Support the Emerald Isle Development

Distortions and Half Truths

The anti-development crowd has distorted the debate on the Emerald Isle condos with exaggerations, half truths, and some non-truths. Below is a comparison of their claims and reality.

Anti-Development Claim Reality
"[The development] will set a dangerous precedent for future development around Garland Road and White Rock Lake" (source)

"Additional high-density high-rise development all the way from Gaston Avenue to Doctor's Hospital at Casa Linda Shopping Center" (source)

It is impossible or infeasible to redevelop the vast majority of the area around White Rock Lake. (reference) Furthermore, the areas where development is likeliest are dilapidated.
This development is right next to or on top of [insert favorite sympathy object here]. The condo mid rise is not being built next to or on top of any neighborhoods.

The proposed mid rise will replace a dilapidated medical office complex.

The lot that would contain the proposed condo is next to:

  • A retirement community/apartment complex.
  • A strip mall.
  • A legal document publishing company.
  • A typical Dallas-style cheap apartment complex (read "next decade's ghetto").

The nearest neighborhood, Emerald Isle, is buffered from the condo by a parking lot and then the senior center building. If the residents of Emerald Isle can even see the condo mid rise through their tree canopy, they may only see the portion above the senior center.

The second-nearest neighborhood, Little Forest Hills, is buffered from the condo by two strip centers and a 6 lane state highway.

"[The development] would forever alter the view of the lake and limit public access to it" (source)

"Permanent, irreversible change to the serenity and beauty of the lake and its skyline." (source)

This development does not impact views of the lake. The proposed mid rise does not block the view of the lake from any other building or public facility. Here's the view of the lake from Garland Road and Emerald Isle Drive (the proposed development site is right behind the strip center on the right side of the photo):

That's right, there is no view of the lake from Garland Road anywhere near the development! You have to walk about 1½ blocks away from Garland Rd., past the proposed development, before you even get a glimpse of the lake:

That road to the left is the rear entrance to the Autumn Leaves senior center.

Access will be unaffected: no roads will be closed. And even if several mid rises were built in the Emerald Isle vicinity, the effect on the skyline view from within the park would vary from none to minimal.

Oh, wait, you're talking about the view from within the park? Well, why didn't you say so!

A panoramic shot of the park taken from "cyclists' lot" (map):

(2.5MB full size picture)

Here's the same panorama with the mid rise inserted using approximation based on the nearby AT&T building:

Notice how little difference that makes! (2.5MB full size picture)

Let's zoom in 2X on the building site:

What's that dot?

Now zoom in 4X:

Hmm, OK, we're starting to see something.

Let's go to 8X:

You can see my crude rendering. Pretend that beige box is really a high class building with a Casa Linda-style stucco facade.

16X zoom:

By now you should catch my drift. Unless you're standing right under it, this building will minimally impact views of the lake. From the vantage of the cyclists' lot, the development will take up less than 0.2% of the horizon. That's one fifth of one percent!

Sure, this fraction will vary depending on other vantage points. It will be greater than 0.2% at Winfrey Point and far less at the Dog Park. However, unless your nose is sniffing the building's stucco, the view inside White Rock Lake Park will continue to be phenomenally overwhelmed by the lake and the park.

Suppose things go really well, a "dangerous precedent" is set, and the developable land near Emerald Isle has five condo buildings instead of one:

Yikes, the fourth sign of the apocalypse? (2.5MB full size picture)

When analyzing the lake, let's not forget all the buildings already clearly visible from the lake:

(Disclaimer: this is a crop of a photo where I zoomed in to get a better shot. The buildings in the background may look slightly larger than usual. To see the same area for yourself, go to Emerald Isle Dr. right about where it enters the park, near the Vista Del Lago pedestrian entrance.)

There are more; I just haven't taken good photographs yet.

"80% lot coverage - vs the current legal limit of 60% - in a tiny 2-acre plot directly bordering White Rock Lake", implying that this would be a major change from current land use. (source)

"The developer asking for a variance for the building to cover 80% of the land is completely asinine." (source)

Zoning does not deserve respect simply because it exists. Zoning deserves respect because of what it accomplishes. If 80% lot coverage is a good use of that property, the zoning should be changed.

