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NEIGHBORHOODS IS IT TIME TO DROP THE OAK LAWN PLAN?

By Sally Giddens |

All is not quiet on the Oak Lawn front. In the wake of the Cityplace zoning battle-which ended in December with the City Council voting nine to two to approve the second phase of Southland Corporation’s large planned development district along North Central Expressway near downtown-some neighborhood activists are turning their anti-development battleship in a new direction.

Cay Kolb, David McAtee, Sharon Boyd, and Wendell Patterson, who have served in various leadership roles in the Oak Lawn neighborhood just north of downtown, had fought for several years against the Cityplace development. Having lost that war, the four have written Mayor Annette Strauss a letter proposing to nuke the Oak Lawn Plan and ordinance. The ordinance, a delicate compromise between competing interests in Oak Lawn-primarily commercial versus residential- was forged by the Oak Lawn Forum through thousands of hours of meetings during several years and finally became law in 1985. But the four neighborhood activists maintain that the Oak Lawn Ordinance has never been properly enforced by city planners. Cityplace, they say, is the most recent and blatant of many examples.

Among other things, some neighborhood activists oppose building heights allowed in the Cityplace project that would not be allowed by the Oak Lawn Ordinance.

Patterson, immediate past president of the Oak Lawn Forum, and his enraged co-letter-writers propose dumping the Oak Lawn Ordinance and throwing Oak Lawn back into the citywide planning pot where it would undergo a major transition in zoning per the new “51-A” code being applied across the city. But some others who spent much time, energy, and patience drafting the Oak Lawn Ordinance-namely city planners and those with commercial interests-disagree.

“The Oak Lawn Plan has withstood the test of time well” says Neal Sleeper, another past president of the Oak Lawn Forum. “It would be unfortunate to see years of effort and compromise tossed in the dumpster because a handful of residents don’t like the council’s decision on one zoning case.”

Doug Waskom, the city’s chief planner for development review and urban design, says that even when the city has changed zoning, such as in the Cityplace case, most of the standards of the Oak Lawn Plan were still applied.

Of course, any nuking of the Oak Lawn Ordinance would be a long process. The activists’ letter proposed a meeting early in January, but Kolb says that the mayor said she could only meet on Christmas Day. Though Kolb took that as a sign of reluctance to meet, Strauss says that she and council members Lori Palmer and Craig Holcomb, the two anti-Cityplace votes on the council, are more than happy to talk to the letter writers and will be doing so soon.