By ED ACKLIN
Can you imagine a time when we will abandon our cars and our homes and live in multi-story housing and walk or take public transportation to work? Is this a vision of a better future or a delusion that will result in overcrowding, gridlock, high crime, and deteriorating schools? Well, this is what the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan envisions for our city.
PUT ON YOUR WALKING SHOES
One of the central themes of the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan is walking and cycling. This sounds a lot like college to me, and while I enjoyed college, I did not study so that I could live in a high-density, upscale dormitory and walk or cycle everywhere.
The Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan is trying to paint a picture of Plano that looks more like New York, Chicago, or a European City than a city in Texas. Furthermore, that picture is an idealized version of urban areas, ignoring overcrowding, congestion, and terrible public schools. The Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan paints an illusion.
PLANO TOMORROW COMPREHENSIVE PLAN’s World
IDEALY: In the Plano of the future, Auto Traffic is hopelessly gridlocked so all citizens find a place to park their cars (if they still own one) and start walking or riding their bicycles. The grocery, the dry cleaner, the pharmacy, the doc-in-the-box, etc. are all within walking or bicycling distance in the Neighborhood Center. The Neighborhood Center is key to the community because it is the Transit Station that connects the citizens to the rest of the world. Apartments, instead of single-family homes, will surround the Neighborhood Center because more people want to be able to walk to the Transit Station. People will ride the public conveyance to their office; enjoy their day in buildings surrounded by parks and green belts and return to their luxury apartments to enjoy the pool and exercise room in peace and comfort.
IN REALITY: Plano’s traffic is still hopelessly gridlocked, not by autos but by electric buses trying to move people around. If you thought there would be subways or surface light rail, forget it (far too expensive). You will likely find that you spend as much time getting to and from work as you spend actually working because the route from A (Home) to B (Office) will likely take you through C, D, E, F, G, H, etc.
Walking or cycling is the primary form of transportation of the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan. So you are forced or choose to do that…… even in the 100+ degree temperatures of Plano’s summer months. The Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan wants all buildings to provide locker rooms and showers for you to freshen up and change clothes before you go to your important meeting. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!
Routine things such as grocery shopping will become a daily chore. Mom can’t go to the store with all of the kids in tow to bring home a week’s worth of groceries. Everyone will have to stop at the grocery in the Neighborhood Center, purchase what groceries that can be carried while walking or cycling the remaining 2-3 miles to the 5th floor apartment.
And what is the effect on the Senior Citizens? Many Seniors are on fixed incomes and have precious little money on which to survive, much less for luxuries like public transportation. How do they carry a bag full of groceries while using their walker? Many have difficulty walking across their tiny apartment, much less two blocks or two miles to the Neighborhood Center! They become virtual prisoners of their apartments.
Public Transit is envisioned to be Trolley Services. That in itself is confusing. Trolleys usually call for overhead power lines. Elsewhere in the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan, it calls for utilities to be underground. So the power lines are taken down for one reason and put back up for another. Interesting!
And what has happened to our cars, SUVs and pickup trucks? Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan makes no mention of automobiles or trucks yet, strangely enough; Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan does talk about parking. It mentions reducing parking spaces for vehicles, while increasing parking for bicycles, as if we are all going to get around on bicycles like the masses in China.
To illustrate this, we can look at the property on the west side of Highway 75 between Legacy and Spring Creek Parkway that was formerly owned by Texas Instruments. That zoning plan, developed under the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan, is a mixed-use development made up largely of apartments. That plan allows for only one parking space for a 1-bedroom apartment and 1-1/2 parking spaces for a 2-bedroom apartment. One bedroom apartments are not likely to be occupied by just one person. The spouse or roommate will be out of luck for a parking space. The second occupant of a 2-bedroom apartment will have no place to park either, to say nothing of any visitors or over-night guest. One might assume that the occupant of bedroom #2 is a child, but when asked about the impact of high density housing on Plano schools, we are told that Parents don’t live in apartments. Someone forgot to tell that to the people who actually live in the apartments. You can gain first hand knowledge of this when you sit in traffic, waiting behind a line of school buses loading up kids at most any apartment complex in Plano.
The point is, private ownership of automobiles will be discouraged under the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan. If it is good enough for New York City or many of the Cities of Europe, then it should be good enough for Plano! Not!