Let's ask the big question: is 80% lot coverage a big deal?

Consider the current lot configuration:
(link to Google Maps)
As far as drainage and wildlife and green space are concerned, parking lots are as detrimental as buildings. Today, this property is saturated with artificial surfaces:

It only has a small "postage stamp" of green space:

From an environmental and aesthetic perspective, changing to 80% coverage is meaningless.

This zoning change is "asinine" only if "asinine" means "minimal impact."

The development will worsen drainage. (Implied by prior statement, and spoken in public meetings.) Current drainage couldn't be worse. Drainage problems are caused by non-permeable land covers such as buildings and parking lots, and these cover almost the entire lot. Plans for the condo mid rise call for a dramatic increase in vegetation, and that will only help drainage problems.

Ultimately, since drainage at this property is already environmentally unfriendly, any new drainage problems will not have any significant environmental effect and can only affect adjacent properties. Adjacent property owners need to lead that fight and/or seek compensation. So far, they have not complained, or if they have, they haven't raised their voice above a whimper. I wonder why? Maybe because new drainage problems are quite unlikely because drainage naturally slopes off to the lake?

"20% less parking than the building would need to support its requested uses" (source)

"Up to 20% of the traffic generated by this building may be sent rumbling into surrounding neighborhoods, business parks, or the lake in search of a place to park." (source)

Dallas's parking regulations require far too much parking (Dallas Morning News reference), so 20% less than "far too much" still may be too much. Furthermore, the requested uses of this building are ones that Dallas's two decade old parking code could not anticipate. Even Forward Dallas, which the Emerald Isle opponents liberally cite, recommends revised parking standards that allow for fewer parking spaces: "...Dallas should be a city for people, not cars, and more space should be devoted to human needs rather than automotive storage." (source)

Presumably, with the second statement, the opposition is stating that 20% less parking means 20% of the traffic generated by the complex will have to park elsewhere. This is a difficult argument to make since, as stated above, 80% of "far too much parking" is still "too much parking."

"We don't want [local neighborhoods and businesses] damaged by a failed tower." (source) Only the opposition wants failure.
"Updating the plan should take place within a Forward Dallas area plan covering the entire White Rock area, not for a 2-acre speculative project requesting us to throw away the plan." (source) Forward Dallas is not a straightjacket. It's a guideline. It was never meant to be an inflexible text requiring fundamentalist interpretation.

It is impossible to anticipate all feasible land uses, and a land use is not evil just because it's not on the plan. Any land use plan with no flexibility devalues the strong American tradition of entrepreneurship and innovation.

"A plan for the commercial development along the east side of White Rock Lake area already exists. It was formally adopted in 1999 by City Council as the guiding plan for the Garland Road Corridor." (source) Dallas's planning efforts prior to the mid-2000s were hopelessly defective. From Dallas at the Tipping Point, describing planning efforts prior to 2004:

"...Dallas can hardly draw a meaningful map of where it wants to go. Unlike its peers, it operates without relying on either a comprehensive land use plan or a strategic business plan.

"In effect, the people of Dallas are like shareholders in a company with $6.6 billion in assets and a $1.9 billion operating budget that makes decisions ad hoc, based on no overarching corporate strategy." (source)

According to Mary Poss, a city councilman while the 1999 Garland Road Land Use and Urban Design Study was adopted, "[The plan is] not locked in. It was designed to get funding." (Mary is also a representative of the condo developer.) Indeed, pages 23-24 of this document support Mary's view.

But suppose this document is relevant? Consider this quote: "Future land use policies are based on present knowledge and goals. Any future zoning change requests that deviate from the future recommendations, land use policies, and land use map should be evaluated in accordance with the conditions at that time and the intent of this study. This study should be used as a working document to guide development that is conducive to the improved image and vitality of the Garland Road corridor." (page 11). In other words, this document's own wording acknowledges that it cannot anticipate all possible land uses and that this 1999 draft is not the final say.

