The Richardson City Plan Commission Tuesday evening failed to recommend approval for the development of a private apartment tower for student housing adjacent to UT-Dallas. The vote was 3-3. A majority was needed to approve recommending the project to the City Council. So, technically, the application wasn't rejected. It just wasn't approved. So the CPC moved to have a continuance until September 21, when hopefully the CPC can reach a majority decision. Or not. We'll see.
I thought the "no" votes were misguided. Here's why.
The property in question is near UT-Dallas. UT-Dallas is a growing university with a housing shortage. The property is near a future DART Silver Line station. The property is also neighbor to office buildings on Waterview Parkway, office buildings that are largely vacant. The economy's response to the pandemic suggests that office employment is not coming back soon. There is certainly no need for more offices. I can't imagine a more appropriate use for this land than to help meet the demand for housing near UT-Dallas. I can't imagine a more appropriate use for this land than to bring more people near a light rail transit station, especially people like students who are more likely to benefit from public transportation.
Obviously, three of the CPC commissioners thought otherwise. What was their logic? That's harder to say.
One offered no reason at all. Just no.
One raised two concerns. The proposal (which is aimed at college students) doesn't have a children's playground. Also, the proposal didn't mention accessibility for students with disabilities (someone replied that's not something the CPC needs to ensure; that federal law requires that).
The third commissioner said he thought TOD is better situated south of Waterview Parkway. He was concerned with pedestrian access, which isn't there today. He was concerned that UT-Dallas wasn't there in support of the project. (They weren't there in opposition, either. In fact, the CPC received nineteen letters in support, only four opposed, and the applicant submitted a petition with hundreds of signatures in support). Finally, this commissioner pointed to the City Council's rejection of a similar application by the same applicant last December. "We ought to be respectful of the Council's decisions and guidance that they've given us." (It's a different project now. It's a different council now.) That Council guidance, in his mind, was that the 2009 Comprehensive Plan indicates this property is not intended for residential uses. (That's a 12 year old plan. It's sorely in need of an update, which City Council members have admitted in recent meetings.)
The giveaway that the outcome was pre-determined came when the chairman asked all three commissioners who voted no whether there was anything that could be changed about the application that could persuade them to change their votes. No. No. No.
I feel sorry for the landowner. He owns a piece of property that is ideally situated near a growing university and a light-rail station, but the City Plan Commission says an obsolete land use plan prohibits him from using it for residential purposes. He'd be crazy to build yet another office building to go along with the vacant buildings nearby. So he's stuck. And the City of Richardson is unwilling to work with him. The City Plan Commission had literally nothing to offer as a way forward.
I am disappointed specifically with the City Plan Commission. Watching their "deliberations," if I can use that word for their lack of substantive deliberation, gave me no confidence in them. I left the chambers with the depressing feeling that, with a few exceptions, a random collection of Nextdoor commenters might have yielded a more productive discussion.
Only six of the nine commisioners were present Wednesday evening. Come back September 21 when the case will be continued. Maybe the full body might yield a better deliberation and a result more in keeping with Richardson's future needs and stated vision of favoring transit-oriented development (TOD).