A small grocery store with beer and wine sales might come to the north end of Uptown’s West Village in the near future.
The Dallas City Council on Wednesday approved an amendment to the city code that will allow the sales at the Uptown mixed-use development in spite of its proximity to a high school. But several council members said they’re concerned over how the item showed up on their agenda without fanfare, a review at the committee level or much chance for public comment.
Many of those members, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, asked if the council could come up with a way to avoid such an issue in the future. But council member Philip Kingston — who got the item on the agenda with the help of colleagues Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano, Omar Narvaez and Sandy Greyson — said his colleagues were “concern-trolling.”
Kingston’s five-signature memo to place the item on the agenda bypassed vetting through a committee and public input process. He said that he asked the committee chairs to take up the item and that Dallas ISD didn’t object — which was technically true, but the district didn’t have much of a chance.
Normally, a business that wishes to sell alcohol can request a variance if it is within 300 feet of a school. But city code limits which types of businesses can do so, requiring — for example — that grocery stores that wish to sell beer or wine be 10,000 square feet or more apart.
Those limitations chased off potential tenants at the popular mixed-use development, said Robert Bagwell, the president of Urban Partners and the managing general partner of West Village and a past campaign contributor to Kingston. North Dallas High School is 270 feet away from the north side of the property.
“You could not have a 9,000-square foot specialty grocery store,” said West Village counsel Roger Albright. “You couldn’t have an EatZi’s.”
Kingston said that such restrictions required amending the ordinance itself, since the variance process wouldn’t work in this circumstance.
“The only sensitive user is North Dallas High School, and DISD has no objection to this change,” he said.
But Dallas ISD spokesperson Robyn Harris said the district’s typical position is to neither support nor object to alcohol-related variance requests. Through the variance process, the district would be notified that a business was requesting an exception, Harris said, to which DISD would likely choose to not respond. A variance would also require a public hearing, and notice to the neighborhood association within the protected area.
Harris said she was unclear to whom Kingston referred during the council meeting. DISD’s top administrators, including general counsel Ramona Soto and deputy superintendent of operations Scott Layne, were not in communication with Kingston on the matter, Harris said.
Kingston did not respond to requests for comment.
Wednesday’s code alteration would only apply to West Village, said Neva Deen, assistant director of sustainable development and construction.
Other parts of the city have received such amendments before. For instance, in 2012, the creation of an Uplift Education charter school in Deep Ellum threatened future businesses from selling alcohol within 300 feet of the school. But thanks to a five-person memo that put the matter on the agenda, the City Council amended the spacing rule for Deep Ellum.
Greyson said the Deep Ellum example prompted her to sign Kingston’s memo.
“What I learned is that we don’t have a process and that West Village needs this to go forward,” she said. “If you all want to create a process, don’t hold this hostage.”
Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates said she’d normally want to know the business and its history with illegally serving minors before she would vote for a variance.
Gates initially asked for Kingston’s item to be remanded to a committee for further discussion, but she withdrew that request. She said failing to go through committees was “diminishing our governance structure.”
Rawlings said he also preferred items go through committees to “make the City Council work better all of the time.”
He asked Kingston why it didn’t go through a committee. Kingston replied: “Because every time I ask you to put something on the agenda, you tell me, ‘No.’”
“That’s not true,” Rawlings responded.
Kingston retorted that it was “100 percent true.” And at one point, when Rawlings said he was concerned that the council would “do something this significant” without going through normal processes, Kingston was caught off-mic saying, “Good God.”
“The level of fake concern about this is kind of galling,” Kingston said.
The council member said he had asked committee chairs to take up the issue. “Guess how that went? Nobody wanted to put it on,” he said.
“What committee?” Gates interrupted.
Kingston didn’t answer Gates and instead assailed the process, saying the committees are “backed up” and have “slowed to a crawl.”
“I’m really tired of hearing process questions,” he said. “This is the process. I have followed the process. And I got the signature of the chair of the committee to which it probably would have gone. Maybe some of you have seen the internet phrase ‘concern trolling?’ That’s what you guys are doing.”
Griggs later posted his take on “concern trolling” on the Facebook page for his mayoral campaign, saying it was used “to sow doubt and dissent in the community” over an issue.
During the meeting, Rawlings said he was disappointed if fellow council members wouldn’t take up Kingston’s item in committee. Kingston, in response to a question from the mayor, said he “didn’t ask every committee chair” but had “tried to get it on a committee.”
“When it didn’t happen, I asked staff if they had a problem bringing this to council, and they did not have a problem with it,” Kingston said.
The Dallas Morning News asked the committee chairs after the meeting if they had denied Kingston’s requests. All of them said Kingston had not approached them with the West Village item.