Archive for the ‘Blight’ Category

Transformation has No Limits

December 8, 2009
I remember reading the story about a small block in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia some years ago.  The story detailed the 2500 block of East Gordon Street, once called “The Skid Row of Fishtown.”  It was a block so dangerous, it is the only block in the area without a Google Maps Street View image.  It was essentially an alley with houses.
I remember reading the first article like it was yesterday.  The block reminded me of the the one that held my late Grandmother’s house, a street so small you had to park your car 3/4 on the curb so cars could get through.

Now, according to the new story, the Lost Block has been awarded Philadelphia’s Most Beautiful.
This can be done in any city.  It didn’t require one politician.  It took a group of determined neighbors that said “enough is enough.”
There’s not much I can add, but I hope that this story will inspire you to work to clean up your own neighborhood. It may take years (eight years in the case of Gordon Street), but it can be done.

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Sign Blight Ordinance is Needed

November 12, 2009
This week  has brought news that the City of Dallas is being sued to fight the sign blight ordinance that was enacted last year. Apparently the plaintiffs feel that their free speech is being violated, when the reality is that the city is trying to clean up its neighborhoods.  Corporations like 7/11 have their own store rules and do not permit excessive covering of windows, and it would be nice if all stores would follow suit and clean up a bit.
When you go downtown to Neiman Marcus, they don’t have 10 signs papering the windows. You know what Neiman’s is offering inside. Well, the same theory should apply to stores and businesses throughout the city. Sharon Grigsby of the DMN states need need for such an ordinance here.
I know that the City Attorney’s office is confident that this case can be defended. This ordinance took quite a long time to be presented to City Council to make sure it would stand against the inevitable lawsuits by various groups.
Dallas’ ordinance leaves ample opportunity for businesses to promote at their location. I’m glad the city is deciding to fight. For neighborhoods like Oak Cliff, South Dallas, and others, such an ordinance is needed.

We Can All Take the Credit or Accept the Blame

September 30, 2009
Anything written by Rev. Gerald Britt will command my attention.  He has been in the trenches, working on behalf of the community for decades.  With that in mind, make sure you read his post on his Change the Wind blog.
Rev. Britt is right; a lot of people are working countless hours to improve the community. In some areas, assistance is given by the city but we always need residents and interested citizens to fill the gap. We also need media to report the good and bad that is going on.
With respect to District Four, the philosophy is to “make it safe,” and then businesses will return.  I still remember three years ago when people were telling Dwaine Caraway that his campaign would go nowhere if he made public safety his number one issue. Well, as we continue to find innovative ways to reduce crime the investment is coming back slowly but surely.

Even within the City, we are not waiting for the Task Force to do the work for us.  Crest Shopping Center in Oak Cliff is being revitalized, the 8th & Corinth/Fiji mixed-use transit-oriented development project will break ground shortly, and zoning is being reviewed on the eastern side of our district to ensure better uses for that area.

The convenience store initiative is now law, and the goal is for it to be expanded to car washes. The store ordinance requires videotaping of all areas of the premises, as well as all being part of DPD’s criminal trespass program which allows police to effectively address loitering issues which foster drug dealing and other crimes.
The city has a role, the newspaper has a role, and the community has a role.  Everyone has a part in the success.

My Current Take on Southwest Center Mall

June 29, 2009

A lot has been written lately about Southwest Center Mall. A $120,000 study has been commissioned and presented. Shawn Williams wrote an article for DMagazine. Numerous editorials from various newspapers have been published. I’m not sure if people are going to like what I like to say about the mall, but that’s life.

I’ve been writing about the mall since I started Dallas Progress.

One thing that has to be done, no matter whose feathers get ruffled, is to face facts about the area around the mall. The area around the mall is in shambles.

I don’t feel safe in this area; that is why I have decided to move my family from this neighborhood. The main reason that stores have left is one of the same reasons that I am leaving. All of the writing, trying to expose various issues in this neighborhood, has been for naught. We still don’t get the proper help over here.

Some may feel that I am giving up on this area. All I can say is that I lived it.

All of the police attention in this area goes to the neighborhood east of 67 which includes the Chaucer Place neighborhood. Of course, that is inside the South Central Police division which is led by the magnificent Deputy Chief Sherryl Scott. The west side of 67 (Marvin D Love Freeway) is a different police division.

The only time we had any type of consistent patrols was when Pastor Rickie Rush put together an informal patrol of hundreds of men and dozens of vehicles from IBOC Church. They were the best security we ever had in this area.

