Last night, District 14 Dallas City Council Member David Blewett held a town hall meeting to discuss Streetlights Residential’s proposal for a residential tower at Lemmon and Oak Lawn avenues. You’ve seen it before, so I won’t belabor the point (to catch up, skip the first listed story and you’re there).
In reading those older columns, you know what I think. I’d like more parking underground and I’d like the ass-end facing north Lemmon returned to its original, thinner profile. Kinda done. These sentiments and more were raised during the meeting.
The meeting was less vicious than expected, although the same elements that trail all zoning cases were in attendance. Speaking of attendance, while this meeting was posted on every social media light pole, about 100 attendees crammed into the Methodist Church’s meeting room – not a stellar turnout given the ubiquitous notification and density of the local neighborhood. Near the end, Blewett asked a series of leading questions to gauge the room. Who supported, who was drop-dead opposed and who was on the fence depending on some specific issues being managed. In other words, “who’s there?”, “who can get there?”, and “who’ll never get there?” To cut the suspense, somewhere between a quarter to a third of the room were drop-dead opposed. Again, not a stellar turnout given the level of static this project has engendered.
Another telling metric came when Blewett asked the attendees how far away they lived. As Blewett closed the circle down to areas that might actually feel an impact, representation was sparse. Once the lack of local-locals was noted, attendees piped-up that they crossed the Lemmon and Oak Lawn Avenue intersection regularly. That’s a pretty shaky position. Are commuters’ opinions about development along their route a new bellwether? Construction would cease.
Traffic and Density: Tenuous and Valid Concerns
Traffic is always brought up as being terrible. It’s a bit of a stand-in for the reality of population growth increasing density in neighborhoods. When I was going to school, the City of Dallas (not Dallas County or the Metroplex, just the city) had a population of 844,401 residents. In 2017 it was 1.341 million – a 59 percent increase. In 1980, around the time one vociferous attendee took up residence in Oak Lawn, the city’s population was 904,078.
During those most recent years, urban living has become trendy again after the decades of white-flight. Coupling recent fashion and population growth, where is Dallas to fit its half a million new citizens? And no, the answer isn’t “somewhere else.”
I was reminded of this when waiting to enter the meeting where the church had posted photographs of long torn-down Oak Lawn homes from the 1920s. The myopathy of change before you drew breath, as you fight future growth, is the very definition of NIMBY-ism.
So no, traffic concerns do not really hold water because it’s the inexorable growth of the population. The U.S., unlike China, isn’t building brand-new cities – and it probably should. To those fighting traffic, stop. Instead, fight for better public transit options. Fight for a subway. Cities across the globe with robust public transit claim to service 40 to 60 percent of urban trips.
Going back to that noisy protestor, 37 years ago, what did Uptown look like? Were you dining out and seeing movies? Hardly. You were getting your palm read or buying a used car. Surely you’ve benefitted from that change, that progress.
If, as a gay man, I can say anything about increasing density in Oak Lawn it’s the vicious irony that generations of childless gay boys and girls, who did nothing to affect population growth — even losing a generation to HIV – are now finding their “ancestral” neighborhood at a forefront of population-related density.
So traffic and its connections to density are non-starters as far as I’m concerned. It’s the unsolvable of population growth.
Traffic Patterns do Matter
While traffic quantity is unsolvable or a lost cause, how traffic functions isn’t. That’s exactly where the neighborhood needs to focus. How does traffic move within the site and how does it interact with the neighborhood. Some attendees raised questions about how traffic flowed that were smartly noted by Blewett.
The rubric of increasing the numbers of road lanes was brought up. But increasing capacity only increases traffic. In Chicago, a highway connector (I-355) was supposed to handle volumes for years. It was over-capacity within a year.
Some disbelieving attendees asked to see the full traffic study which the city said was posted online (no URL given). Inside the study will be the detail showing how traffic moves by hour. In studying that, you can talk with the developer and city staff about options to mitigate.
But we’re talking tweaks, not a wholesale disappearing of traffic.
And in reading a full traffic study people will see where traffic flows and how quickly new sources of traffic dissipate. Think about it. Every option to turn (or not) bleeds some traffic from the starting point. One attendee was concerned about this project’s impact on his Maple Heights neighborhood – over a mile away – the answer is zero. At that distance, were a single new car to meander through that neighborhood I’d be shocked.
For reference, when traffic counters were out in Preston Hollow’s PD-15 they found a handful of cars heading north through Preston Hollow – and that turn was two blocks from the starting point.
I’ve always been on the fence about height in this location. I don’t want to see Lemmon become a high-rise corridor given its proximity to low-rise neighborhoods (as one attendee said, “walking into your backyard facing a seven-story parking garage). There is some protection from that happening due to the skinniness of the lots (the corner is deeper). But as the Oak Lawn Committee fended off Central Market from encroaching on the back of the Lemmon block, could it happen in the future? Are there any safeguards that the city council could put in place?
No-No-No? Then No
Finally, I have to air a peeve (shocking, right?). I’m happy to educate the uneducated. I’m happy to explore options and solutions. What I ignore with every fiber are people who just say “no” – full stop. I always have a “but” regardless of my position. The number of people who refuse to be educated or offer valid suggestions or solutions – thinking “no” covers it – are wrong. However you slice it, zoning cases are negotiations. And you know what? There may ultimately be a “no,” but sitting on the sidelines and refusing to participate reduces your stance meaninglessness.
I give Blewett credit for holding this town hall meeting. I think he got to hear thoughts in a way that sometimes falls flat in emails or phone calls. That said, I suggest better signage at future meetings – especially when the only open door for a night meeting is in the back of the building.
The project hits the city council December 11.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email email@example.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.