Monday, February 2, 2015

What's to Show for Revitalization Efforts?

Wendy Hundley of The Dallas Morning News has a story questioning whether there's anything to show for Richardson's revitalization efforts. Actually, she doesn't question it; she quotes some Richardson residents who question the efforts. Then she gives the mayor and city manager an opportunity to dismiss the criticism.

After the jump, unpacking the story.

Critics say the "restaurant row" project failed to conform to the planned development standards the city put in place for the West Spring Valley corridor "to create pedestrian-oriented mixed-use developments with taller buildings, more open spaces and landscaping, patio homes, plazas, sidewalk cafes and ground-floor shops with apartments or offices above."

"[Mayor Laura] Maczka said the rezoning initiative sets the stage for investors and guides future redevelopment." No, it doesn't guide future redevelopment. Or rather, it guides redevelopment in the wrong direction. On the very first project, on a catalyst site no less, the city council caved and granted an exception to the planned development zoning to allow a developer to build a traditional, suburban, car-oriented restaurant row. That's what developers learned will guide future development.

Does the City say, "We know we dropped the ball there, but we plan on redoubling our efforts in the near future." No. There's no acknowledgment of any shortcoming whatsoever. "City Council members said that the regulations allow flexibility and that a rejection of the proposal would send the wrong message to other developers." What wrong message would a rejection have sent? That the city council was serious when it put its planned development zoning in place? Is that the wrong message? That the city council really does want "pedestrian-oriented mixed-use developments with taller buildings, more open spaces and landscaping, patio homes, plazas, sidewalk cafes and ground-floor shops with apartments or offices above"? Is that the wrong message? Instead, approving restaurant row sent a different message: "Just kidding."

"I disagree that nothing is happening on Spring Valley," City Manager Dan Johnson told The Dallas Morning News. But either he didn't bother to identify what it is he had in mind, or Hundley didn't bother to include it in the article. Hundley does mention the plan to redo the roadway on West Spring Valley Rd. Is that what Johnson was referring to? If so, he misses the point. Five years ago, when the city held all those focus groups on redevelopment of the West Spring Valley corridor, it was the apartments and businesses along the roadway, not the roadway itself, that Richardson residents were most eager to see redeveloped. Repaving the street is nice, but hardly the same thing.

"The new CityLine project being built on vacant land at Plano Road and the Bush Turnpike 'exists today because of the planning the council did 20 to 30 years ago,' the mayor said." No, it exists today because the owners decided that the time is right for a major development at that location. The city's zoning isn't 30 years old, or even 20. It wasn't even five years ago that the developers offered a vision for what they wanted on the site that's now CityLine. The City Council deliberated and rezoned the land to meet the developers' desires. Then, when State Farm expressed interest in locating there, the City Council changed the zoning again to accommodate State Farm, making it *less* mixed-use, etc., etc., in the process.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," Maczka told The Dallas Morning News. Everyone knows this. Still, it's been over four years and all we have to show in the West Spring Valley corridor is a plan to repave the street and rezoning of a catalyst site to allow for a 1980s-style restaurant row. I'd feel better running a marathon if I thought we were at least running in the right direction.

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