A high rise at that location would be a major engineering problem. (said at a summer 2006 opposition meeting) This is hardly an engineering challenge. The implication is that something about the land or its proximity to water (it's a 10 minute walk from the lake; that's anything but proximate to water) makes it unsuitable for large building development. Is Doctor's Hospital an engineering disaster? Is downtown Dallas, which is built right by the Trinity River, a disaster? Much of SMU was built on an old creek. Is SMU an engineering disaster? How about all those condo towers adjacent to Turtle Creek? How about Manhattan, an island? How about Chicago, built on the edge of a massive lake?
"[The development] is totally disproportionate to anything else in the area" (source)

The nearby AT&T tower is only 4 stories tall. (source)

Yes, this is a change. However, considering the size of Doctor's Hospital and the nearby AT&T building, the opposition's claim is a "totally disproportionate" exaggeration.

Here's the AT&T monstrosity:

Compare its height to the white strip stores in front of it clearly shows it is far more than 4 stories tall. (The Kwik Lube is actually well in the foreground of this photo. Even though it's a tall 2 stories, its appearance is proportionately much larger than it would be had I thought to take a picture showing the two buildings from a more balanced perspective.)

"Would you like to see a 10-story building replace your local grocery store?" (source) There are no plans to repurpose key retail facilities like Casa Linda Shopping Center. This development will only increase the relevance and importance of key retail facilities, ensuring their long-term vitality.
"The Emerald Isle condo tower would certainly destabilize a very successful and beautiful White Rock Lake neighborhood." (source) Man, I must not be keeping up with modern slang. Is "bad" the new "good"? Is "destabilize" the new way to say "ensure a vibrant future"? Last I checked, increasing property values and desirability are good things.
"My neighbors and I don't want to lose our own homes to this type of high-density redevelopment." (source) Ever heard of private property rights? Nobody is violating anyone's private property rights. The proposed condo will be built on a piece of property that is being sold legally and fairly. Homeowners will not be evicted.
The proposed tower is a "skyscraper". (source) The Emerald Isle project would need to be 244% taller to be a skyscraper. A skyscraper is at least 500 feet tall.
"A 195-foot building is huge. The Statue of Liberty is only 151 feet from the tip of her toes to the top of her torch," implying the proposed development is taller than the Statue of Liberty. (source) When one ponders the height of the Statue of Liberty, he thinks of the entire structure, including the pedestal:

Isn't it rather convenient to ignore that huge pedestal? That's how the opposition came up with 151 feet.

The tip of the Statue of Liberty is 305.08 feet off the ground, about 56% taller than the condo.

"the Arboretum is about to have a parking crisis, as their off-site parking deal has fallen through," implying Emerald Isle Dr. should be preserved to accommodate Arboretum parking. (source) Emerald Isle Drive does not impact Arboretum parking. It is too short, too far away, and there is no sidewalk for most of the distance between it and the Arboretum. City Council is trying to address Arboretum parking through a bond issue.
"A project of this size will increase traffic congestion..." (source)

"Public nuisance for elderly residents of Autumn Leaves ... increased traffic" (source)

The condo is replacing a large traffic generator. Think about it: a medical facility has patients and staff coming and going all day long. The condo will replace this facility. Even with this condo's retail establishments, it's a stretch to say that this will significantly alter regional traffic patterns.

Also consider this: if the condo building covers 80% of the approximately 87,643 square foot lot (source), it will have about a 70,114 square foot footprint. That could mean about 25 condo units averaging 2800 square feet per floor. (Note that some of this "2800 square feet" will be used for infrastructure like elevators and plumbing and communal facilities.) Multiply by 10 floors, and you get 250 units.

The Vista del Lago apartments next door have 296 units (source), and it is likely to have a much smaller percentage of retirees than the condo mid rise. That means each resident generates more trips than the typical condo mid rise resident.

When have you ever seen persistent traffic jams at Vista del Lago's entrance? (I haven't.) Does Vista del Lago have a traffic signal? (No.)

