For more than a year, Trinity Groves developers West Dallas Investments have worked to gather support from La Bajada neighbors on a zoning change that would allow them to build a 400-foot, 28- to 32-story office tower at the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, adjacent to the historic West Dallas residential neighborhood.
At a December meeting, the Dallas Plan Commission voted down the zoning change, 8-6, and a second attempt by West Dallas Plan Commissioner Deborah Carpenter to approve the zoning at 300 feet was postponed to give commissioners time to review the case.
Zoning case Z190-158 returns to the plan commission today, with 37 citizens signed up to speak — 18 in favor and 19 against. It’s a substantial uptick from the two proponents and four in opposition who spoke at last month’s meeting.
In addition, a petition was sent to commissioners this morning with signatures from 139 La Bajada residents asking them to oppose the zoning change.
At the December meeting, quite a bit of discussion revolved around which residents had most at stake and therefore most say in the zoning case. La Bajada board members Mandy Watkins and Frank DeLeon spoke in favor of the zoning, but Watkins acknowledged to commissioner that she does not live in the neighborhood.
West Dallas residents James Armstrong and Earl Thomas spoke against the rezoning at December’s meeting, though neither of them live in La Bajada. Lisa Neergard of bc Workshop and Brent Brown, formerly of the Trinity Park Conservancy and Dallas’ CityDesign Studio who helmed the creation of the West Dallas Urban Structure and Guidelines, also spoke against the project, but Tommy Mann of Winsted law firm, representing West Dallas Investments, dismissed their comments.
“What you heard in opposition was two speakers who do not live in West Dallas, speaking as to what they believe is most appropriate for the neighborhood next to it,” Mann said. “Don’t forget that you also actually heard from the neighborhood right next to it, that they support this case.”
West Dallas Investments worked for months to develop a community benefits agreement with the seven-member La Bajada Neighborhood Association board. The agreement is legally bound and has been cloaked in secrecy from the rest of West Dallas and even from La Bajada neighbors.
The La Bajada board recently released a document summarizing the agreement, and West Dallas Investments’ Jim Reynolds has invited any interested La Bajada residents to visit his office at The Boardroom to view the legal agreement.
(Dallas Free Press has been told that a copy of the official agreement was provided to plan commissioners and requested a copy last week based on open records laws. The city responded this week asking for an associated property address, which legally gives them more time to provide the document.)
Commissioner Carpenter has stated that she will give most weight to those who live closest to the proposed zoning change, and reiterated this at December’s meeting.
“So far, we have a letter from La Bajada Neighborhood Association, and everything I’ve heard from La Bajada says they are in support of the project. In fact, I haven’t received any comments from a La Bajada resident or from anyone east of Sylvan who’s opposed to the project,” Carpenter said. “The people who have expressed opposition live, for the most part, west of Hampton. That’s not to say that they don’t have bonafide concerns. But as a general rule, in so many cases, we have to give more weight to people who live the closest or are most affected.”
“I see enough public good here as a trade off for increasing the height of the south/southeast portion of the tract, given that the proposal has the support of the adjoining La Bajada neighborhood,” Carpenter said.
Not enough of her fellow commissioners agreed in order to move the case forward for City Council approval, which is why it’s being heard again today.
Once again, the questions of whose voices matter most and what constitutes public good will be center stage in this pivotal zoning case.