Monday, August 5, 2019

In God We Trust, All Others Must Bring Data

The Richardson City Council approved rezoning for the construction of new pad site restaurants with drive-throughs at Richardson Square. The vote was 6-0. Public comment was largely in favor. Clearly, it was a popular decision. Time to move on, right? Sure. But move on to what?

What left me vaguely dissatisfied with the Richardson Square deliberations was the lack of numbers in the discussion. I'm a numbers kind of guy. There's a quote I've always been partial to: "In God We Trust, All Others Must Bring Data." It's attributed to W. Edwards Deming, a pioneer in statistical process control. "Many in Japan credit Deming as one of the inspirations for what has become known as the Japanese post-war economic miracle of 1950 to 1960, when Japan rose from the ashes of war on the road to becoming the second-largest economy in the world through processes partially influenced by the ideas Deming taught." (Wikipedia).

"Highest and best use" is a long-standing real estate term that sometimes gets bandied about in rezoning discussions. One measure of this (not the only one) is tax value, like dollars per acre. Louis Burns, president of Richardson-based non-profit Urban Prosperity Network, brought data for Richardson Square. In his article "Can Your City Afford Another Drive-Through?" he computes the value of various properties around Richardson Square using data from Dallas Country Appraisal District. They range from a low of $2,177/acre for a big box store (Lowe's!) to a mid-range $5,220/acre for a recently renovated old drive through restaurant (KFC), to a high of $11,331/acre for a slightly younger drive-through restaurant (Wendy's). He compared that to a block in old downtown Richardson that has a tax value of $28,629/acre (*only* $12,907/acre if you include the adjacent parking lot behind the stores).

If that data doesn't stimulate all kinds of questions in your head, I can't help you. As for me, I'd like to hope that the next time another rezoning question comes before the City Council, someone ask the developer what the tax value, in terms of dollars per acre, he projects his new development to be worth. What the "right" answer is could be the subject of another article (Louis Burns offers some thoughts in his article) but in aggregate the tax revenue of a city has to pay for streets and sidewalks, water mains and sewers and storm drains in perpetuity. The City Council could compare the projected tax value of a proposed redeveloped lot with other areas around town to help decide whether this is a good deal for Richardson. Will, say, a new drive-through Starbucks have as much tax value, brand new, as the storefront in old downtown Richardson, a century old, housing a hookah lounge? Maybe the City Council can follow up by asking the developer if he or she considered other forms for the development, forms that might have more initial value or at least hold their value longer. Let's just not accept yet another drive-through fast-food restaurant because "it's better than nothing."

So let's move on. But next time, let's have better ways to judge whether a proposal is good for Richardson. Let's ask for data. I'll let Louis Burns have the last word: "When we argue for better planning, smaller lots, urban villages, form-based codes, or long-term thinking we are advocating for an urban form that holds its value over time and does not financially imperil the city."

1 comment:

Janine said...

I just assumed the City Council had already those questions of the developer.