With Masterplan representing their interests, the developer obtained approval at City Council to build a better high-rise at Welborn/Oak Lawn than what was originally allowed by right. The objective of the case was to grant a better setback for neighbors, improve traffic control, and overall to create a plan that best fit the Oak Lawn neighborhood. Improvements for the client included the addition of amenities such as inside parking and Uber parking, as well as the ability to offer larger unit sizes. For more than two years, Masterplan helped the client work through conflicts with the neighbors of the property, finally achieving a mutually agreeable resolution that allowed them to move forward.
Case won by Dallas Cothrum & Beth D’Arcy.
Thanks to our consultants’ efforts, the company was granted a Specific Use Permit (SUP) for two years for a large towing station in the South Dallas area.
Fifteen years ago, urbanist Richard Florida published The Rise of the Creative Class. Much to his surprise, it became a bestseller. But it was also heavily criticized by academics and professionals from a number of disciplines. Florida has now published The New Urban Crisis, which to an extent belongs in that rarest of genres, the mea culpa. After this many years, he is now willing to formally address his critics, and to demonstrate how his thinking has continued to evolve. It’s a surprising turn for this polarizing figure, but at his recent book launch at the London School of Economics, he deftly explained his choices.
Florida began by launching into an incredibly cohesive personal mythology, emphasizing his personal connection to his field and the fact that he only wrote Rise after around 20 years of study. He stated that the first book was an attempt to create a new empirical assessment of class structure, and said he still considers himself part of the neo-Marxist movement that conceives of mental labor as the means of production. He initially intended to focus solely on the 3 Ts: technology, talent, and trade, but once he began investigating quality of place, the concept of the “creative class” was born (interestingly, he emphasized several times that his editor came up with that now-famous term, and that he has little attachment to the label).
Florida then began to discuss the extent to which he underestimated the scale of the urban revival that began around 2000. He also pointed to the election of Rob Ford as the mayor of Toronto (where he lives) as a wake up call, a sign of a backlash against tolerant, creative communities that he didn’t anticipate. In searching for an explanation for this political phenomenon, he calculated the amount each class (knowledge workers, blue collar workers, service workers) had leftover after paying for housing, and discovered that the service class was really suffering. This research insight prompted the new book.
Florida stated that he tries to marry Marx/Schumpeter to Jane Jacobs, in a framework where the city is the platform for new capitalism. He noted that the clustering effect in cities discussed in Rise also causes the deep inequalities that result in backlash. Winner-take-all urbanism, in which super cities control a disproportionate share of the 3 Ts, creates a highly problematic divide. Spatial inequality entrenches financial inequality, leading to the concept that the new urban crisis is a crisis of success. The reality he failed to notice in his first book is that the very things that increase economic dynamism also result in the decline of the middle class, and place limits on upward mobility. In a number of cities, there are now higher levels of poverty in the suburbs than inner cities, although more broadly, there are always concentrations of poverty, just not in the same place in every city.
He chose to close by talking through some of his thoughts on solutions. One key point was that cities must convince anchor institutions (universities, hospitals, major corporations) to buy in on a local level. Ultimately, Florida stated that he now sees the nation-state itself as the problem because of how much authority is invested in a central figure. He also emphasized that cities ought to be experimenting with many different solutions to housing issues, with transit and job upgrading integrated as part of the strategy. He believes advances in transportation are going to increase clustering, and that the concentration of wealth and space is going to get worse. Florida then tried to end on a positive, admonishing the audience to look for ways to merge growth and equity, and work toward inclusive prosperity.
Overall, the evening produced an very interesting conversation. Dallas, too, is affected by many of the issues Florida’s work touches on, so the new book is highly recommended. On a final note, when asked about the Amazon HQ2 competition (a recent hot topic across the metroplex), Florida had nothing but disdain for the process and anger over the way it pits cities against each other. These days, he’s much more focused on unifying communities, and perhaps we should be too.
Watching the devastation of Hurricane Harvey unfold since Friday has been heartbreaking for all Texans, and our thoughts remain with all those affected and with those lending aid. Having worked with great clients in the area, we know these communities will rebuild, stronger than ever, and we hope to assist in any way we can.
(Looking for a way to help right now? Texas Monthly compiled a great resource here.)
Much has been written in these past few days about Houston in an attempt to shed light on the developing catastrophe. Amidst the diverse commentary, many writers have focused on the role of land use policy, so we thought we’d gather a reading list of some of the most insightful pieces. There are no simple solutions, but there is a consensus that concrete action must follow this outpouring of words if we are to truly learn from this tragedy.
