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Lifestyles
Rasansky, Hunt Stand Up for Timbercreek Print E-mail
by Sam Merten    Mon, Jun 18, 2007, 11:58 am

timbercreek_sign.jpgPoliticians aren’t in the business of being wrong and they’ll be the first to tell you how wrong you are when you question them. However, there is that rare time when someone rises above the rest and does the unthinkable by admitting they were wrong. Two council members, Mitchell Rasansky and Angela Hunt, showed what makes them unique at Wednesday’s meeting. Their honesty and courage to admit wrongdoing in the zoning case regarding Trammell Crow Company and Timbercreek Apartments isn’t something you see every day.

Back in May 2006, before my time covering City Hall, the council approved a zoning change for Timbercreek Apartments so Trammell Crow Co. could tear them down and put up a shopping center. The Observer’s Jim Schutze wrote how Mayor Miller was the only one to vote against the rezoning and he took a shot at everyone else who helped approve it.

“This was people making money off politics and throwing babies and mamas out on the street to do it,” Schutze wrote. “And everybody went along, because everybody got a pork chop.”

On Wednesday, Trammell Crow Co. was back in front of the council to get a fill permit approved that would fill the creek that runs along the apartment complex. It was a mere formality after the zoning was approved last year. Once the company proved it met the 10 point criteria of the floodplain ordinance, the council was obligated to approve the item or else the city would have to purchase the property using eminent domain.  

Crow Company wasn’t taking any chances, trotting up four people to speak on the issue. Robert Reeves, a zoning consultant; Dupree Scovell, associate of Trammell Crow Co. since 2004; Fran Phillips, environmental attorney for Trammell Crow Co.; and a representative from Halff Associates, the engineer for the project, were there.

Earlier in the day, Councilmember Rasansky made an interesting statement when talking about the consideration of a development agreement with Cherokee New Transit, claiming the developer was seeking too much of a return (12 percent).

“This past year, I made two mistakes in voting record, maybe more, and I think this is one,” Rasansky said.

He seemed to be setting the stage for a second regret and when this item came up, Rasansky was the first council member to speak.

“I apologize. I was swayed the first time in supporting this,” Rasansky said. “This is an item that I’m very sorry how I voted. Believe me there are nights that I haven’t slept because of this.”

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Rasansky said while Trammell Crow Co. had every right to do what it wants with the property, it is not being morally right to do this to 2,000 people and is wrong to destroy a natural beauty of North Dallas. He guessed approximately 1,100 trees would be removed and Rasansky was shocked at the 25 feet of fill that would be added. He also was disappointed Trammell Crow Co. wasn’t giving residents one-year notice to move and thought the moving allowance wasn’t enough.

Trammell Crow Co. is offering residents of one-bedroom apartments $175, $225 for two bedrooms and $275 for three bedrooms. Dupree Scovell responded to requests by the residents for at least 90 to 120 days notice, but he was not even willing to make that long of a commitment.

“We cannot keep this property for four months,” Scovell said. “It is hemorrhaging cash as it is.”

Rasansky pointed some of his criticism at council members Gary Griffith and Bill Blaydes, whom he said should have demanded more time for the residents. Timbercreek falls in Griffith’s district, with Blaydes’ district nearby. Rasansky’s district is just north of the apartments.

Blaydes described Timbercreek as a fast declining multi-family unit with a high crime rate, floodplain problems and poor management. He credited Trammell Crow Co. with spending money to make the apartments livable. Blaydes didn’t appreciate being called out by Rasansky.

“It’s strange to be sitting here and be accused by my own colleagues of being insensitive or not caring about lives of people who live in the district,” Blaydes said. “Especially by the individual who has one of the worst areas of apartment complexes in the city and has yet to get them cleaned up.”

Rasansky urged Trammell Crow Co. to step up to the table and treat the people right. During his comments, he called out someone with the company for laughing, saying he didn’t think it was funny.

“The stigma of Trammell Crow is going to live for a long time in what you’re doing today to those people and in my mind too,” Rasansky said. “I’m sorry for the tenants and I’m really sorry for Trammel Crow Company to stoop this low.”

Councilmember Angela Hunt’s district is just south of Timbercreek and she was troubled that affordable housing and a tremendous natural resource were being lost.

“To me, regret is the worst emotion you can have and I agree with my colleague, Mr. Rasansky,” Hunt said. “I regret having supported the zoning change on this property.”

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Hunt cited a letter from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that described the area as high quality and recommended the stream and forested corridor stay in tact. The EPA letter said not to issue the permit as proposed and the new development should be placed around the creek and forest.

“When the EPA tells us not to do something -- that it’s environmentally insensitive -- I think we should listen to them,” Hunt said. “I apologize to the neighbors for supporting this zoning change.”

