The Maples Screamed, "Oppression!" And the Oaks Just Shake Their Heads.

Categories: Cover Story, News
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Alexa Schirtzinger
Stormwater Management Assistant Director Errick Thompson, left, gets a lesson in southwest Dallas developer politics from farmer Frank Bracken.
Thursday morning, Cedar Vista neighborhood advocate Frank Bracken -- the southwest Dallas farm owner profiled, in part, in this week's cover story about the taking of the trees -- finally got the city to lend an ear -- or, rather, two guys willing to get their shoes muddy. Bracken led Zaida Basora from Building Inspection and Errick Thompson, assistant director of Stormwater Management, on a tour highlighting the problems with the Grady Niblo "moonscape." There's trash around the perimeter, piles of concrete waste, too few trees around the homes that have been built and dying trees whose roots were clipped when developers clear-cut the property. The biggest concern, in Thompson's view, is rapid erosion and silty runoff from the land.

The Grady Niblo property has at least five years' worth of skeletons in its closet, mostly in the form of noncompliance with various city codes, ordinances and board decisions. Basora admitted that there's often confusion on whether a violation -- such as the presence of sidewalks in a Planned Development like Grady Niblo, which isn't supposed to have them -- falls under the Department of Code Compliance or Building Inspection. Basora says her department deals only with open permits, and that Code Compliance takes care of pretty much everything else. But questions of compliance are easily lost in cases like Grady Niblo: a maze of foreclosure, changing ownership and multiple Board of Adjustment hearings.

To hear Bracken tell it, the main reason city officials are finally paying attention now is because when Cedar Vista residents got mad about what was happening at Grady Niblo, they did the next best thing to getting even: They got organized.

The latest timetable on actual development at Grady Niblo seems to be about 10 years. Will Cedar Vista stay organized? Will the city stay interested? Will code compliance slip through the cracks? (And, um, will the economy recover?) A lot can happen in a decade.

As it stands, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires the current owner, Graham Investments, Inc., to "stabilize" 70 percent of the property, keeping it from eroding or harming neighboring sewers, water sources or land.

"Even if they stabilize [70 percent], that doesn't give them a free pass," Thompson said.

But Basora was even more frank: "We need to make sure we have the same understanding of what 70 percent means," she told Thompson and Bracken. "Generally, the property looks good; we just need to make sure the details [get ironed out]. We need to make sure there's an agreement in writing to make sure it remains stabilized." Basora said she's working on that agreement with Dallas City Council member Dave Neumann, who was out here a couple of weeks ago.

With regard to Cedar Vista resident-agitators like Bracken, Basora seemed genuinely pleased with their persistence.

"We are happy," she said. "We rely on our citizens to help us with the policing." A lesson for Dallasites: Be a squeaky wheel.

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