring Valley DART station in Richardson, has been in the works for years. Nearby residents want to hold the developers to their original plan for a mix of residential units heavy with condos. Developers point out that the housing market bust has made those plans economically nonviable and want to increase the ratio of apartments. The City Council sided with residents. I foresee a surplus of non-tax-generating empty units standing there a long time. No one wins from this impasse.

Here's where the earlier rain barrel discussion could have offered a valuable lesson, if only someone had seen it. If the city paid as much attention to code enforcement of apartments as it did to one homeowner who cares about minimizing his impact on the environment, we wouldn't have to fear apartment construction. Whether or not a dwelling is owner-occupied is not the only determinant of whether a property becomes run-down or not. More important is how seriously the city takes code enforcement. Put more effort into inspections, citations and prosecution and those apartments can remain an attractive component of Richardson's living options for decades to come.

The City Council has already proved it can be obsessive-compulsive about rain barrels. Now, if it could only direct a little more of that obsessive compulsive attention to code enforcement of apartments, the neighbors of Brick Row would have nothing to fear.

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