Friday, July 26, 2019

If Not This, Then What?

On Wednesday, I blogged about my opposition to the Richardson City Council's approval of a zoning change request to allow the development of pad site restaurants on the old Richardson Square Mall property at Belt Line Rd and Plano Rd. My article was criticized for not offering alternative solutions. Alternatives weren't the subject of my post, but if you read it and my previous articles linked to, you'll see that I do address just that question. Maybe this standalone article on the question will help.

If by alternatives you mean brands other than Jason's Deli or Chipotle, you are asking the wrong question. I'm fine with Jason's Deli and Chipotle. But brands come and go. Four buildings in that vicinity that were originally built as supermarkets today house things like a dollar store, a used clothing store, a bingo parlor, and a fitness center. One was demolished already to build a different fitness center. So we shouldn't focus on whether it's a Trader Joe's or a Sprouts or something else that goes in there. Instead we should focus on the form of the development. The form endures long after the original tenants move on. It's the form that determines whether a development is adaptable and can hold its value. It's the form of this proposed Richardson Square development that I suggest is wrong. Pad site restaurants have a history of losing tax value over time. That title loan outlet across Plano Rd is the worst example, but it's not unique. I didn't go into great detail, but I did offer alternative forms that ought to have been offered to the community for consideration.

My recent article linked to two other recent articles of mine. In one of them, I said, "Alternatives to consider include something like Eastside. And if the housing component of Eastside is a deal-breaker for you, then at least something like Restaurant Row on US 75 near Spring Valley Rd. I'm not completely happy with that, but it shows that standalone pad site restaurants are not the only way to develop the Sears site."

And in my most recent article, I said, "Janet DePuy said her own vision would have been for something like a village, with tenants facing into the center of the village. Ding! Ding! Ding! Finally someone on the City Council revealed an understanding that there are other fish in the sea."

I also specifically addressed the question "If not this, then what?" when I wrote, "There are no alternatives to point to because no one has developed them. This area of Richardson has been neglected in city planning for years. That's not a knock on developers. That's a knock on the City. The City Council itself should have been ready to answer [that] question."

Several years ago, the City held several community meetings to determine what residents wanted for redevelopment of southwest Richardson. Residents were shown various alternative development forms and asked to vote on their preferences. A rezoning of the area resulted. Restaurant Park is one development since then.

Last year, the City held several community meetings to determine what residents wanted for redevelopment of the old downtown Main Street area. Residents were shown various alternative development forms and asked to vote on their preferences. A rezoning of the area resulted. Road reconstruction is now scheduled for later this year, as well as construction of a major mixed-use development on the Chase Bank property on Main St.

Just a month or so ago, the City held a block party on Collins Blvd just west of Plano Rd to determine what the community wanted for redevelopment of that part of the City, what it's calling our "Innovation District." Again, attendees were shown various alternative development forms and asked to vote on their preferences. A rezoning of the district is due to follow.

Compare all that to what happened at Belt Line and Plano, the heart of a major retail center for Richardson, so major that just 40 years ago a fully enclosed mall with four full anchors was built there. Smaller shopping centers existed on the other three corners of the intersection as well. As Americans' love affair with enclosed malls faded, as the area went into a long decline, did the City conduct community meetings to determine what the community wanted to see the retail heart of east Richardson evolve into? Instead, east Richardson was neglected by the City. We get one community meeting, hosted and led by a developer himself, in which the community wasn't shown various options for development, but instead presented with a single option, along with the names of potential tenants that the developer would talk to. Acquiescing to this process, the community surrendered a good part of its influence over the evolution of its own neighborhood.

The situation is bad when a developer comes along and offers some pad site, drive-through restaurants and the neighborhood views him as a knight in shining armor come to offer them hope. "It's better than nothing" was a retort when someone objected to the plan. "Better than nothing" is a pitifully low bar for a developer to clear. But ATR Corinth Partners has cleared it. The City Council has approved it. So it's what we'll get.

So, I have offered alternatives. I didn't draw blueprints and contact potential tenants, but come on, it's unfair to demand any individual resident do that. Besides, the best alternative I can offer is an alternative process, one that involves the whole east Richardson community itself in deciding how it wants its retail heart to evolve. The community should look to the process the City is using in other parts of Richardson and demand that, at least, or better. I'm confident that what would have emerged from such a process, involving the whole community, would have been a damn sight better than taking the first thing offered by a land developer.

I've written enough. I feel my blood pressure rising. I need to go relax with a burger and Coke. I guess I know where I'll be able to get that.

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