Given that Vista del Lago has no persistent traffic problems, how could anyone argue that the condo mid rise, which would generate less traffic, could cause traffic jams on a road that, unlike Vista del Lago, doesn't have bottlenecks like gates and a post office box facility?

"A project of this size will ... likely result in ... construction, paid for by taxpayers, to update infrastructure for roads, water, sewer, and power." (source)

"No City bond money has been allocated to pay for the sewer, road, and other infrastructure improvements that serving such a huge structure would require. Who's going to pay for this?" (source)

According to the Dallas County Appraisal District, all taxable property at 1000 Emerald Isle Drive is worth $1,637,870. This means the city of Dallas collects $12,148.08 per year for this property. Sales tax collections are minimal, perhaps even zero, because of the nature of the businesses.

Now, suppose Mark Miller builds a building worth $50,000,000. Further suppose that after deductions, homestead exemptions (if they are allowable on condos?), and what not, the taxable value is a paltry $45,000,000. Let's see, multiply by 0.007417 and you get $333,765.

Assuming no price appreciation, that means a net increase in tax collection of $3,216,169.20 over 10 years.

That's enough to pay outright for any needed incremental infrastructure improvements, if any.

"A project of this size will ... likely result in ... additional traffic light (sic) on Garland Road (it?s already a traffic nightmare)." (source)

"Intense rush-hour traffic jams at Garland Road and Buckner, compounded by the installation of new stoplights in the Garland Road corridor." (source)

If the road supports current traffic patterns acceptably, there is little need for a traffic light. But suppose a light is needed? Dallas synchronizes its lights so that a "green wave" travels unimpeded through many signals. Regardless of whether there are 1 or 100 traffic signals on Garland Road, you will arrive at your destination just as quickly.

And Garland Road is hardly a "traffic nightmare." It's a major state highway, for crying out loud! The only significant traffic problem on Garland Road is the intersection with Buckner Rd., and this will soon receive major improvements.

"A project of this size will ... likely result in ... additional 'cut through' traffic in neighborhoods (this is already bad enough)." (source) No good case has been made for increased traffic. Without that, it's impossible to say that cut through traffic will increase.
"A project of this size will ... likely result in ... inhibited access to/from SE section of White Rock Lake and Winfrey Point --Emerald Isle is the ONLY EXIT from this section of the lake and from Winfrey Point!" (source) Again, no good case has been made for increased traffic. Without that, it's impossible to say that Emerald Isle Drive's car-friendly characteristics will change.

But suppose there is a traffic problem? Emerald Isle Drive is not the only possible exit. East Lawther Drive runs between Winfrey Point and Garland Road behind the Dallas Arboretum. This could be altered if a reliever route became necessary. Additionally, the East Lawther Drive connection between Winfrey Point and Sunset Bay could be reopened for additional traffic relief, taking Emerald Isle out of the equation.

"A project of this size will ... likely result in ... blockage of lanes on Garland Road and Emerald Isle, and parking (of construction vehicles, workers, etc.) on White Rock Lake Park property during construction." (source) It's only temporary. Coming from Houston, I experienced years of road construction and reconstruction. But now that it's largely done, Houston has a fantastic freeway system. Construction activities really do cease when the project is done.

But even then, there is no sound case for permanent blocking of any lanes on Garland Road or Emerald Isle Drive.

"This [higher density] development model could spell disaster for surrounding neighborhoods, businesses, and the lake ecosystem." (source) This development model will improve the ecosystem. There is virtually no remaining undeveloped land near White Rock Lake, so there is no wildlife or ecosystem to be displaced.

Much of the existing development is from decades ago, before we knew much about the risks of asbestos or lead. Building standards did not factor in nearly as many environmental considerations as today, nor did they require anything remotely similar to today's energy efficiency standards. Removing toxic materials and replacing dilapidated, environmentally-unfriendly, and energy-inefficient buildings can only help the environment.

This development will improve businesses. What other effect would an influx of high wealth or high income residents have on an area?

