Monday, June 10, 2019
The Cards We've Been Dealt
The old Richardson Square Mall property is getting a Chipotle and a Jason's Deli. I like these chains. I drive to west Richardson frequently to eat at the restaurants there. So why am I not thrilled with the news for east Richardson? I am not thrilled because the approval process shows how Richardson is reactive, not proactive. Tactical, not strategic. Dealing with matters as they arise, not anticipating future needs, leaving us with suboptimal solutions. There are better developments for Richardson Square that could still include a Chipotle and Jason's Deli, but we aren't even considering them. Instead, we're jumping on this because the brands are popular.
Last week, the Richardson City Council deliberated a zoning request to build several standalone, drive-through fast-food restaurants on pad sites along Plano Rd and Belt Line Rd. The council ultimately decided to table the decision until July, but not because of the proposed form of the development: pad site restaurants. It was tabled to give the developer time to meet with the neighboring HOAs and learn what they'd like to see done with the vacant Sears store. It's all but certain that the pad site restaurants will be approved after this short delay, perhaps with some tweaking of the traffic patterns.
Council member Mark Solomon wants the property to be, not more walkable, but more "driveable." If the developer tweaks that, he'll support it. New council member Kyle Kepner said the surrounding neighborhoods deserve something "really great." He immediately followed that by "however" and acted like the brands offered up were the deciding issue. Because the neighbors like Jason's Deli and Chipotle, he's "good with that." Mayor Paul Voelker not only didn't oppose the drive-through pad restaurants, he didn't even want to postpone until July to give the HOAs time to meet with the developer. He said to the developer, "Given the reality of the environment we have, the cards we've been dealt, the situation moving forward, I'm uncomfortable risking the relationships you have with some of these brands that make Building E [Sears] more marketable for you, that also help you financially so you can be more stable in the context of making this a successful project."
Suddenly speed is of the essence? We can't even wait until July? Sears has been the sick man of retail for decades. So has Richardson Square Mall. The need for redevelopment there has been obvious for years. The Mall received a partial reprieve a few years ago when Target decided to build a store where the vacant Montgomery Ward store was. Then the heart of the mall was demolished to build Lowes, leaving only the Sears store from the original mall. Why wasn't a comprehensive plan for the whole property ever developed? Why hasn't the City been involved in discussions with mall landowners and surrounding HOAs so that when this day came, the City and landowners would be ready with a strategic land use vision for this choice property? Something to guide potential developers towards uses acceptable to the City. Why did the City wait until a developer came in with a partial plan, a plan to plop a few fast-food, drive-through restaurants on the periphery, with a sense of urgency to approve the request?
There's no vision to offer that would give the neighborhood a Jason's Deli and Chipotle in a more walkable, sustainable form. Instead of redevelopment that will serve the City for the next fifty years, we get the same old 1980s-style pad site restaurants. Because of a lack of vision and a lack of planning, the City Council left itself in a position where its choice is (1) accepting more fast-food, drive-through restaurants, or (2) being the bad guy and telling the neighbors they won't be getting a Chipotle or Jason's Deli anytime soon. That's a bad position for any City Council to put itself in.
The mayor calls this playing the cards we've been dealt. The problem is that we shuffled the cards ourselves. If we have a poor hand, it's because our own neglect of strategic planning stacked the deck against us. This isn't a card game. We should quit pretending we have no control over what we're dealt.