Provident Realty, the developer of the proposed Emerald Isle condo, went in front of the Dallas Plan Commission on April 26, 2007 for a hearing on its third revision. The latest revision was a 5-story proposal; a dramatic change from the initial 25 story (and later 10 story) proposals. Dallas Cothrum of Dallas Masterplan, the developer's representative, used about 2 minutes of the developer’s 15 minute allotment for an introduction, after which he gave the podium to the opposition. The organized and rehearsed opposition clicked through its own 15 minutes, with each of the just under 10 people delivering 1-2 minute speeches. At the end of each speech, the current speaker introduced the next speaker. All speakers identified themselves as being from Emerald Isle, Forest Hills or Little Forest Hills, Casa Linda Estates, or Peninsula neighborhoods.Several speakers were officers in neighborhood associations. Vince Zubras, perrenial candidate for Dallas Count Precinct 3 Constable and Forest Hills resident, gave a trademark boisterous speech. It is curious to note that Zubras's Dallas County Appraisal District record suggests he doesn't even live in the area nor is there a homestead exemption shown for his property. Towards the end, one of the first speakers read a letter from Christie Turner, president of the Little Forest Hills Neighborhood Association. The opposition hammered on the same baseless or highly emotional criticisms expressed at http://savewhiterocklake.org. All their criticisms had been previously refuted. Aren Cambre, president of the Lake Park Estates Neighborhood Association, was the first speaker and emphasized these points:
- As a volunteer in the community, he has been surprised at the support he hears from talking directly to area residents. (Aren mentioned that he is the president of “a neighborhood association” but disclaimed that he is not representing it as it has not taken a position on the development.)
- He is excited about the development and the prospect for urban renewal it will bring.
- He is not naive and understands that the developer will need to be held to his promises.
- He challenged the commission and audience not to let “fear of change” scuttle the project.
Bill Cothrum, also of Dallas Masterplan, covered the technical aspects of the plan. Cothrum’s talk had to be corrected or adjusted several times by his son, Dallas. At various points, the city staff representative was called to the front to answer questions about the city recommendation. 1000 Emerald Isle is zoned as community retail (CR). To allow residential use, the lot needs to be rezoned. City staff recommended switching zoning to multifamily MF-2. The developer requested a few variances on setback, parking, lot coverage, structure’s slope, and height. While the details of the city staff's recommendation were not able to be clearly discerned during the meeting, city staff did recommend granting a few variances, and the interaction suggested that a 59 foot height variance was found to be acceptable--and just 5 feet under what Councilman Gary Griffith publicly stated he would support. After back and forth discussions between the commissioners, city staff and the developer’s representative which included a talk of a referendum to sell park land, the commissioners began its own debate on the measure. The debate was brief, but the most salient points came from Commissioner Bill Cunningham, who pointed out the dearth of condos in the White Rock Lake vicinity and how very little land around the lake could be redeveloped for residential multifamily purposes. Other commissioners signaled their fatigue at what has been a 2 year battle. During the debate, one commissioner signaled he wanted to make a motion to deny the staff request--effectively ending the Emerald Isle project. Bill Cunningham, signaled his intent to make a motion to support the staff's recommendation. This debate and actions of the Commission that day were overshadowed by Chairman Bob Weiss’s contentiousness. Several times he sparred with commissioners over minor issues, including chastising Bill Cunningham over the number of questions Cunningham asked the opposition. As the debate wound down, the first motion, to deny the staff request, was made and seconded. The vote came down to 12 supporting and 1 against--likely shutting down further development. Weiss then turned his remarks toward the developer, complaining of a lack of conceptual plans and briefings. The loss of Emerald Isle marks a victory for those opposed to residential development East of White Rock Lake.Perhaps, however, the greatest loss will be felt throughout the entire Casa Linda area where the future type and quality of area development may now be cast into doubt.As housing, nationwide, begins to decline will East Dallas homeowners feel more than their share of the losses?