Refusing to Throw The Beagle a Bone, Plan Commission Ponders Greenville Ave.'s Fate

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As expected, the City Plan Commission's Thursday-afternoon meeting did indeed get just a little contentious when it came time to discuss the specific use permit application for the former Beagle on Lower Greenville Avenue. In fact, it ate up almost half of the 80-minute meeting -- and, in the end, the commission unanimously denied the SUP with prejudice, meaning Madison Partners can't reapply for an SUP for two years. (Denying with prejudice is the default and most often used ruling by the plan commission, which only denies without prejudice in rare and special circumstances.)
 
Attorney Roger Albright, representing Madison Partners, insisted that the request was innocent, merely a renewal of previously granted permits that have now expired. He said that prospective tenants -- Dave Seeberger, owner of the Lakewood Bar & Grill, and LB&J manager John Keener, formerly of the Granada -- want to open a live-music venue, and that the SUP would serve merely to protect owners from possible violations incurred by people "boogying" to the beat. As for the roof-top deck, he said it adds a competitive edge in the age of a smoking ban.

Seeberger told the commission he didn't intend to turn the place into a "dance hall." Keener then reminisced about when he was a musician in the late '60s and when "the town was a mecca for entertainers between the West and East Coast." He attributed the downfall of live music along Greenville to "irresponsible club owners," and said he and Seebergerwere set on turning things around.

At which point the plan commission looked as though just maybe it wouldn't deny the application after all. But, then ...

That's when Bruce Richardson, clad in a colorful quasi-Hawaiian shirt and white blazer, went to the podium. (He apologized to the commission for his outfit -- he was about to catch a plane to go on vacation.) Richardson, who was one reason the Dallas police shut down the Good Records outdoor concert in April, outlined the history of the site -- and said that in 2003, the Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association even came to a City Plan Commission meeting to support an SUP for The Beagle, whose owners had promised a venue much like the one under consideration yesterday.

"We were naïve and stupid and had no idea what we were getting into," he said. "The moment it was granted, everything changed." He was referring to the unanticipated masses of people drawn to the club, and a massive spotlight that could "be seen from Plano." Ever since The Beagle's collapse, he insisted, other unsuccessful projects have come and gone, each one as promising as the last -- a pizza parlor, Lucky's Roadhouse, then, briefly, a lesbian bar.

Zoning, Richardson said by way of conclusion, "can't be about a tenant or a concept or a business plan or something that someone brings here after a 'For Lease' sign is put up for a solid year [that they] present [to the plan commission] in 15 minutes. Zoning has to be more than that." Richardson told the commissioners they should care about what is good for the neighborhood, and not what's good for an unsustainable, nocturnal economy that feeds off an endless cycle of failure. To paraphrase.
 
Richardson's bottom line was this: A huge music venue like the one being proposed -- even though it wasn't specifically mentioned in the materials presented beforehand to the plan commission -- would bring in carloads of people who would probably find themselves frustrated by the lack of available parking spots. If Madison Partners, Seeberger and Keener really wanted to open a music venue, he said, they should take their ideas over to a more music-accommodating area like West End, where, Richardson said, they are "hungry for tenants."

Jonathan Hetzel, part of Madison's "acquisition and divestiture team," said the company has been trying to put a retailer in that spot for years, but that nobody has been willing to commit. He then got into a debate with plan commissioner Neil Emmons, whose district includes Lower Greenville, about where music venues belong in Dallas.

Emmons said he was surprised by Hetzel's defense of the Greenville Avenue venue; he recalled that during past appearances before the commission, Hetzel has pushed for revitalization efforts in Deep Ellum that have usually focused on returning that neighborhood to its live-music roots. Emmons seemed a little annoyed that Hetzel had moved the conversation from Deep Ellum to Greenville, telling him, "When developments are concentrated, they feed off each other, and are likely to succeed," but when you spread them out, it's "like spreading jam thinly across bread until it has no flavor."

Emmons asked Hetzel, "Do you worry that the energy escapes places like Deep Ellum if we start putting them at Greenville, and maybe even by the Galleria or great places like Maple?"

Emmons finally brought the debate to a close, but not before wondering aloud whether the commission should delay the vote on the SUP application or straight up deny it. This was because of a question raised about whether Albright and Madison Partners had met with the Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association to discuss possible compromises -- which, they both acknowledged, hadn't been done. Regardless, Emmons motioned to follow the staff's recommendation and deny the SUP, for the simple reason that it was not in compliance with the commision's standards favoring the welfare of the adjacent community.

The motion was quickly seconded, and a few commissioners gave additional reasons for their vote. A few commented on the insufficiency of the parking. Sally Wolfish said that the sheer density of an expected 250-500 person concert crowd entering and leaving roughly at the same time would cause chaos in the area. Multiple references were made to Richardson's complaint about the past discrepancies between prior businesses' concepts and their execution of them.

The many letters of opposition sent from the community were also mentioned. A few commissioners, chief among them Wolfish and Ann Bagley, weren't particularly delighted that Madison Partners insisted there was no opposition to the SUP since, well, no neighborhood residents, save for Richardson and two others Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association members, showed up at the meeting to oppose it.

"I find it concerning that applicants are ignoring the opposition," Bagley said. "To say nobody opposes to this in the area is disingenuous."
 
Perhaps the most poignant, conclusive quote of the day was made by Robert Eckblad: "Maybe the reason the place across the street is vacant because of what you have on the other side," he said, referring to the vacant first floor of the Cityville complex, which is intended for retail.

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