Dallas Plan Commissioners Reluctantly Allow Zoning for Cityplace Sam's Club to Stay

SamsCityplaceTrammellCrow.jpg
Trammell Crow
Life isn't fair. It's why kids starve. It's why puppies suffer. It's why the people who live next to Cityplace will soon also be living next to a 130,000-square-foot Sam's Club.

Dallas' City Plan Commission confirmed this afternoon that yep, the big box Trammell Crow has planned for the corner of Carroll Avenue and Central Expressway, much to the chagrin of neighbors, is in fact a done deal. All that's left is for commissioners to put their rubber stamp on the final development plan, which should happen next month.

Neighbors, most clad in red shirts and "No Mega Store" buttons, were optimistic entering Thursday's hearing that the CPC would vote to reopen the zoning debate, which could undo the decision it made, apparently unwittingly, to allow an enormous big-box store so close to the city center.

See also: The Fight Over Cityplace Sam's Club Zoning Isn't Over After All

The fact that the city was even considering reopening debate was a small miracle orchestrated by Plan Commissioner Bobby Abtahi last month after the commission postponed consideration of Trammell Crow's final development plan. They also enjoyed the advantage of public opinion, it being fairly clear that the East Village they were sold by developers did not include a 100,000-square-foot retailer. Unless, of course, you buy the suspiciously positive results of Trammell Crow's telephone survey.

It must also have given them heart to see a Trammell Crow rep stand at the dais and warn the CPC that reopening the zoning case would have a "chilling effect on the development community" and "make the city of Dallas look bad." If nothing else, it proved the righteousness of the cause.

He also denied that his company had ever misled anyone.

"The accusation that we have somehow baited and switched or not been fair in our representations -- that's just not correct."

The wind started leaving their sails midway through Abtahi's gentle grilling of city planner Neva Dean. After establishing that it probably wasn't quite clear on the city-issued zoning-change notification cards that the request for mixed-use zoning at the Cityplace site would also open the door for a 100,000-foot retail store, Abtahi paused.

"If we were to reopen the hearing," he continued after a preemptive expression of regret, "would the city be required to go ahead with their development plan and approve their permits?"

See also: CityPlace Neighbors Are Rallying to Fight Planned Sam's Club, But It's Probably Too Late

Dean, after some off-stage murmuring among city planning execs and legal staff, said yes. "Staff believes that we have a valid ordinance, and we are moving forward with that."

Put another way, Trammell Crow will already be likely have already begun building the Sam's Club by the time the renewed zoning debate really gets under way, likely while preparing a lawsuit against the Plan Commission for reneging on the original zoning deal.

By the time District 2 Plan Commissioner Gabriel Soto got around to introducing a motion to open the zoning case, he got a reluctant second from Ann Bagley, who explained later that she didn't want to motion to die for lack of a second.

After the meeting, neighbors milling about in the City Hall flag room vowed to continue to fight the development, they're just not quite sure how yet. Jonas Park, the Korean-born yoga instructor-turned-neighborhood activist, spoke mainly about how unfair the process has been, about the phantom, Sam's-less "East Village" they were shown, about how Trammell Crow reps had seemed to listen eagerly to his proposals to urbanize the Sam's Club by eliminating surface parking and creating a more "park-like setting" only to thoroughly ignore them. They preyed on his naive trust. His heart, he says, is broken.

The one potential upside, aside from tractor-sized barrels of animal crackers within biking distance of downtown, was grasped for by Abtahi.

"I don't know if we'll come out of this with very many positives except that a neighborhood that wasn't very organized before" has come together and now has a pretty good foundation for future activism.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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59 comments
lesterbet
lesterbet

The rules are frequently bent to accommodate the big guys. The only thing the small guy can do is pray. The news today are interesting. http://ow.ly/ykYQ0

CandyDate
CandyDate

Hey, that is me in the green car by the street light headed to the beach.  I just hope I can stay in my lane I am so excited to get to this new ocean. 

whateveryousay
whateveryousay topcommenter

Yay for Sam's Club and free commerce!  

If you don't like it you are all free to move.

This is a free country, not some neighborhood dictatorship.

If you wanted to control what was going to be built there maybe you should have banded together and purchased the land when it for sale at some point in the past.


MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

The minute the PD ordinance was enacted with the 100,000 square feet box listed, someone from neighborhood should have raised concerns.  That was your window and should have been the trigger for action.  Lots of he said, notice said, is not going to make a difference.  Unless someone got a bribe, a court is not going to question a law that is constitutional.  It is up to City Council, not a court, to enforce its own procedures on how an application becomes a law. 

