Like many of you in the neighborhood, for weeks this spring I received mail from Wal-Mart regarding the proposed development of a new store at Mockingbird Lane and Lemmon Avenue.

This communication came in the form of a survey about my projected usage of the store (which would be none, since I’m a die-hard Target fan), drawings and statistics about the store, and letters urging me to contact my city council representative to lobby for support of the new facility.

I read these appeals with a casual interest because the location is far enough south that the traffic and congestion issues wouldn’t impact my daily commute. Also, with all the retail options that surround Preston Hollow, I’ve never felt a burning need to augment my shopping choices with a Wal-Mart store. Yet I pessimistically watched this struggle unfold between corporate retailer and neighborhood associations because past practice in Dallas seems to predict that what corporate developers want, corporate developers get.

Preston Hollow had been actively involved with other neighborhood associations twice in the past in the futile protest of the rezoning of the Northwest Highway/Central Expressway corner of Old Caruth Place. Lawyers, protestors and lobbyists were marshaled to fight the proposed apartment, office and retail complex that now effectively gridlocks traffic of a major city artery on a daily basis.

We wanted single-family homes with lawns and trees; instead, we got concrete, traffic, and more steel and glass buildings. It was a classic case of Not In My Back Yard, the phenomenon of objecting to change that directly affects you as opposed to some anonymous stranger, yet we lost because larger, more influential interests prevailed. I expected the same outcome for Wal-Mart and was surprised when the Dallas Plan Commission voted unanimously against the proposed development.

Development in any city is a big issue – pitting those who want against those who don’t. In Dallas, if often seems as if those who want frequently triumph over those who don’t, with developers and investors receiving carte blanche from the city in the form of permits, tax abatements and infrastructure.

The decision to prohibit the Wal-Mart construction, coupled with the recent denial of Ursuline’s proposed soccer field on Walnut Hill, seems to signal a sea change in the way the city responds to objections from the neighbors who will be most impacted by the proposed developments.

The Not In My Back Yard label implies that opposition is simply a knee-jerk reaction to growth and change, but that is often not the case. Homeowners have effectively presented evidence that traffic density, noise and, in the case of the soccer field, lights, will have a major negative influence on the quality of life that residents enjoy.

The struggle with Wal-Mart isn’t over yet. This month, the retailer plans to appeal the commission’s ruling before the city council. Yet, the vote by the Plan Commission signals that the wishes of the neighborhood could be an integral part of the decision process.

The neighborhood association has repeatedly asked Wal-Mart to shrink the size of the store, and maybe not the retailer will consider doing that. The neighbors don’t oppose the outright construction of the store; they’d just like it to be a size that the neighborhood infrastructure and the site can adequately handle.

Hopefully, the mayor, who was elected on a platform that prioritized the needs of the neighborhoods over business with her “schools, roads, police” slogan, will support a plan that factors in input from those who will live with the Wal-Mart in their back yard.

I am cautiously optimistic that the current administration will respond to legitimate objections by the neighborhood residents and work to prevent more urban sprawl, which chokes the life out of cities and causes flight to the suburbs with their planned “green spaces” and hike and bike trails that twine through the multitudes of developments.

The Not In My Back Yards have a legitimate complaint and deserve to be considered as the fabric of the neighborhood transforms to accommodate the changing needs of the city.


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