The Dallas City Council won’t be voting on an amendment at the end of the month that would allow a private developer to install five fenced-in soccer fields under I-345. They also won’t be voting on a deal to allow the nearby Carpenter Park to move forward, nor to approve long-desired parking for Deep Ellum. Also delayed is a deal that would give the city control of land along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, allowing Dallas to possibly widen sidewalks, take in a lane, and install improved lighting.
All of the aforementioned projects were grouped into one item and presented to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Monday. But some council members had concerns about those soccer fields, a project led by the son of state Sen. Royce West that had not been detailed to any on Council before Monday’s briefing. At least four members had questions regarding the soccer field deal; on Wednesday, the city secretary confirmed that the item had been removed from the next agenda.
During the briefing, Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry told the Council that the items could be considered separately, but he said today that a decision on that had not yet been made. It’s also not clear whether the matter will return to a committee before it goes to the full Council. In an email, Al-Ghafry said those questions were still being ironed out and would be addressed in a memo sent to Council on Friday.
“I think it’s a good idea that the item was pulled based on the result of the transportation committee meeting,” said Councilman Chad West, the North Oak Cliff representative who raised initial questions about the item. “Most of us still had questions as of that briefing, and we didn’t get through all of them.”
This is a tricky deal. The land that Roddrick West wants to use is owned by the Texas Department of Transportation but controlled by the city of Dallas. The land use is governed by what is known as a Multiple Use Agreement, or MUA. TxDOT is asking Dallas to cede control so that it can lease the land to West. But Councilman West and others have had a hell of a time getting information about Roddrick West’s project.
Councilman West said it took three requests with various members of city staff to get a site plan. Nobody on Council has seen a business plan. Roddrick West has not identified his investors, and the financial details of the lease with TxDOT is private until it is finalized. West has no experience operating a private soccer development, and others on Council were concerned about the land use.
Councilman David Blewett, who represents downtown and Uptown and East Dallas, said the fences were a problem for him. He said a fenced development would not create connectivity between neighborhoods, a core benefit of the project that was touted by Roddrick West.
The committee briefing was exactly that: the first chance for council members to question the project, but did not allow them to take action. It was planned to head to the full Council no matter how the committee felt. And at least four council members who were present said they were not comfortable voting for the project.
Councilman West said he thought staff should have seen this coming. Royce West is one of the loudest voices against the removal of I-345, a matter that TxDOT is studying. Both the state and Roddrick West say there is a clause that could terminate the lease with two years’ notice. But nobody on the Council—or on staff—has seen the lease.
There is also the matter of how Roddrick West learned of the process by which he could lobby TxDOT to use the land. The Deep Ellum Foundation has been trying to get permission to use the land for parking for close to a decade. Jon Hetzel, the foundation’s chair, said he was unaware of that process. Roddrick West said he “knocked on many doors and made many calls” and discovered how to petition TxDOT to use the land. And because TxDOT is only leasing the land, state policy does not require the agency to bid it out to find other potential suitors.
So Council had a lot to ask.
“Whenever staff has an item coming up that is known to be a controversial item, staff is usually pretty good about reaching out to us and answering our questions beforehand and they’re very proactive,” Councilman West said. “Nobody saw that in this case.”
It’s not clear how staff will play this moving forward. Carpenter Park, Deep Ellum’s parking, and the revitalization of MLK are all considered city priorities. TxDOT wants all of the projects considered at once. “TxDOT’s goal is to take a global look at potential new uses under I-345, rather than handle it piecemeal,” the agency said in a response to my questions last week. Some on Council seem to prefer considering each individually.
For now, it’s on ice. We’ll find out more on Friday.