In December, our Peter Simek wrote a column about Plano. Titled “Inside the Legal Battle for Plano’s Future,” the piece chronicled how the city began to shift its identity as a quiet, suburban bedroom town into one that embraced economic development and density, which would allow it to blossom out of its past and into a city that could sustain itself into the future. Not everyone is happy about that vision, particularly the residents who moved to Plano to escape those things. Peter’s column was about the fight these folks have put up in the courts over the city’s comprehensive plan, which was drawn up and approved by the City Council and earned national praise and attention for being “highly accessible and inclusive.”
These folks didn’t like the move to higher density. They didn’t like the idea of apartment dwellers moving into town and putting their kids into the school district. And they gathered thousands of signatures to force a referendum on the comprehensive plan. Then the city secretary declined to forward that petition to the council for ratification, arguing that state law precluded public votes on zoning issues. So the critics sued.
Enter this morning’s column in the Dallas Morning News. The great Sharon Grigsby sits down with the outgoing city manager, who is retiring after nearly three decades in that role. He is frank about his own concerns.
“Those leaders had the courage to do what needed to be done — to be ready for growth with the right infrastructure,” Glasscock said. “Lots of suburbs are having to scramble to catch up.”
But these days Plano faces a more difficult obstacle than lack of infrastructure or the often-forgotten budget shortfalls of 2009 — deteriorating trust in anything connected to City Hall.
A loosely bound faction of residents is suspicious of most anything the city’s leaders or staff put on the table. Many citizens have no basic knowledge about how local government works. Some just want to say no to everything.
“You’ve got a vocal group that’s become known as the angry crowd, they seem to be the ones who are putting out misinformation,” Glasscock said. “They don’t choose to be factual. And people buy into that.”
You should read her whole piece. Plano is an interesting case study. About a decade ago, its city leaders saw the population trends plateau and decided to reevaluate its sleepiness. People were moving to neighboring suburbs, many for the original reasons that folks moved to Plano for in the first place. The city decided to use zoning and a comprehensive plan to try and save and boost its tax base, a strategy to attract businesses and actually embrace the diversity that would come with those jobs.
The evidence of the potential for this vision is Legacy Town Center and Legacy West. Ross Perot first assembled four square miles in Plano in 1985 and coined the Legacy name. Fast forward to today, and that swath of the city is home to 80,000 jobs with another 20,000 anticipated over the next three years. Legacy Town Center is now 165 acres. Legacy West is 255, zoned for high rise offices, hotels, retail, and residential. The rest was set aside for regional and corporate campuses.
Those developments created walkability out of the dirt, and the city’s decisions attracted relocations from Toyota, Liberty Mutual, and JPMorgan Chase. But there are challenges to come, as we noted in our issue on urbanism last year:
Employees who are not lucky enough to live in the 621 apartments or in nearby single-family homes find themselves on the Tollway either to Dallas or Frisco. As success grows, so does congestion both to and from Legacy and within it. Already, Plano is working on various ideas, such as internal trolleys and buses, to lessen reliance on cars within its 4 square miles. Companies in Legacy business park may find, as others around the country have, that their lush, green office parks isolate employees who would prefer more choices and activities within walking distance.
Legacy Town Center and, now, Legacy West work because they are walkable. Walkability becomes its own ethos, and in the next phase of Legacy’s life, it will spread.
Grigsby’s piece is partly on how the upcoming City Council elections could re-shape the policy decisions that would encourage more things that Plano has found to be successful. The outgoing city manager clearly has concerns about what that could mean for the city’s future and its ability to compete with its neighbors. It’s fascinating to see them voiced so openly.