While we spent $120,000 for the study of the mall, my buddy Shawn Williams gave you a lot of similar insight for the $5 cost of DMagazine. The study does go into more depth, but the basic premise is the same.

My take is a little different. I feel that putting a lot of money into the mall, and only the mall, is a mistake. When you look at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) study (warning: this is a 15MB PDF so it may take time to download), it draws comparisons to Prestonwood Mall. I can understand that; but what it shows is that the two areas are starkly different in terms of income, worker traffic, and spending power. Instead of the city putting $50+ million (as it has been suggested) into one shopping mall, I would rather it gets spread through a bunch of small centers all over southern Dallas.

With respect to Southwest Center Mall, several opportunities were missed. We know that the retail moved to Cedar Hill. It moved there because the city didn’t support former Councilman James Fantroy’s attempts to revitalize the mall between 2003-2006. For example, he tried to put a new Target and a movie theater in and around the vacant JC Penney space to jumpstart redevelopment but the numbers wouldn’t work without city help. As a result, Inland Southwest began to develop a new center at Hampton & Wheatland which includes the Target store that opened in March of 2008.

Some have suggested that we should consider turning Southwest Center Mall into an outlet mall. However, our chance at the outlet mall opportunity has come and gone. In the past year,Grand Prairie snagged an outlet mall that will be next to I20 & 360 owned by Prime Outlets (the same owner as the one in San Marcos), and another got announced for another city farther north (Irving, I think).

You will never get the income parameters you need to bring the stores that you want until you solve the number one problem around the mall. Again, it goes back to neighborhood safety. You have to start the revitalization by tearing down of some of the apartment complexes in the area.

All of the good businesses are leaving the Mall area, most of the reason is that the business owners and potential customers are constantly robbed and assaulted by criminals in the area. As an example of the issues around here, Pizza Hut won’t even deliver to apartment complexes in our neighborhood.

Some apartment operators work to maintain their properties, keep gates in working order, and make sure that they don’t house criminals. Many do not.

One way these thugs get around background checks is to date a female with a decent job and get the apartment in her name. Then, the thug moves in and here comes the crime. The girl then is scared to kick him out because she has been threatened to keep quiet, and the apartment complex does nothing about it. This happens more than you think.

Some of the worst offenders in the area are below. The good tenants are held hostage in the complexes by the thugs and crime element that certain owners refuse to eradicate.

(the crime numbers for 2009 are from January 1st-June 29th)

  • Whispering Hollow – 6910 S Cockrell Hill Road (100 crimes in 2008, 52 in 2009). Owners are based out of California.
  • Redbird Trails – 3636 W Red Bird – again, the owners are based in California. There is always a line of cars outside the gates because they are always broken. Usually a lot of people walking in and out. You can see the drug traffic.
  • Arborstone – 6500 S Cockrell Hill Rd (58 crimes in 2008, 26 in 2009). Check out this stellar review from apartment ratings.com:

I wouldn’t recommend this place to my worst enemy. First off, there is always trash and broken bottles everywhere. People sit outside and drink beer and smoke weed and nobody does anything. Maintenance doesn’t fix a thing.

They will fix the easiest thing that needs to be fixed and leave the other things broke.

The security guards are a joke. They had some really bad ones before that just flirted and hung out, but now they have “invisible” ones that you never see. Oh, except from when they are sleep in their cars. The office staff are not helpful at all, the only one worth something is Deon who works on the weekends. The manager is mean and could care less about the residents. They can’t answer your questions, you have to keep calling to get any help, they don’t listen to you, but they are quick to put a notice on your door about the smallest fees like a $2.00 fee. I am writing a formal complaint to the owners.

People say they were improving because they evicted some of the drugs dealers here, but what about the other things. The crazy man who walks around and harasses the women in building 11 and 10 whenever he hasn’t taken his pills. The random gunshots. The half man/woman hooker that does its business out of the empty apartments. You mean to tell me I know all this and the office staff doesn’t. So sad. I cannot wait until my lease is up so I can move

Other complexes should also be considered. A check of the crime records or apartment reviews will show similar reports. They include:

  • Park Village -7575 S. Westmoreland – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Harbors – 7550 S. Westmoreland – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Cielo Ranch – 3829 Gannon Lane – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Broadmoor – 3900 Investor Dr – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Brookfield Apts – 4060 Preferred Pl -Dallas, TX 75237

Add in the motels along I-20, and it adds up to a recipe for disaster if left unchecked.

