Monday, November 23, 2009
Plan to strengthen Heights area in Richardson receives support despite misguided blog comments
Our larger reason for emphasizing that Richardson tackle this area is that these issues will spread.
A few weeks back three presidents of various Heights neighborhood associations in Richardson had the privilege of presenting a plan for strengthening and renewing the Heights area. I was amongst those being the President of Richardson Heights Neighborhood Association. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive and that reaction included support of corners of Richardson far from Heights. There was some reasonable skepticism of parts of the plan and a small amount of negative reaction. I think it is worth responding to some of that reaction.
Let’s start first with the back story. Three presidents of three Heights neighborhoods; Cottonwood Heights, Heights Park and Richardson Heights started working on a plan sometime around June to shore up problems and plan for renewal.
We slowly carved 15 points down to five while our respective boards then provided input into the plan. We then presented this to a joint meeting of the three neighborhoods and they provided further input. All along the way, resident input smoothed the presentation and honed the points.
There are people out there today who made comments to us, and those comments guided changes. Yet that resident might have no idea that his or her input gave an elegant tap to the direction and resulting presentation. The point is that this input was essential and it is why a broad range of residents affected this plan.
The “2009 Heights Plan for Excellence” outline is this:
1. Code Enforcement / Neighborhood Integrity
2. Roadway and Sidewalk improvement
3. Land for Park / Playground to serve Richardson Heights and eastern end of Cottonwood Heights.
4. Review of zoning for allowable land use vs. future best and highest uses along Spring Valley & Beltline
5. Strategic Vision Plan / Redevelopment Master Plan for Spring Valley, Beltline and 75 corridors
We got to present this plan and talk to the City Council at the November 2 work session. Specifically much dialog was about the Perimeter part of the plan. You can see the full presentation here.
We received great reaction from many circles including neighborhoods on the other side of Richardson. A few neighborhood leaders said they were worried about similar issues creeping into their neighborhoods in the future. Some recognized that if serious decline is allowed to happen in one part of the City than it will affect the others.
As to be expected with anything that is far reaching and has complex issues at its core, there was a bit of skepticism, outright misunderstanding, and misplaced criticism. Let’s address that.
Some of the most reasonable commentary came from Ian McCann of the Dallas Morning News. He stated, “Some items are easier to do than others, though none of it could really be called ‘easy.’” Making sure infrastructure standards on things like roads are up par and getingt special attention paid to older at risk areas is not hard.
I think it’s important to recognize that some of this is NOT particularly easy when it comes to redevelopment. On that McCann's broad statement is correct. The issue of redevelopment is Richardson’s most important issue. Retired blogger Ed Cognoski said it well in August: “Over the next decade redevelopment is going to be the biggest issue facing Richardson, not our golf courses, not storm water management, not our landfill transfer stations, not transparency in government.”
McCann also says, “Buying land to create a neighborhood park? Expensive.” Actually no. It's inexpensive compared to other park expenditures. In recent years, Richardson has spent six figure amounts on a single playground and on seeding grass on ball fields. Those same amounts could be used to purchase core pieces of what could be new park space. The difference is that land acquisition is permanent while playgrounds and turf are temporary. Not only that but new park space would make surrounding property more valuable while simply replacing a playground or a playing fields grass would not. However, this comparison is not meant to be an either-or but to show how these things are within reach. Further, park accessibility is not just nice to have. It is demanded by some potential home buyers. There are mounds of studies that demonstrate this point. In the long run new parks create value in the way other expenditures do not.
Some brought up the issue of “affordable housing” if apartments on Spring Valley are removed. This issue is misplaced as well. “Affordable Housing” does not mean housing that is at the end of its usable life and is unsustainable in the long term. The definition of that term, affordable housing, varies somewhat. According to some variations the house that me and my family owns is affordable housing. We are not suggesting bulldozing any single family houses. In fact, it would not be wise for new housing to only cater to an upper middle class clientele.
One questioner in The Dallas Morning News blog stated that we were not making effort to include apartments in the “HOAs.” (Side note: We are voluntary neighborhood associations and not homeowner associations.) She is correct. No neighborhood association, that I know of, would accept the proposal and if someone was to bring that forward to any one of these associations I predict it would be shot down by the residents. As far as I know, all three associations welcome renters that live within the geographical bounds of their associations. If she feels strongly about this, then she should try to get her neighbors to implore the residents of her neighborhood association to change their by-laws.
Others have brought up issues of ethnicity. This too is misplaced if not an ignorant and insulting criticism. If you watch the video you will notice that the emphasis is upon reinforcing single-family neighborhoods. As we stated our board and members signed off on the plan and as such it is worth noting that past and present members of these association boards have been of differing ages, ethnicities, genders, religions, income levels, and even sexual orientations. Owners of homes all through the Heights neighborhoods have these variations and they are involved and supportive as anyone else. Heights Park has never had a male president (that I know of) and all three have had women presidents. Income levels are highly varied as well. We have members in marriages and families with multiple ethnicities and some who have adopted children of different ethnicities. It would be hard to find more diverse neighborhoods within Richardson.
On another blog, the author suggested that people didn’t know what they wanted. That author egregiously misunderstood a point made by Janet Depuy of Heights Park. He said, “The third HOA president admitted that ‘developers ask what do we want and we never know.’” The “we” in that sentence is not Ms DePuy or the association leaders. It was The City itself. A long running problem is that the City has had no strategic plan for areas that require redevelopment. So when Ms DePuy says “We don’t know” she is playing the royal “we” of the City. Hence the fifth and most important point of the plan is to create a long-term plan for redevelopment areas. We see the City working to make that correction and that is a good thing.
What is required is a plan. A few council members asked us some specific questions about precisely what would be acceptable uses and we balked on those for quite deliberate reasons. We do not want to “jump the gun” early in the process. The previous author suggested this was inconsistent but that is far from true. We emphasized the process and not our specific desires. To short circuit the process – a process in which all stakeholders would participate – would not only be unproductive but autocratic. We represent one set of stakeholders and even those deserve a direct voice.
Also, the previous author was also confused about the “moratorium” to redevelopment plan relationship. He did not seem to understand that an obstacle to serious renewal is the regeneration of blight. While painting and adding a new roof to a 40-year-old minimal retail building might look good now, it will not look good in a few years. It’s not just about looks. It is about building areas that can maintain economic sustainability by design and planning. The old areas were built on models that are, in some cases, 50 years old. Those models of development – be they retail or multi-family housing – are no longer viable if the goal is strong and sustainable development. If they were you would see similar configurations appear in Dallas redevelopments and in outer suburbs new developments.
The author complained that we said moratorium on one hand but we did not want to stop redevelopment on the other. The author grossly distorted those comments. During the meeting I said Moratorium with a capital M or small m or “waving our arms around.” The point of my quip was about the effect and not the mechanism. We want to get to the goal of serious redevelopment and not extend the old, which is already decayed or will inevitably decay. In other words and to use too many clichés, “moratorium” should stop these attempts to put lipstick on a pig when the patient is on life support. The formal mechanism is not important but the effect is.
By and large, these criticisms are about other agendas and some of those are petty and political. Our larger reason for emphasizing that Richardson tackle this area is that these issues will spread. While the Spring Valley is our border and 75 is a visual gateway, other areas are at risk of future problems and for the sake of Richardson’s future we need to put petty politics and aside and focus on a long term future.
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