The Plano Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) largely developed the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan. As far as apartments are concerned, P&Z is paying little attention to what the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan says. Many of the guidelines are ignored as P&Z passes their cases on to the City Council. Under the current City Council, these cases are passed right through. Rarely is a case sent back to the P&Z for additional work. Once passed by the City Council, the developers, in concert with the P&Z are given a great deal of latitude to revise the plan that was presented to the Council, without the need to re-submit it.
Under the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan, as first passed by the City Council, only vacant property that was already zoned “residential” would be set aside for apartments. One Councilman went so far as to boldly declare in Open Session, that, “No more single-family houses would be built in Plano.” But P&Z was even more aggressive. They set a course to use available commercial property for apartments by re-zoning it to be “mixed-use” making it mostly apartments with one small portion of the property designated Retail.
One of the first studies compiled by a citizens group, called Plano Future, indicates that as many as 40,000 apartments could likely be built under the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan. This could easily bring an additional 100,000 citizens to Plano. The current population of Plano is 275,000. It is easy to envision the negative impact this kind of growth will have on our streets, schools, and public services.
Mobility studies, conducted by engineering firms hired by the Collin County Commissioners Court over the last 10 years have been predicting total traffic gridlock in Plano. Yet no consideration has been given to the impact this massive growth will have on our streets and thoroughfares. And this is as if the Plan had been followed as written.
Schools are already overcrowded and will be more so when this additional 100,000 people arrive. PISD is doing all it can with temporary classrooms, but the growth created by high-density housing will continue to compound over crowded classrooms.
Other infrastructure services will become overloaded as new people move to Plano. Recent rains have filled our lakes but the North Texas Municipal Water District is already sounding the alarm about future water shortages. Police, fire, and other public services will be spread thin as more and more people are packed into Plano.
Plano will likely find that it has overbuilt apartments and there is a glut in the inventory. When considering the need for additional apartments, the inventory in surrounding cities must be considered. Frisco is building thousands of apartments just on the other side of Hwy 121 from Plano, and that will have a major affect on Plano’s inventory. There would seem to be no attention being paid to the actual need for more apartments.
And how will this affect property values in Plano? The first to be affected will be the older existing apartments. As the new units get harder to lease, those rates will start to decline. The older units will start losing tenants to the newer units so their rates will decline as will their up-keep. That will spill over to single-family homes. Houses closest to the apartment complexes will decline first but the adverse effect will spread like a cancer.
Comprehensive Plan or Zoning Ordinance?
As if things were not confusing enough, what is this thing called Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan? It says right on the cover that it is a Comprehensive Plan. The P&Z and the City Council treat it like a Flexible Plan, using it when it is beneficial and disregarding it when it is not.
But when Plano Citizens petitioned to put the issue on the ballot so that citizens could have a voice in the matter, the City said No…. it is a Zoning Ordinance and cannot be subjected to a referendum according to State Law. The City is currently spending Tax Payer Funds to defend that “Zoning Ordinance” position.
So which is it? Is it a rigid Zoning Ordinance or a Flexible Plan? The Courts will decide that question, but can the City have it both ways?
Where Do We Go From Here?
Hopefully, the P&Z and the City Council won’t be able to cover every square foot of vacant land before the Council Elections on May 6th, although I believe they are trying to do so. I sincerely hope that at least three of the conservative candidates that are running for City Council are elected (and yes… I want to be one of those). I believe that it is important for the Council to put a temporary hold on all apartment construction until a true study can be made to determine what Plano’s actual need is, and then start building again in a controlled manner if conditions warrant it. Plano needs to catch its breath.
If we don’t control the beast, the beast is capable of turning and devouring us. A major excess apartment inventory can permanently damage all real estate in Plano, including our homes. We are not in a race with Allen, Frisco and McKinney. If the need is there, the need will always be there in Plano.
So What is My Position with Regard to the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan?
The Plan can best be described as an Idealistic Vision of Some Place far, far away from Plano. It just does not fit the foundation that is Plano Today. If we try to force Plano to fit the Vision, we will create a mess that closely resembles New York City or Chicago. Plano is still a wonderful place to live, but if we try to force it to be something that it is not, we will ruin it. Over-building apartments will do just that.
I strongly believe that we should put a temporary hold on the number of apartments that we approve for construction. We should commission a study to determine what our needs actually are. If the study shows the need for even more apartments, then we can start building again.
About My Opponent
My Opponent served on the Planning and Zoning Commission during the period that the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan was developed, and she was instrumental in its authorship. She was a leading proponent in presenting it to the City Council and encouraged its passage.