The model for this area should be based on what was done along Skillman. Yes there is a TIF called Skillman Corridor, but most of the developments received no TIF money. In fact, the only major development that received funding was the Lake Highlands Town Center ($23 million for a $350 million development). The total amount of non-TIF related development in this area: $300 million.

Retail developers will return once they see strong signs that the area is changing. Until then, we’ll be writing these types of articles and blog posts for years to come.

More than A Grocery Store in Oak Cliff (with Video)

June 10, 2009

Yesterday was a great day in Oak Cliff. The Save A Lot grocery store had its official ribbon cutting for the brand new Save-a-Lot store at the Crest Shopping Center in the 2600 Block of Lancaster (map). Note: the Google street view also shows how it looked before the renovation.

Dwaine and I, along with the Mayor, city staff, neighbors, and the shopping center developer have been working on this for nearly two years. We were first looking at putting the store across the street from its current location. Everyone settled on keeping the store in the shopping center. The neighbors’ input was used in creating the store, from the items stocked on the shelves and beyond.

Save A Lot is an important part of this community. In these times, Save A Lot provides the opportunity for a family to get a healthy, balanced meal for $5. Compared to buying fast food every night for dinner because it’s cheap, a void is being filled in this neighborhood. People couldn’t wait to get into the store, as you can see people pushing carts by us even as the press conference progressed.

One major bonus: Save A Lot donated 5,000 pounds of food to the North Texas Food Bank! According to one of their reps that translates into 100 full carts of groceries for needy families at a time when donations are shrinking.

As I have said from the beginning, this is bigger than just a new grocery store.

In the process, the new store also provided us an opportunity to get rid of the asbestos filled theater that was on the north side of the center. The theater had been vacant for years and could not be rented due to the aforementioned issues. Now there’s a new grocery store in its place.

Mickey’s Catfish, owned by Vincent Hall, has just opened in the last couple of months. The mall and the neighborhood has a lot more energy now vs. before Dwaine took office.

You will also see that the entire mall is undergoing an extensive renovation and repaving, which was spearheaded by everyone working with the owners of the center as part of our Lancaster Road Initiative.

One of the comments that struck me the most were the ones made by Rick Meyer from Save A Lot:

“I’d like to take Dwaine on some road shows with me, (and) teach some folks in other communities what it’s all about to be a good partner.”

A comment like that makes it all worthwhile. When you see the various articles and conferences held with respect to what Southern Dallas needs to bring growth and development, this is what it’s all about. You can say it and claim you’re a leader all day long, but just like a World Series Championship baseball team you need a starter and a closer. We have that in our Mayor and Dwaine. This is one of the reason that I’m glad they’re both in office and in leadership positions on City Council. In his remarks, the Mayor also hinted at another store to be announced for District Four pretty soon!

This store and center will always be special to me. It’s where Dwaine’s campaign office was located when he first took office. The neighborhood was promised that this center would be a catalyst for positive change in that part of Oak Cliff and along Lancaster Road. I can’t count the number of nights we walked the center hoping that we could someday be a part of its turnaround. It’s here, but there’s more to come. The work is not done, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Video is below:

Remarks from from Rick Meyer, Vice President of Save-A-Lot.

Remarks from Vanessa Foster from Save-A-Lot and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert.

Remarks from Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.

Remarks from Cathy Misko and Vanessa Foster of Save A Lot and officials from the North Texas Food Bank.

Flea Market Faker

February 10, 2009

Thanks to Granny Geek, for she has outed a fake garage sale operator in the Cliff.

This was happening last summer, but Granny says they’re back with a new and improved setup. The quote and pic is from her blog.

Well, there’s a new and bigger van making the rounds of the neighborhood this year. You’ll notice that this van has a roof rack, so that it can transport even MORE goods. Note the rug.

I know people from the city read this blog, so be on the lookout.

Dwaine Caraway Closes Illegal Truck Parking Lot

December 13, 2008

In the Glen Oaks section of District Four, a truck parking lot has been allowed to exist since January of 2003. The lot was located across from Big T Bazaar at Oak Park and Rockport (map).

It was illegally operating as a commercial vehicle storage lot. As Dwaine worked with the city attorney’s office to resolve the issue, the owner started to put more vehicles on the lot. Clearly this was an untenable situation.

Would you want this next to your home?

View Larger Map

For years, the neighbors were forced to endure this blighted site as the entryway to their community. In addition to being an illegal storage site for 18-wheelers and school buses, the owner also thought it was OK to store pit bulls and allow an illegal housing shack on the site.

