It’s time for Dallas to end the Methodist Hospital fitness center zoning battle
Many years ago, through my predecessor on Dallas City Council, Scott Griggs, I had the opportunity to serve the city and North Oak Cliff on the Dallas City Plan Commission. During this tour of duty, one zoning case caused more heartbreak and division for North Oak Cliff than all the others combined: the Methodist Dallas Medical Center zoning case.
The plan itself was noble and exciting, to build a state-of-the-art fitness center on the Methodist campus. But Methodists and many neighbors who lived right next to campus couldn’t meet at the location of the new center.
The proposal, which required a rezoning for Methodist to build the center in green space dedicated to construction, would have resulted in the loss of many established pecan trees and a buffer zone between the neighborhood and the hospital. And the Methodists didn’t have the funds or the desire at the time to build the center somewhere else.
The division in East Kessler Park over the neighbour-vs-neighbor case lasted for months, culminating in widely publicized hearings watched by the Planning Commission and the City Council.
In a situation where more than 20% of eligible property owners who live near a zoning issue file appropriate written protests, local government code requires that the proposed zoning change receive at least a three-fourths affirmative vote of the city council in order to pass.
At the council level, a lot of drama ensued around a “technical issue” of an affidavit that made all the difference in the number of votes required. The council’s eventual decision to reject this singular opposition affidavit and pass the zoning case over the objections of councilman Griggs and neighbors led to years of litigation.
The neighbors, who were led by longtime attorney Katherine Homan and appalled by the city council’s refusal to follow Dallas development code rules during the hearing, appealed the council’s decision in court. district.
They sought declaratory judgment against the city, the Methodists and a city building official in a lawsuit stating that “the zoning amendment was invalid because a three-fourths majority had not voted to approve it”.
The city and Methodists filed defensive claims, and Ward Chief Homan also filed a motion for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed the claims against the Methodists. But the court denied the city’s appeal and granted summary judgment to Homan. The court entered final judgment awarding Homan declaratory relief and attorneys’ fees.
Methodist has evolved and worked hand in hand with East Kessler Park to heal the wounds caused by this litigation. But the city, encouraged by the city attorney’s office, opted to appeal the district court judgment last year, continuing to twist the knife of division in the North Oak Cliff community.
And once again the city has been slapped in the face of a court, this time by the Texas 5th District Court of Appeals. Now that two courts have reprimanded the city for ignoring its own codes, it’s time for the city to let East Kessler Park and Methodist complete their healing process by putting this article to bed.
I encourage the city to stop the litigation and pay the lawyer’s fees requested by the neighbors.
Chad West is a member of the Dallas City Council. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.