This development will improve surrounding neighborhoods by increasing property values and increasing desirability.

"The 'prohibited uses' [per the zoning change application] would cause only low traffic volume and many are community service oriented." (source) Most prohibited uses are significant traffic generators, including all of these which are clearly listed on the zoning change application:
  • adult day care facility
  • child-care facility
  • hospital
  • library, art gallery, or museum
  • public, private, or charter school
  • hotel
  • country club
  • ambulance service
  • car wash
  • commercial amusement (e.g., Putt Putt Golf).
  • drive in theater
  • big box store
  • home improvement center
  • gas station
  • pawn shop
  • medical clinic
  • police or fire station

See pages 9-12 of the zoning variance application for the full list.

The zoning change application says that "the entire building could be metal, glass, concrete, something other than the pretty drawing." (source) The reference is to section 51P-___.109.B on pages 12-13 of the zoning variance application. This section is only about the parking structure, not about the entire building.
"Eminent domain would be required to widen the road infrastructure around the development area, tearing down at least some businesses, according to a developer friend who recently examined the site." (comes from a July 26, 2005 email from a key opponent) Without credible evidence of unsustainable traffic increases, it is irresponsible to speculate that eminent domain is "required."

But even though it's not needed, let's play "what if?"

Worst case scenario is a small piece of a nondescript strip mall would be eaten up. That's the building on the top right in this photo:

Specifically, the displaced business would be a nail salon:

A glut of nail salons is a trademark of urban blight.

"The elderly naturally have the most to lose from this type of development, along with young families, as neither can afford the artificial tax inflation on their homes." (comes from a July 26, 2005 email from a key opponent) Hyperbole, a distortion, and a convenient mistruth.

First, your home is a form of investment. Who in his right mind makes an investment that he hopes never appreciates in value? If minimal return on capital is the objective, then perhaps the buyer should have purchased in Collin County. Or defer all maintenance. That will also do the trick.

Second, it is true that taxable value can rise as property values rise. (Wait a second, I thought the condo was going to "destabilize"? Now you're saying it's going to help? Which way is it?) However, this is not "artificial tax inflation." The Dallas County Appraisal District (DCAD) cannot assess a value higher than fair market value. (source) In fact, homes usually sell for values above their official DCAD-assessed value.

But suppose DCAD screws up and assesses a value over market value. This happened to me in 2006. The solution is the straightforward protest procedure. Even though I went through the formal appeal process, the experience was painfully simple, and I achieved the expected result. An elderly neighbor got similarly good results through the informal appeal process.

But suppose your market value really does increase, and you can do nothing about it. You will reap a nice reward when you finally sell. If you have trouble making the tax payments, you can take out a small home loan just to cover the difference in taxes.

Third, seniors are completely shielded from tax increases. They can use an over-65 exemption to freeze their property value for school taxes and substantially reduce all other taxes. They may also completely defer tax payments, electing to pay all owed (and substantially reduced) taxes at once with the proceeds from the future sale of their home.

Implications that the building to be replaced is "perfectly good" and that doctors will be "evicted." (various sources) Sorry, this is not a "command and control" economy. The USSR lost. The United States believes in private property rights where the property owner determines on his own whether property is "perfectly good." Business property owners may generally lease to who they wish, and they generally do not have to renew leases indefinitely.
"A 195-foot structure will cast an afternoon shadow nearly all the way to Casa Linda Shopping Center!" (source)

"Destruction of plantings at the Arboretum (which would have a 25-story building?s shadow on them for hours a day) ? which could require unbudgeted money from the City of Dallas to re-landscape" (source)

"Public nuisance for elderly residents of Autumn Leaves ... would be impacted by the long building shadow" (source)

Parts of the Casa Linda Shopping Center might experience a shadow for 19 minutes only at the very end of the longest day of the year.

