With the Museum Tower-Nasher Sculpture Center imbroglio making its way (we hope) to a resolution, many are turning their minds to how we can make sure this kind of thing never happens again. That it happened at all points directly to the deficiencies in Dallas law. Given the proper tools, City Hall could have prevented this yearlong battle between commerce and art, both of which are desirable in urban life.
The first thing for the City Council to consider is a ban on buildings with more than 30 percent reflectivity. That is the suggestion of a group of architects and seconded by Michael Buckley, director of the Center for Metropolitan Diversity at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Or should the allowed reflectivity be lower, maybe 15 percent, as it was in the original covenant with the former owners of the Museum Tower project?
Don Gatzke, dean of the University of Texas at Arlingtonâs School of Architecture, has proposed that developers of major buildings be required to conduct computer simulations, testing the impact on neighbors of heat, glare, shade and wind created by high-rise structures and their materials. Obstruction of views also should be measured.
Council member Scott Griggs has pointed out that we have a basic law for the use of land, codified in planned developments, conservation and historic districts, plus neighborhood stabilization overlays. The problem for the Arts District is that its plan did not take into account the effects of reflective glass. That must be corrected.
Another thing the council must do is take a stand and stick to it. Not long ago, by a 15-0 vote, members approved a plan for La Bajada, a Hispanic residential area at the foot of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. There Brent Brown, of the CityDesign Studio, had worked hard to head off high-rise construction by Phil Romano, Stuart Fitts and Larry âButchâ McGregor that would have demolished houses and demoralized people. To its credit, Romanoâs group cooperated â" when it didnât have to â" and now is creating Trinity Groves, a magical collection of restaurants and food shops.
There is a glitch, however: Romano and his partners have asked that their property be left out of the neighborhood stabilization overlay negotiated by Brown with people living in La Bajada. This means the whole program must go before the council again on Wednesday. When the game keeps changing, said Brown, itâs hard to win the trust of neighbors and guide the way to development that succeeds for as many as possible.
There also needs to be a law that requires developers to submit â" at the beginning of the process â" their entire plan for a project, not dribble it out bit by bit in repeated appearances at City Hall. For example, according to Virginia Talkington, a longtime leader in planning, some of those who are seeking to overhaul Skillman Live Oak Shopping Center have filed three different requests in four months without ever explaining what they have in mind.
Creative vs. chaotic development â" that is what confronts Theresa OâDonnell, director of the Department of Sustainable Development and Construction, almost every day. What does she propose? Refresh plans for the Arts District, never permit a project of any importance to go forward without approval from a design review committee and rewrite height limits all over the city.
These are sensible ideas, but OâDonnell and her people cannot walk the plank alone. Nor can City Manager Mary Suhm, who already has taken a bold step in bringing the CityDesign Studio into her operation. All of them must have the full and vigorous support of the mayor and the council, which must settle on a plan and then hold to it.
Too much blowing in the wind, and too much will be lost. Anyone who doubts this should consult the Nasher and Museum Tower, caught in trouble that never had to happen.
Lee Cullum is a Dallas journalist who can be reached atÂ email@example.com.