Dwaine Caraway made its shutdown a priority, and in 30 days it will be a memory. Dwaine has ordered that the Certificate of Occupancy be revoked, and the lot will be closed.

We have consistently stated that neighborhoods can’t get the development that they desire if the area is not cleaned up. This site was holding back the entire I-35 & Ledbetter intersection; now we can continue to progress toward a more commercially vibrant community.

Citizens Making a Difference

August 10, 2008

Graffiti has been one of the things that takes away from the visual pride of a neighborhood.

I’m not talking about murals that have been commissioned by various groups that may add to the flavor of a neighborhood; I’m talking about various criminals going around and spray painting their names on houses, businesses, and street signs.

The Morning News has an article about Dallas lawyer John Barr, who has taken the issue personally and paints over graffiti in the area near Lake Cliff Park.

Having participated in Dallas’ graffiti-abatement days, I definitely understand the frustration of seeing neighborhoods blighted and am glad someone is trying to make a difference.

Community Cleanup: Before and After

July 21, 2008

Over the last couple of weeks, things have been moving forward in District Four.

This is the most recent drug house that has been taken down. It is located at near Alabama & McVey (map), in an area that was recently written about in the Dallas Morning News (see point #11 in article) and other places. Here is the before and after.

Before (notice the random drug dealers sitting next to the house) – from Google Maps

After

There is a little trash left over, but it’s been picked up.

It’s one house, and there is a lot more work to do. But you can only do one house at a time; anyone who lives in District Four knows that this happens on a fairly regular basis.

You’ve also heard about the new sign ordinance which was championed by Dwaine Caraway and was part of the 20-point plan.

It was written about in the Dallas Morning News as well as many other places including in this news story with Ken Kalthoff at NBC5.

While stores have been given a year to comply, our Deputy Mayor has talked to many of the store owners in District Four and many have agreed to take down the signs ahead of time.

The store in these pictures is located in the 700 block of East Ann Arbor (map), and is also featured in the NBC5 story. Look at the before and after.

Before (I got this one from Google Maps also)

After

This was taken one week after Dwaine’s visit. It’s good to see that some of the business owners care about not having a trashy, blighted community.

Some Great Things Happened at City Hall Yesterday

May 29, 2008

As you’ve probably heard, yesterday’s City Hall meeting went into the evening. However, a lot of things happened yesterday.

The hot-sheet motels across from Veterans Hospital will be torn down and a job training center with office space will be built in its place. The Urban League and City Wide CDC are partnering up to bring this great development to South Oak Cliff. When Dwaine Caraway, Bishop McGriff and the Church of the Living God, the Urban League, and I worked to close the Sunset Motel and the Southern Comfort motel, this was what we had in mind. The goal was to rid the community of blight and crime havens and to have positive things in its place. As you know, the first motel the Dwaine and I helped to shut down in South Dallas has been demolished and a community/health center is being built. Thank you to the Mayor and City Council for making this a unanimous vote.

People that are stopped for traffic violations and do not have insurance will be towed. This is a significant step in Dallas, and this has already happened in other major cities. In this issue, I look at it as protecting the single Mom with kids that has her car totaled when she’s hit by an uninsured driver. There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but as it has in other large cities this will be proven to be a good thing as time goes on. Even though I’m on the younger side, our liability insurance costs $220 for 6 months, which is $36-37 per month (about $1.20 per day). That’s much cheaper than the ticket.

The towing vote was 10-5 as follows:

Voting for it: Mayor Tom Leppert, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway and council members Sheffie Kadane, Linda Koop, Mitchell Rasansky, Carolyn Davis, Ron Natinsky, Dave Neumann, Angela Hunt and Jerry Allen.

Voting against: Mayor Pro Tem Garcia, and council members Salazar, Medrano, Atkins, and Hill

Larry James, John Greenan, and CDM got more funding for their Citywalk project. I have written about this project in the past, and it will be a great step in ending chronic homelessness in Dallas.

Dallas’ scrap metal ordinances were strengthened yesterday. We must combat this plague and place as many roadblocks as we can in this insidious practice that is severely impacting our neighborhoods, and we don’t need to wait for other cities or counties to toughen up to do so.

The St. Regis hotel/condo project was approved. This $200 million+ development (with no tax abatements) will add needed property taxes to the city once its completed.

All in all, it was a great day at City Hall and a great day for Dallas.