Research2014
Research2014

In Far East Dallas at White Rock Lake, we've learned that "what you see is not what you get." After attending the MegaStore activist meeting last Tuesday, I saw a wide variety of concerned citizens. Young, old, and diverse. With the exact same spirit of those who have been hoodwinked in the past.

Abtahi is right, a new activist neighborhood was instantly created. Jason Park calls himself the "Accidental Activist." Jason and his neighbors are never going to view the City of Dallas in the same light. They will always be cautious in the future and rightly so. Government has a different agenda; just accept it and watch your back.


This neighborhood battle is not over by a long shot. This mess is going to make it much tougher for developers in Dallas, and a lot tougher on the CPC. 


Words mean nothing and promises are just words strung together into meaningless sentences. It is all about what it on paper, and then that is also often meaningless.



Greg820
Greg820

Let me try the D-Mag & DMN version of this story:

Trammel Crow just wants a place to hang out and have a beer.  So he is putting down a big box store in the middle of a residential neighborhood so he can grab a beer when he is in the area.  All he want's is a beer forchristsake!  Why do the liberals get all NIMBY when all this well-meaning, super-nice guy wants to do is improve the neighborhood and make a butt-load of money while doing it?

Thank you.   

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Crow approached the City and submitted a site-zone change request.  It was specific - a local mix to conform to the new Urban core long range plan for the area.  On that basis the Plan Commission recommended approval by the City Council.

Read the request.  Crow did not ask for a Big Box.  They asked for just the opposite.

This should be enough for the City Council to reject the change, based upon the submitted request and the intent of it.  

That the City Plan Commission accepted Crow's intent based upon its reputation in the community and thus did not narrowly confine the acceptance to their submitted request is unfortunate.  However, it does not bind the Council.  In fact, this is totally on Crow BECAUSE of their reputation and one of longstanding trust in the community.  

That Crow subsequently misled Sam's Club regarding the intended use of the Site and sold it to them is not the fault of the City for disapproving a change never asked for.  Indeed, it is totally on Crow for misleading both parties.  Worse, they burned up their fiduciary capital with the community in the process.  

Sam's Club's beef is with Crow.

The City's beef is with Crow.

The citizen's beef is with Crow.

Crow lied to everyone.

The Council has cause to reject the zoning request, or at the very least send it back to more narrowly confine the change to precisely what Crow asked for when they referenced the new Urban core plan in order to obtain the change.

Crow needs to tell it to a judge and jury if they don't like what they wrought.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Look at that artist's rendering.  It makes the development look as if it's being built on virgin land, when, in reality, the area is glass and concrete urbana.

Gangy
Gangy

Eric, you are much more generous in your description of the behavior of the Plan Commissioners than I would be. 

carrie299
carrie299

I like your comments @WillieH. I wish that you would have been there today. Thanks for breaking it down!

moborisn
moborisn

It's good to be Trammell Crow. Suck it up, Eric.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Why would anyone ask the atty who signed off the notice if the notice was legally sufficient? The planning commission rolled over for an Uptown Sam's Club. I am not surprised--it is Dallas--but as a 25 yr resident of this area I am very disappointed. Where are you tonight, Phillip Kingston?

michaelghoward78
michaelghoward78

So when will we vote out these planning commissioners who obviously have no interest in making Dallas a 21st century city?

WylieH
WylieH

Left unchecked, this will have a chilling effect on quality development going forward.  The area east of Central Expressway had begun redeveloping into a high-quality neighborhood with recent, urban-style developments completed by Hanover and Inland America immediate adjacent to the proposed Sam's Club.  Those developments are now worth much less.


Parmenter had begun moving forward with plans for a high-value redevelopment of CityPlace, to the south.  I hear those plans are now under reconsideration.  The intersections of Central at Blackburn/Haskell and Fitzhugh are now going to become extremely "challenging" to negotiate due to the lack of any traffic plan.

OxbowIncident
OxbowIncident

 I think this officially shows that Trammell Crow, once a bastion for fine city growth, has now relinquished any positive good will interest in the central part of Dallas. I compare this with Lincoln Property Company's efforts to revitalize Garland and Gaston and I'm amazed. Garland road and Gaston is going to be a fine development supporting walkability, and trail access to the Santa Fe trail/White Rock Lake while "East Village" will be a misnomer. Perhaps a better name should be "East 130,000 sq/feet."

kduble
kduble

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz  Indeed. This doesn't even look like this portion of Central Expressway, which is recessed below ground level.

WylieH
WylieH

@carrie299 Maybe I was there...

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@moborisn 

as Trammell Crow is deceased, it is definitely NOT "good" to be him.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

@primi_timpano  Not in Kingston's district.  Also, I like to think that Kingston would have 1) read the ordinance before voting on it and 2) would have seen that a retail of over 100,000sf was a listed use and questioned it. 


