Rowlett has a Planning and Zoning Commission. There are 7 members and 2 alternates who sit in when one of the Commissioners can't. They approve or deny zoning changes on properties that have current zoning that differs from any proposed purpose.
Their function is to determine the "highest and best use" of the property....and nothing else. They are not elected to office. They don't dictate policy. They are to study the facts and determine whether the proposed improvements are in compliance with the predetermined and desired growth patterns of the city, as determined by City Council; and is good for the city.........the whole city.
Let me set the stage for you. An apartment project was proposed for a site on Chiesa Road. The project was to serve seniors (like Evergreen), or Workforce families (we don't have anything for them). Of course, Evergreen is all filled up with tenant applications, and the waiting list is completely full. It's my understanding no further applicants are being taken for the waiting list. Evergreen hasn't even finished construction, yet. (Do you think we have a need here?)
Well, the hue and cry went out. The neighbors started taking their muskets down from the fireplace mantel. They got the oxen and the wooden wheel carts out of the barn, lit their straw torches, and announced that they were going to march on City Hall. On June 27, the P&Z Commission was going into hostile territory........and they knew it.
Again, the P&Z Commission consists of 9 members, with 7 regular members and 2 alternates to serve if the regulars can't attend. On the evening of June 27th, two of the regular members and both alternates failed to show up. I'm sure they all had excellent excuses. There were about 50 citizens that wanted to speak......and did so. They also wanted to make some noise.......and did so, as ordered by a neighborhood activist.
Of the 5 commissioners that showed up, they sat and patiently listened to about three or four different stories that were told 50 times.........over, and over, and over......
After all the citizens had their say, it was time for discussion and a vote. That didn't take very long. Of the 5 commissioners present, only 3 had anything to say. One commissioner said he had "lived in the area" for 20 years, so he knew what the Chiesa Road traffic issue was. He cited one particularly bad area on Chiesa Road, the intersection of Chiesa Road and Liberty Grove Road. Folks, that intersection is 2.5 miles away from the subject property. For comparison, if I wanted to drive to Rockwall, 2.5 miles would put me well onto the bridge leading from Rowlett to Rockwall. In the real estate appraisal business, that would be considered a horrible "comp." For that commissioner's info, I have lived ON Chiesa Road for 42 years. I know what the traffic issues are.
The most beautifully discussed train wreck was performed by the Chairman of the P&Z Commission. He rambled on with Tony Felts, Director of Planning, about what other businesses could locate on the subject property; nothing about the project itself, but "what if?" Almost his entire discussion was about "what if." Then, in closing his dissertation, he announces that he felt the developer did not talk to the neighbors enough, therefore he was voting against the project. Folks, talking to neighbors is not any criteria, in any city, in any state, in the entire USA for a zoning hearing. In fact, in my opinion such a judgement is illegal. It was not even cleverly disguised as anything other than a preconceived notion of how he was going to vote. Somebody had been talking to him........no matter what he may say.
So, so far we have two descenting opinions, and three more unreported. Two "unreported" members are easy to account for. They didn't say anything. One of which is a builder. In my fifty years in the business, I have never sat in a meeting whereby a $15 million project was being discussed and any builder in the room would not have something to say. The other non-committing member just looked bewildered.
There was one commissioner, Mr. Finney, in which it was clear that he had done his homework. He knew about the market. He knew about the Dallas influence. He understood the city's needs. His approach was completely intellectual. Only the facts and analysis of the facts were used in his analysis. Mr. Finney supported the zoning change.
So, here we are. Of the 7 members and 2 alternates, only 5 showed up for the P&Z meeting. Of the remaining 5, only three had anything to say in the very important discussion phase, just before the vote is taken. It is just unbelievable that a $15 million project only garnered three comments during the discussion phase of the zoning application.
When the vote was taken, only Mr. Finney voted for the zoning change. The other 4 (including the 2 silent ones), voted against the zoning request. By the way, this was in opposition to recommendation for approval of Staff.
Now, there is just one more teeny, tiny little detail. A past Chairman of the P&Z was a consultant for an apartment project on Rowlett Road. City Council denied their zoning request. This same person also appeared at a neighborhood meeting in which the developer attended. After the developer left the room, this person took a lead in additional discussion. He advised all to use traffic as the main reason to derail the project. I also know he applied for a seat on the HFC Board of Directors, and common sense tells you he still has friends on P&Z.
Judging from the unbelievably poor rationale from two of the three commenting commissioners (out of 7 regulars and 2 alternates), and sour grapes, and ambitions for future deals, I have a question.
Do you think the "fix" was in?
Citizens of Rowlett deserve better than this. The Chairman of the P&Z Commission needs to be fired for such lame and poor analysis skills.