An impeccably-researched (and unfortunately prophetic) piece on flooding in Houston with great interactive data visualization by Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, and Al Shaw, produced jointly last December for ProPublica/The Texas Tribune: “Boomtown, Flood Town”
After the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) voted not to recommend the Uptown late hours overlay back in May, it looked like the controversial proposal was dead in the water. Not so, it turns out! The City Plan Commission (CPC) chose to revive and discuss the measure, rather than passing it on. Despite the fact that opponents of the proposal have outnumbered supporters by vast margins at every forum for public comment, city leaders appear hesitant to kill the item.
(Confused as to what, exactly, is contained in the proposal, and why it’s problematic? See our earlier explanation here.)
Last week, the CPC decided to conduct yet another workshop on the late hours overlay, as they slowly move toward their eventual vote on the issue. It was more of the same scene that’s played out at every meeting about the proposal – a handful of disgruntled neighbors against an army of restaurant owners, developers, and other industry professionals.
Masterplan and its sister company, LaBarba Permit Service, have been heavily involved in the opposition effort. We’ve heard over and over from our clients on both the real estate development and hospitality industry sides that this proposed overlay would be devastating for their business interests.
At the most recent meeting, Masterplan President Karl Crawley testified. He stated that the Dream Hotel (on McKinney Ave.) made a $40 million investment, which they would likely not have done if the overlay was in effect. Crawley also noted that many future development decisions could be influenced by the CPC’s continued pursuit of the overlay. The crux of the problem is that the late hours overlay would have a profound effect on the economic and social constructs of the city, rather than simply serving as a (likely ineffective) measure to stop young adults from getting drunk and rowdy in Uptown.
There will likely be one more briefing on the issue in September, followed by a vote. We’ll be following the proposal closely, so keep your eyes on this space for more updates!
Good news for opponents of the proposed late hours overlay – the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) recently voted unanimously to send the overlay forward with “no recommendation.” The proposal now heads to the City Plan Commission, the Quality of Life Committee, and the City Council. At each stage, the overlay can be passed on with the ZOAC “no recommendation” label, or potentially revived.
To get the inside scoop, we talked to Wes Hoblit, who works at our sister company, LaBarba Permit Service. He’s been following this proposal closely and testified personally at the meeting.
Masterplan:So what’s the crux of the argument against this proposal?
Wes Hoblit: The focus has really been on asking “why is this necessary for a vibrant area to which people are moving SPECIFICALLY for the nightlife?” There was never a true reason that this needed to take place – it was discriminatory, placed undue burden on business owners, and seemed to target an area that didn’t need it.
MP: What were the supporters saying?
WH: One phrase that kept coming up was “it’s just another tool in the toolbox” that neighborhoods could use. However, it’s clear that the toolbox is already full of perfectly good tools (noise ordinance, Resident Only Parking (RPO), TABC complaints, etc.) and adding a procedure that could and likely would be abused by neighbors just isn’t fair to business owners.
MP: Does working in the liquor licensing industry impact how you see this proposal?
WH: Of course. In my testimony, I talked about how difficult it is to obtain a TABC license and to run a profitable business without adding these sorts of additional challenges and costs. I truly agree with the quote I shared, stating it should be just as hard to close a restaurant as it is to open one.
MP: What were some other highlights of the public testimony?
WH: Willie Cothrum (Masterplan’s founder) made a great case against the overlay by detailing how difficult, expensive, and political SUP cases can become [if the overlay passed, an SUP would be required to get around the restrictions]. He talked about how a business can go through the 8-10 month process and STILL be denied, without having a chance to prove themselves. Neighborhoods can essentially band together and stop any business from going in for whatever reason, vindictive of a bad owner or otherwise.
MP: So how did the committee respond to all of this?
WH: ZOAC member Chad Benedict asked a lot of good questions about why this was necessary and laid out why he thought the proposal didn’t make sense. Supporters had tried to make a point about crime rates going down, but the committee essentially threw that out because of the lack of clear correlation. ZOAC Vice-Chair Margot Murphy also kept asking why and trying to determine the true reasoning behind this proposal from staff. And then they voted unanimously not to recommend the proposal, which was a real win for all the very vocal opponents of this measure!
MP: Thanks for taking the time to give us the insider perspective!
WH: My pleasure.
So now you’re up to speed on the overlay – but be sure to keep your eyes on this space for more updates on proposals that affect our community!