The council voted to approve the fill permit, with Rasansky and Hunt voting against it. After the meeting, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to head over to Timbercreek to get a firsthand account of the impact.

I talked with Demarcus Irving, a resident of Timbercreek since 2000. Irving lives with his wife, 12-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter in a one-bedroom apartment where his son uses the study as his bedroom.

Irving, 29, is a software engineer and is one course short of finishing school at DeVry. He was hoping the affordable housing at Timbercreek would allow him to plan his way to home ownership sometime in 2009. Now, as his neighbors next door and above him are gone, that dream may be gone too.

“I figured that once I finished school this year and started working in my field and made some money and got raises, by ’09 we’d have some bills and finances situated,” Irving said. “It’s going to be hard to find housing as affordable as this, so it will be a struggle for us.”

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Irving’s lease expired in February and rather than sign a lease under the unknown conditions, he has been paying month to month. His payment has gone from $540 per month to $600 per month in the process. Irving’s biggest challenge is keeping his son in the same school.

“He’s been with his buddies every since kindergarten,” Irving said. “I’d hate to split them up now.”

Irving says Timbercreek continues to rent to new people and those people include drug dealers, criminals and prostitutes. He said he hasn’t seen any drug deals in progress, but it’s obvious what is happening. Irving also said police patrols in the area have increased over the past few months.

I stopped by the office and overheard an employee named Nora explaining that while the complex was going to eventually be redeveloped, she was very vague regarding a timetable and made it clear Timbercreek is pursuing new customers. The price for a one-bedroom apartment? $399. I didn’t have the heart to go back and ask Mr. Irving what he thought about that.

In the end, no matter how you look at this, things haven’t been handled well. If you’re in the camp that thinks there are plenty of apartments surrounding that area and the development will be great for Lake Highlands, at least you can look at how Trammell Crow Co. has handled things and have some questions. Should it be giving the residents more notice? Should it be giving them more money for a moving allowance? Should it keep the trees and creek and build around it? Why are apartments being rented to new customers?

And if you’re in the camp that wished this whole thing hadn’t happened in the first place, you have to wonder where things went wrong when the vote for zoning came up. Why was Mayor Miller the only one willing to vote against this?

I’m not keeping my fingers crossed that Trammell Crow Co. is going to have a sudden change of heart in how it does business with Timbercreek. However, it was refreshing to hear Rasansky and Hunt take responsibility for voting in favor of the zoning in the first place. As I said before, this fill permit was a formality and they could have simply kept their mouths shut and approved this too.

No one expects council members to be perfect, but there is an expectation that you get integrity from them. Council members Rasansky and Hunt should be commended for standing up for Timbercreek at Wednesday’s meeting.

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been wrong, which is but saying, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” - English poet Alexander Pope

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Comments (18)add comment
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written by HSH , June 18, 2007

Sam,

Great piece. Unfortunately, developers in Dallas, including Trammell Crow, will do nothing more than they are required to do by the Council and Development Code. They do not factor into their thinking the monetary value of good will, as corporations do.

I too applaud Rasansky and Hunt for admitting their mistakes and opposing this last week. My most of all, I applaud Demarcus Irving and wish him good luck in his career and finding a new affordable place to live. Unfortunately, those places are getting to be too few and far between in our city. Here's hoping that the new Council will be listening to Mr. Irving rather than Mr. Scovell.



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written by Nicole , June 18, 2007

Sam you did an excellent write-up, thank you for the details.


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written by Merten Fan , June 18, 2007

Was anyone else shock by Dupree Scovell's arrogance? When he thanked the members of the council and exclaimed that "of course they would take my call".


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written by Jerry , June 18, 2007

Not sure which was worse, Scovell's arrogance or the Crow reps who openly laughed at the misfortune of others.


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written by Toni Squires , June 18, 2007

Sam
This story shows why DallasBlog and other alternative media are needed in this town. Keep it up.



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written by Sharon Boyd , June 19, 2007

It's why we needed Tom Leppert. Now, we have a chance that there won't be another Timbercreek castrophe. Thank goodness, Bill Blaydes is now a private citizen.


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written by RH , June 19, 2007

Angela Hunt for Mayor Pro Tem----

We need the best. It is time to put the racist custom of discriminating against white council members regarding pro tem selections.




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written by Andrew K , June 19, 2007

How unfortunate. There aren't that many creeks and forested areas in this town, and to destroy one for shopping is awful. I can understand that Trammell should be able to do what they want with the property, as far as residential vs. commercial -- but a stipulation of allowing the commercial zoning be that they are forced to work around the creek, leave as many trees standing as possible, etc. They could have used that as a selling point for their shopping center, even.

I feel for the residents, but that's part of life in apartments. The property companies are out to get every dollar they can -- no matter if you're in Uptown or Timbercreek. Rents get raised, people pay different amounts for similar units, and all the while you have to wait forever to get a leaky faucet fixed. Nothing about this story surprises me -- even though it does disappoint me.



