City hall roundup: Zoning, Trinity, convention center and Angela Hunt

Lots of big doin’s downtown, with the city council addressing lots of issues other than smoking in bars and billiard halls. Here’s a roundup of the weeks’ big news …

• Our Far North Dallas Advocate columnist, former city councilman Sandy Greyson, wrote a thoughtful column on form-based zoning. You can read her take on the issue here and read councilman Angela Hunt’s take here; and here’s the story from the Morning News. After you’ve read those stories, you’ll know that the issue is controversial and was scheduled for a council vote on Wednesday. But the vote was delayed until February to give the opposing sides on the issue a chance to talk some more and work out a compromise. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that the outcome of the vote will have a big impact on the city’s commercial real estate development for the next 20-30 years, so it’s worth educating yourself a bit on the issue and letting your council rep know what you think.
• Remember Mayor Tom Leppert’s stealth campaign to pull the plug on television and radio broadcasts of the "open mic" portion of the weekly city council meetings? Well, after Leppert unilaterally eliminated the broadcast and then chose not to own up to his decision when Morning News reporter Dave Levinthal point-blank asked him who at the city made the decision, the switch was turned back on at the end of Wednesday’s meeting. And what’s more, Leppert told his fellow council reps — remember, in Dallas the mayor is just another council rep elected city-wide, as opposed to a strong executive who is higher on the food chain — that he’s take another look at the policy and get back with them.

• Meanwhile, Hunt was docked $4,100 (as called for in the city charter) for missing 11 of 99 regularly scheduled council and committee meetings this year. According to the city charter, a council member can only be "excused" from a regularly scheduled meeting when he/she is traveling on city business. Hunt told the DMN that she missed six of the meetings to care for her seriously ill father, who died earlier this year. As for the rest of the missed meetings, Hunt told the News said she arrived just as one meeting was adjourning and was sick a couple of days and missed the other meetings. Hunt didn’t object to the penalty and plans to repay it between now and June through payroll deductions from her $37,500 annual council salary. If you have any concerns about this issue, read the DMN story about it – it’s pretty thorough and fair.

• The council also voted to spend another $4.5 million for Trinity toll road design work, bringing to $14.5 million the amount of taxpayer money spent on the toll road’s engineering and design. We’re still years away from seeing dirt turning on that project, though.

• Finally, the council directed city manager Mary Suhm to finish up the downtown convention center hotel construction agreement with Matthews Southwest after, earlier in the week, declaring that the limit of the city’s exposure in terms of cost will be $356 million. Of course, that doesn’t include the $41 million the city spent buying the land for the project, or the untold hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent on interest to pay off the revenue bonds to be issued to fund the project (just try and figure out that interest number, since no one at the city is willing to even estimate the potential interest rate). Or the money the city will likely lose operating the hotel after it opens and doesn’t bring in enough money to pay the costs of keeping the hotel open and running …


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