Pauline Medrano was the councilmember at the time this went through.  You might want to remember that as she seeks county office.

WylieH
WylieH

@michaelghoward78 One problem is that the commissioners rely on the City Attorney for advice... as primi_timpano pointed out, this is the same City Attorney who signed off on the defective notice in the first place, so it is very rare that the City Attorney is going to admit a mistake to the City Plan Commission.


It forces this into litigation, and the City has a long and proud tradition of losing cases like this once they make their way into court.

Bobtex
Bobtex

@michaelghoward78 You don't get to vote them out.  They are appointed by the City Councilmembers.  Go complain to your Councilmember. Good luck with that.

michaelghoward78
michaelghoward78

Same thing is happening with the SPOT/UP zoning (high density) @ 4719 Cole Ave. Dallas 75205 with the proposed monstrosity eyesore 8 story high rise!!!!

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @holmantx

I'll try harder.

The City can only grant that which is requested.  Staff cannot so alter the request made by the developer and accepted by the Plan Commission that it goes beyond the stated request, thus binding the City Council.

And since it still a proposed change, the final arbiter is the Council.  That Crow, in good faith, spent monies on pre-development is unfortunate.  For the citizen and the City, in good faith, accepted what they wanted to do based upon their request (which they abandoned).  Staff cannot change the request on its own and on this basis, the Council is not rejecting anything - they are just holding Crow to what the officially asked for in public, not behind closed doors with staff.

d-may
d-may

@michaelghoward78 I wish we could trade. I think it would be good to move the 8 story 200+ luxury apartments to East Dallas and move the Sams Club to Preston. 


Seems like that would make just about everyone happy

bateman.joseph
bateman.joseph

@michaelghoward78 "8 story high rise" you must be really short, lol That would be a low-rise building because its under 12. Most apartment buildings fall in that category. Except a few in Chicago and New York.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@WylieH @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

The fine print was the description of what development would be allowed on the parcel(s).  If an "East Village" was what was proposed then why was there verbage in there allowing the development of a "huge box" store?

In dealing with developers, I have learned to ignore what comes out of their mouths and read the paperwork.

People need to realize that in real estate in Texas, verbal utterances are of no significance.  You can only rely on what is written down.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WylieH @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

while I would agree with the statement that TCC was not totally straightforward with the neighborhood on what they would build, TCC was very open to the possibility of a big box retailer occupying space in the project. Look at the zoning ordinance, it specifically allows the use and the size.

Blame City staff, they are the ones who let the neighborhood down. They should have made certain the ForwardDallas guidelines were followed. They didn't, and this is what results.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@moborisn 

his "decendants" have zero to do, have no involvement, with the Trammell Crow Company, fool.

michaelghoward78
michaelghoward78

Then you may want to contact all of the Dallas news reporters that wrote it was a HIGH rise and not waste your time telling me!!!

michaelghoward78
michaelghoward78

Then you may want to contact all of the Dallas news reporters that wrote it was a HIGH rise and not waste your time telling me!!!!!

WylieH
WylieH

Agree 100%... The issue at hand is that adjacent property owners relied upon a legally required notice of public hearing that was false on its face and they were therefore stripped of their legal rights to be heard.

WylieH
WylieH

@mavdog I am referring specifically to the "Notice of Public Hearing" which is the primary (only) means by which residents are typically made aware of a pending rezoning case.

The notice stated that only MU-3 Mixed Use District uses would be allowed... big box retail is prohibited in that zoning category without an SUP.   So, the surrounding property owners were deprived of their due process protections afforded them under the Texas Zoning Enabling Act.

I agree that the zoning they obtained is clear, the problem is that the method by which they obtained it runs contrary to state law and renders the resulting ordinance void.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WylieH 

In MU-3 districts "General merchandise or food store greater than 3,500 square feet" are allowed by right.

WylieH
WylieH

@mavdog @WylieH Read further..... general retail in excess of 100,000 sf is only allowed via SUP in MU-3 and home improvement store uses are prohibited entirely.

So they aren't allowed to do what they are doing in MU-3 "as of right."  This is why the surrounding property owners are likely to prevail if they take this to court.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WylieH 

I believe you are splitting hairs, the use is allowed in the MU-3 zoning district; most importantly, the property is not governed by the general MU-3 regs as it is governed by a Planned Development Ordinance.

While I am sympathetic to the neighborhood pursuing a case, as the PD process was completed per City Code I'm not as optimistic the case would result in the zoning being overturned.

I've never heard that a traffic study was done, are you aware if this was completed and submitted to CPC specific to the proposed user?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WylieH 

to wit, here is the language in the PD:

SEC. 51P-889.107. MAIN USES PERMITTED.