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written by J. Renard , June 19, 2007

That creek flows through the Village too. I love going to the Villages' lakes to feed the ducks. This year there is a blue heron and an egret at the lakes, as well as a lot of turtles and catfish. The idea of cementing over a creek is ridiculous in 2007. The shopping center should be build elsewhere and whatever development is planned for Timbercreek should accomodate the creek.


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written by Candy Evans , June 19, 2007

Totally disagree. These shabby apartment complexes do nothing but drag down the city and act as a cesspool for crime and drugs. Wonder what the developer pays in property taxes --- probably less than the average North Dallas homeowner. I do think it is sad that so many will be displaced from their homes -- and perhaps that is where our council did not do enough due diligence.


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written by Bob , June 19, 2007

This rezoning was really a travesty. When considering a change of use (in this case from multi-family residential to retail) most communities impose an extremely high standard to justify such a major land use change.

In the proximate case, it appears that our elected leaders were too busy counting the cash they received from the developers to give a whit for those affected, the environment, etc.

A really sad day in Dallas history. How did we end up with such an awful elected local government?



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written by Bobbi , June 19, 2007

Well, Candy, of COURSE you disagree! When leaving your cozy Preston Hollow home, and your rich, cozy doctor hubby, how else can you understand? Save your elocutions for D Home and Stanley Korchak, et al, and leave the caring for others to the rest of the people in th REAL world.


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written by Scott , June 19, 2007

I really hate to see the creek go, but it must not add anything to the proposed development or else the developer would leave it. Also, it's unfortunate that people will have to move. But how else do you redevelop a site with an apartment complex?

My last property tax increase convinced me that we need all the retail we can get. Further, Dallas does not need another apartment complex plagued by crime and deferred maintenance. I say move forward with the redevelopment.



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written by Mary Rogers , June 19, 2007

Rasansky or Hunt should be in one of the leadership positions of Mayor Pro Tem or Deputy Mayor Pro Tem. Hunt because of her leadership and experience and Rasansky because of seniority and his district votes the most. It should not be Dwaine Caraway. The D Magazine article from May 2001 mentions "Dwaine borrowed $25,000 from the Southern Dallas Development Corporation, which receives city funds, then defaulted on the note."


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written by Dallas Perfect Voter , June 19, 2007

Excellent article, Sam.
Why isn't there some kind of wetlands protection provision that prevents developers from interfering with nature? Why aren't conservation groups all over this? We have so little natural greenspace in greater Dallas as it is, it's appalling that a developer would be so cavalier and seek to destroy what little we have and replace it with more retail concrete. Where's our sense of community on this one?



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written by Erin , June 20, 2007

Some conservation groups, along with many dozens of individuals, have been fighting over Timbercreek. After the rezoning was approved last year, the battle just moved elsewhere: to opposing any 404 or 401 permits being issued by the Corps of Engineers and the TCEQ. Unfortunately, the creek will be filled and moved, and the trees cut down. New trees from Mr. Scovill’s family tree farm in East Texas will take their place. And another big box store surrounded by concrete with a token tree here and there will one day occupy the site. It’s so sad, and so unnecessary. It could be developed in a much less destructive way, with the same financial benefit.

Just to clarify, at the rezoning hearing last year, crime statistics were used -- but not to justify the rezoning. They were used to oppose the rezoning. This may be surprising to some, but there was little to no crime in the area. Many of the residents had been living there for years in a stable, affordable community. This was all about money. It also was about the failure of our 14-1 system of government, in which council members defer to each other rather than acting for the good of the entire City. Jack Pearce’s case was truly exceptional and heartening.

Trammell Crow is expected to ask for TIF funds, so we taxpayers can help subsidize this devestation. Hopefully, when this comes up for a vote, the City Council members will remember that they do have a choice and will not let him have a penny.




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written by East Sider , June 20, 2007

They could do a smaller-scale version of the Arboretum in Austin -- kind of a private park abutting, and serving as a drawing card for, a more-or-less conventional strip mall.

But they won't, because people in Dallas will shop at a concrete bunker on a moonscape. Or would 15 years ago ... maybe Trammell Crow's outdated retail strategy will come back to bite them on the ass.



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written by Jimbo , June 21, 2007

The trees have to be replaced according to EPA guidelines. And the Trammel Crow has every intention of doing so. The creek had to be placed underground in order to develop the property. Otherwise, we'd still have a dilapidated old apartment complex there for years to come.

Trammell Crow's shopping center will replace blighted apartments. It is unfortunate that the current tenants will have to move. But this is life in the big city. If you rent, your place can be torn down.

This is progress. The trees will be replaced, and the tax base will increase.




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