1000 Emerald Isle is about 0.7 miles from the Casa Linda Albertsons (map). That is about 3696 feet.

Using sun altitude data at U.S. Naval Observatory (link, use June 22, 2006, 10 minute interval, Texas, and enter Dallas in the "place name" field), the SCSA Shadow Length Calculator shows that the shadow doesn't crest 3696 feet until 7:20 PM. Sunset on that day is 7:39 PM. That leaves, at most, 19 minutes of a hazy shadow on the longest day of the year. I say "hazy shadow" because, again, this shadow would happen at the very end of the day, when everything's already quite dim. The shadow wouldn't really have much of a dimming effect at that time.

Also note that the building's shadow is not a permanent shadow. Since we are not on the equator, the shadow rotates around tall buildings. That's how sundials work. See this video of a shadow morphing as the sun rises. Even though the shadow could be long enough to touch Casa Linda briefly, it will not fixate on any one area for a long time. The only area that might come close to a permanent shadow may be a small portion of the Vista del Lago apartment complex.

100% of the arboretum is south of the development. It is impossible for shadows to hit the Arboretum. Even if it was possible for the Arboretum to be shadowed, its nearest point is 1500 feet away from the mid rise. Its furthest point is over a mile away, 43% further away than the Casa Linda Shopping Center. Any possible shadow would be minimal.

Two notes:

  1. The actual shadow length and time also depend on elevation changes. Since the Casa Linda Shopping Center is at an approximately 5 foot higher elevation than the Emerald Isle development (per approximations from USGS topological maps), the actual amount of shadow at Casa Linda is likely less than 19 minutes on the longest day--if a shadow even reaches it.
  2. The shadow is only 19 minutes on the longest day of the year. It is proportionately shorter on shorter days.
"[The development would cause] [s]ignificant addition of response time to police and fire calls in the surrounding neighborhoods: 30 seconds vs 4 minutes. (high-rises are resource intensive for such services)" (source) Existing residents will be unaffected. The longer response times are because of the extra time necessary to get to higher floors. If you don't live in the mid rise condo, you aren't affected.
"Turning onto Garland Road from neighborhood side streets is already dangerous, even with stoplight protection." (source) Garland Road is no different than any other regional, urban state highway. It is easy to make a right turn, and left turns can be kinda hairy during peak traffic.
"Destruction of neighborhoods to create thousands more units of low-rent apartments" (source) These aren't Trammel Crow-style apartments. This is a high end condo development that would not spur anything other than additional high end development.
"Negative impacts to the neighborhood electrical grid during our violent springtime thunderstorms -- tall objects today act as a lightning rod against the surrounding flat spaces at the lake" (source) Huh?
"Destruction of neighboring businesses (access to them will be repeatedly blocked during construction)" (source)

"Public nuisance for elderly residents of Autumn Leaves ... access via Emerald Isle will be repeatedly blocked during construction" (source)

Developers cannot usurp private property rights. If the developer needs more space, it must purchase or rent the land. Ironically, owners of any such land have a pricing advantage since there is a very limited amount of open space adjacent to the proposed site.

Businesses will not be blocked. 1000 Emerald Isle is not a conduit to other properties. All nearby retail faces Garland Road and will be unaffected by construction.

Developments happen all the time in limited space with minimal impact to neighboring properties. Check out a downtown construction site sometime. How else do downtown skyscrapers get built adjacent to other buildings?

"Destruction of property value for neighboring homeowners (impacted by the long building shadow, noise of construction, traffic, and loss of privacy)" (source) Some of the most valuable real estate in Dallas County is within spitting distance of Turtle Creek high rises.
"Taking parts of surrounding businesses and neighborhoods by eminent domain to extend the development area and/or widen Garland Road." (source)

"Widening Buckner Road, taking parts of the Peninsula by eminent domain to do so" (source)

Eminent domain may not be used in Texas for economic development purposes.

Furthermore, there is no need to widen Garland or Buckner Roads.

Characterization of Emerald Isle Drive as some kind of quaint, winding road. Emerald Isle Drive between Garland Road and White Rock Lake Park is a short, nondescript road with one curve. The part of the road in the park is irrelevant to the debate because it is unaffected by this project.