It’s Not About Being “For” or “Against” Apartments
It’s About Making Good Decisions For Good Reasons
By: Susan M. Halpern
(Addison councilmember 1992 – 99)
It’s election season, and Todd Meier is once again politicizing council business, trying to create controversy to fuel his latest political campaign. The issues this year are new, but the story line remains the same. Meier distorts and misrepresents issues, using his false narrative as a platform to attack those who disagree, always leading people to the (inaccurate) conclusion that only Meier can “get it right.”
One of this year’s faux issue is whether people are “for” or “against” apartments. If Meier can convince people that this is the only issue involved, he can attack his political foes by claiming that they have changed their position. Meier tried it with me, and when I shut him down, he did not respond. The fact is that no development issue boils down to one simple issue, and the two developments on which Meier now focuses are no exception. Let’s talk about it.
This latest episode brought me back to an issue I encountered when I was on the council. We were considering a change in zoning from multi-family to single family homes in the Les Lacs area. Phrased that way, the issue seems simple, right? But there was much more going on. The plan contemplated 22 foot streets (much narrower than usual) and flag lots, i.e., houses with long driveways and significant setbacks. The parcels lacked alley access. All of which led the Fire Chief to express deep concerns about accessibility for fire equipment and personnel in the event of a fire. In other words, safety was the real issue.
In an effort to pressure us, the developer circulated a petition in nearby neighborhoods, phrasing the issue simply as single-family versus multi-family. To no one’s surprise, nearby residents signed the petition in droves, clearly unaware of the safety issues I’ve described. I was disturbed at the conduct of the developer. It was a disservice to our Town to so misrepresent the issues.
So here we are again, except now, it’s Addison’s own mayor who is misrepresenting the issues. For example, Meier spent the month after approval of the AMLI project falsely claiming that the site was contaminated and would endanger human lives. Meier also told citizens that AMLI refused to produce environmental documents, going so far as to solicit emails as to what the Town should do about it. In a strongly worded letter, AMLI lawyer Cynthia Bishop very pointedly addressed Meier’s misrepresentations. The letter is publicly available and provides yet another opportunity to independently verify the TRUTH, as well as Meier’s willingness to distort the record for political purposes. If you haven’t read Ms. Bishop’s letter, you should.
And that brings us back to the apartment issue. Meier has falsely claimed that Councilmembers Duffy, Walden and Angell ran on an “anti-apartment” platform. It isn’t true. But, Meier uses this false premise to attack these three councilmembers, claiming that they somehow changed their positions. In emails we obtained, Meier feeds the frenzy, encouraging his supporters to believe that Councilmembers Duffy, Walden and Angell aren’t listening to voters. It isn’t true, and is simply more of the same divisive, “us and them” rhetoric that Meier has fed for six years.
And, of course, the challenge is to refocus everyone on the FACTS. Here, the TRUTH is that neither AMLI nor Addison Grove project are simple matters of being “pro” or “anti” apartments. Both developments presented unique challenges for our Town.
Let’s consider some FACTS and here, I’ll give you my views. I opposed Addison Grove for many reasons. I did not agree with the plan to connect Beltway to Beltline with a new road. The cut through traffic, particularly at rush hour, would have significantly overloaded Beltway and adversely impacted the surrounding neighborhoods. The proposed location of the new road, about 30 yards from the Beltway/Midway intersection, would have caused backups and traffic issues on Beltway. And, while the current plan doesn’t allow cars to cut through, it includes that road. Mark my words, that fight isn’t over yet.
I also objected to the removal of the wall along Beltway. It buffers Midway Meadows and other neighborhoods from the hustle and bustle of Beltline. It also delineates the Beltway Park as a public space. Further, I objected to loss of the subject tract for commercial uses, located as it is at such a visible and critical intersection (Midway/Beltline). And, I was dismayed by the deed restrictions Walmart placed on the property as a condition to the sale. They handcuff Addison moving forward, removing obvious uses of the land from consideration. I would have waited Walmart out in hopes of a better deal.
I was deeply concerned by the complete absence of financial analysis. Like others, I heard big numbers thrown around in terms of taxable value, but we were never informed about what the council intended to invest in the parcel. My concerns were borne out. We later learned that taxable value numbers didn’t account for homestead and other exemptions. And, I was stunned to learn that after approving the development, the council voted to commit a staggering $6.5 million of public money to this development. Then, the council met to consider how to come up with that money, an upside-down process at best. We now know that our return on investment is projected at 23 years, based on the optimistic assumption of a full build. To make matters worse, the council decided to pay the $6.5 million out of current maintenance and operations budgets. Not only does that put limits on our maintenance and operational needs, it also means that current residents bear the burden of benefits that will be reaped by future residents, which in my view is poor policy. My concerns about the lack of financial analysis were well grounded.
Suffice it to say that my issues with Addison Grove were far deeper than my opposition to a four-story parking garage and apartments at the end of my block.
And that brings me to the AMLI development, unique in its own way. It is not located at a major, gateway intersection like Beltline/Midway. It’s also not in proximity to a single family residential development. Rather, it is near a wildly successful high-density development district that created the “there” that the brilliant, late Carmen Moran always spoke about. The AMLI development fits with the neighborhood. And, in contrast to the unfathomable $6.5 million of my taxpayer money that was dedicated to Addison Grove, AMLI proposed substantial improvements to the existing infrastructure, at no cost (but of significant benefit) to Addison. Surrounding businesses uniformly supported the development, including because of the influx of new customers. And, this is not a plot of land that has been previously used. This land has lain fallow for decades.
The staff provided its financial analysis of the AMLI project. Part of that recognized that the presence of our airport results in some height restrictions which, in turn, limit the size of any proposed office building. The staff’s analysis demonstrated that Addison stands to reap more in taxes from the AMLI development than from an office building of any reasonable size. And by the way, the TCEQ has reviewed a plethora of environmental studies and remediation plans, and has approved this tract of land for residential use. Meier’s statements to the contrary are patently false.
All of which demonstrates that neither development was a simple issue of “pro” or “anti” apartments.
I don’t speak for Councilmembers Duffy, Walden and Angell, but I suspect that I’ve hit on at least some of the reasons they approved the AMLI development. Like others on the council, they deserve to be judged for the TRUTH about what they’ve done and how they’ve voted, not on some false narrative Meier has created for the purpose of attacking and undermining them. These three have endured a year of Meier ambushing them with cryptically described agenda items, after which Meier personally attacks them based on false descriptions of their platforms and opinions. It is not what service on the council should be about.
In the end, our whole Town has been victimized by Meier’s “fake news.” But we can all turn the tide on that, and the AMLI development provides yet another opportunity to do so. We must all take responsibility to learn the TRUTH. Here, we know that Meier’s outrageous claims of contamination on the AMLI site were false. Just read Attorney Cynthia Bishop’s strongly-worded letter. Watch the AMLI meeting. Or, look at other examples of Meier’s conduct. Go back to the Fall of 2013, and read Meier’s inaccurate descriptions of the budget meeting, another false narrative used to attack Neil Resnik. Read the articles I’ve written and again, go back and watch the meetings.
The TRUTH will set Addison free. And that’s what we need. Freedom from fake news, freedom from divisive politics, freedom from Meier’s “us and them” narrative. The TRUTH will pave the way for a true council of SEVEN, committed to deliberating in good faith, in an effort to reach the best decision.
TRUTH IN ADDISON. Seek it out. We owe it to each other.