(a) Except as provided in this section, the only main uses permitted are those main uses permitted

in the MU-3 Mixed Use District, subject to the same conditions applicable in the MU-3 Mixed Use District, as set out in Chapter 51 A. For example, a use permitted in the MU-3 Mixed Use District only by specific use permit (SUP) is permitted in this district only by SUP; a use subject to development impact review (DIR) in the MU-3 Mixed Use District is subject to DIR in this district; etc.

(b) The following additional uses are permitted on the Property:

General merchandise or food store 100,000 square feet or more.

WylieH
WylieH

@mavdog @WylieH Yes, I understand that is the PD ordinance, as approved.  Here is the problem, the notice of public hearing sent to adjacent property owners to create the PD stated it was an "application for "MU-3 Mixed Use District uses..."  full stop.  Home improvement stores (which Sam's will contain) are never allowed in MU-3; general retail in excess of 100,000 is prohibited as of right in MU-3 and requires an SUP (which I'm sure you know, is a basically a custom ordinance-- with all the notice, hearing, and approval processes associated with any other ordinance).  Texas state law and numerous court rulings are clear that notices provided to adjacent property owners in connection with one-off rezoning cases must be specific as to the type of action contemplated.  This one fell short.


So... we will have to agree to disagree, here, I suppose.



becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

@WylieH @mavdog  The thing about the notice argument is that you assume

   (1) someone knows what MU-3 means

    (2) knows that 100,000sf is not allowed by right (as we have seen this takes some digging into the actual city code since the city website only lists below 3,500sf and above 3,500sf) and

    (3) has the sophistication to figure out points 1 and 2, but not understand that a PDD can vastly deviate from the standard zoning categories and practices, in fact that is one of the main reasons for its existence.


Besides given what TCC did at Timbercreek, just the name Trammell Crow should have been enough notice that they would try to screw over neighborhood.  Kind of a fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me scenario.  But then again, many of the people complaining might not have been around a few years ago.

WylieH
WylieH

@mavdog @WylieH Also, a traffic study WAS done and submitted (contrary to what Trammell Crow has publicly stated), but is was pretty flawed in that it was for a different mix of land uses and rested on a critical assumption that full direct access to Haskell (through the area occupied by the data center) would be maintained.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WylieH

The challenge to the DIR would seem to me the way to most successfully go after a new review of the zoning change approval. If the DIR was not completed with the consideration of a warehouse club and ancillary uses as the traffic generators, it's conclusions are flawed. It fails to provide an accurate estimate of trips generated per day by the project as required.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WylieH @mavdog

I was for this since Crow applied for and obtained the zoning however, you provided a link to the application they filed back in 2012 which clearly stated (by the crow people) they intended to adhere to the new inner city Dallas long range plan.   That convinced me they did not receive the change they asked for.  They did not ask for a big box.  They requested an urban environment and pledged to do so.  Do you still have a link to that?  There is verbiage in there by Crow which, in plain language, convinced both the Plan Commission and the citizen they were on board with that long range plan and, in fact, would adhere to it.  It is the reason why they got the zoning change based upon their submitted request.  

They did not ask for a big box.  Their submitted request asked for just the opposite.


I think Crow misled both Sam's Club and the City at the same time.

WylieH
WylieH

Trammell Crow has claimed that City staff waived the traffic study requirement entirely...

OxbowIncident
OxbowIncident

@holmantx  Yes, but is "misleading" really illegal? I guess thats what attorneys are for and Trammel Crow pays theirs well, ...certainly more than the city pays to its attorneys.

WylieH
WylieH

Behaving in an unethical manner, generally speaking, is not illegal. Obtaining rezoning by subterfuge (via a false notice of public hearing) is, however, definitely illegal, as it strips adjacent property owners of their legal rights to due process which are well-established in the state of Texas.

Trammell Crow is engaging in a high-stakes game of "chicken," hoping that the surrounding property owners give up before this issue gets heard before a judge.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@OxbowIncident

Crow will lose this one.

Yea though the City is party to the assumption that "we cheated 'em fair and square", this cheat was not fair nor square.

The Council should just hold Crow to its official zoning request, not staff's deal they cut behind closed doors.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

@holmantx @OxbowIncident  But the ordinance was signed into law a year ago.  So, the current ordinance allows the use.  TCC started tearing down buildings once this became a controversy.  The City can't change the ordinance without going through the usual process, which takes time.  In the meantime TCC will rush like hell to poor the slab and be grandfathered in regardless of subsequent changes. 


TCC was slick, after TimberCreek you would have thought they couldn't pull the same trick twice in the same town.  Wonder how Pauline Medrano's campaign for County Treasurer is doing.

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