Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Council Recap: Outdoor Storage is the new "Edgy"

Source: h/t DALL-E

The Richardson City Council began consideration of a request for a Special Development Plan with a reminder of the vision for the Interurban Sub-district: "To create an edgy, mixed-use district built upon the existing bones of the district, focusing on adaptive reuse of existing buildings and targeted infill development. Exterior building materials should promote design creativity and unify the eclectic style envisioned for the Sub-district."

That's the vision. So what did the applicant bring to the City Council for approval? A storage warehouse with an outdoor storage yard for building supplies. You know, kind of like this business across Bishop Ave from the business in question.

Source: Google

But the applicant said not to worry, "I'm putting two of the prettiest faces on two streets...I'll put this beautiful dress around those two faces and landscaping." Why the need to hide the building (with those "pretty faces") with a fence and landscaping (the "beautiful dress")? Maybe because he's filling the space between the streets and the building with stacks of building materials. Like the business across the street. "It could be lumber, it could be steel, it could be aluminum, it could be, he does a lot of concrete."

I expected this application to be denied in short order. It clearly is not compatible with the vision for the Interurban Sub-district. It's not "edgy." It doesn't add to the "mixed-use" vision. It's not an adaptive reuse, other than maybe the concrete area around the building, which is being adapted from parking cars to parking, well, more concrete. It doesn't address the goal of "infill development" unless, again, you consider stacks of building materials to be infill development. Stacks of unassembled lumber, steel and concrete are not the "eclectic style" envisioned for the Sub-district, which is implicitly acknowledged by hiding it all with an eight-foot fence and equally tall shrubbery.

So was it rejected? Listen to our Councilmembers' own reactions and see if you can guess the vote. (Quotes are slightly edited for clarity.)

Councilmember Dan Barrios: "Looking at this and the wall and the outdoor storage I drove through there yesterday afternoon... I just really have a hard time with the outdoor storage. I think it is kind of a permanent change to the area and what maybe we were hoping that area would become and what previous Councils were hoping." Exactly. He's a no, right? So far, so good.

Councilmember Jennifer Justice: "Outdoor storage is allowed by right. I think this is a tremendous enhancement to what's there now. And I think slightly moving the storage from where it is currently allowed by right to another part of the property is not problematic from my standpoint. We're going to put eight foot shrubs that are going to screen this, and putting up a nice fence." In fact, it's more than "slightly moving" the outdoor storage area. It's also expansion of the outdoor storage area from 708 sq. ft. to 7,868 sq. ft. It's not like Justice to miss, or misrepresent, such a detail. It's such a huge expansion that it results in converting 32 parking spots to three.

Mayor Bob Dubey: "I really like the way the frontage looks, the new design, the ambiance of improving this lot...But the part I think that we're missing is that he's creating an opportunity for a fellow business across the street on Bishop to where that individual can be successful by putting his materials on this property." I'm impressed how Mayor Dubey has convinced himself that piles of building materials improve the "ambiance."

Mayor Pro Tem Arefin: "It could look nice, it could look horrible. Depends how the property owner manages it. If it is a pile of concrete or stone, scattered everywhere, probably not gonna look that way. But if those are stacked nicely, ... So overall, I think it looks good, because the height is maximum. So I think code enforcement, follow up with that, make sure that it doesn't go higher than that. And it stays within the boundary within that limit claim. They're still going to affect the long term of the area. So in that sense, probably I'll go with this request." Arefin came close, so close to recognizing that a "pile of concrete or stone, scattered everywhere" is not going to enhance the area. Asking code enforcement to keep that from happening is an admission that approving this request is the wrong approach to moving the area closer to the vision that was set for it.

Councilmember Curtis Dorian: "I think honestly with the screening wall and the eight foot requirement and the enhancement to the space, I'm in support of this building. I think they've done a good job to create a new development." So good they have to screen it and promise to extend the screen on the sides if buildings on either side are redeveloped. But redevelopment is what I thought we were trying to encourage in this sub-district. I can imagine the thinking of a future property owner: "I was thinking of adaptive reuse of my building, but not if there's an eyesore next door that'll have to be screened with a longer wall."

Councilmember Hutchenrider: "I think with the enhancements that will be on North Central Expressway, which is really, in my mind, much more of the front door of the property than Bishop Ave...and with the screening that we have there, the fencing that's being in there, I agree with Councilwoman Justice as far as the movement of the outdoor storage, I don't think it invalidates what past Councils were thinking." See how Justice's mischaracterization of adding 10 times the storage space as "slightly moving" it is now being picked up by others as a reason to support this. And see how Hutchenrider ignores the need for redevelopment not just along Central Expressway, but on Bishop Ave. as well. He treats it like an alley. How far it's fallen since the early City Fathers gave it the lofty designation of "avenue."

Councilmember Joe Corcoran: "Investors have started investing in the area based on very specific requirements and visions. And I feel like the best vision wasn't necessarily to have lots like this that are closed in with high fences and lots of outdoor storage. It was really more about total renovation of some of these properties...I think it is better to stick to the original plan. Councilman Barrios has convinced me to vote no on this one." Barrios and Corcoran get it.

In the end, the City Council voted 5-2 to approve the use of a building that fronts Central Expressway in the heart of Richardson for additional storage of lumber, steel, aluminum, and concrete. The vision set by prior City Councils was intended to drive positive change to the businesses along Bishop Ave., but instead we're seeing the expansion of lumber storage across Bishop Ave. to buildings that front Central Expressway. This isn't progress.

This doesn't bode well for the work underway to update Richardson's Comprehensive Plan. It doesn't do any good to update the Plan or zoning regulations if the next City Council is going to override it for a lumber yard.

Still, thanks to Barrios and Corcoran for showing a willingness to stand behind earlier decisions to drive positive change in Richardson's redevelopment, even without having a majority on their side. That's how majorities are eventually built, by demonstrating through losing votes what Richardson could have if we stuck to the vision.

"Facades with a charm,
Landscaped beauty veils the truth,
Outdoor lumber storage."

—h/t ChatGPT

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