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Planning Commission denies site plan extension for controversial building

Monday, April 2, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Calling the existing site plan “poisoned,” the Planning Commission denied a site plan extension for a proposed Reagan National building on I-35 and Woodland. Neighbor Patrick Roeder brought an appeal of the administratively-approved site plan to the commission.


The Planning Commission voted to support the appeal in a 6-2 vote, with Chair Dave Sullivan and Commissioner Dave Anderson voting against and Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez absent.


“It just seems like they would be better served with a new site plan to clear the air. Because I think this one is poisoned. I think this one is contaminated,” said Commissioner Saundra Kirk.


The site plan has been a point of contention from the beginning. Though the lot is on the frontage road of I-35 and Woodward Avenue, it is also right next to the very residential Travis Heights. Neighbors have long-fought the development, suspecting that the loading docks and nature of the businesses suggested that the building would be used for more than just office space.


Sarah Campbell, the immediate past president of the South River City Citizens association, told the commission that they had voted against the extension at their March 6 meeting, noting, “The neighborhood has vociferously opposed this project at every point along the way,” Campbell said this was primarily due to a concern about what the use will really be”


Subsequent to the original site plan being developed, Reagan National has built an additional headquarters at Burleson Road. Brown McCarroll attorney Nikelle Meade explained that the Burleson location would continue to host the billboard company’s printing operations, and the new building, once constructed, would be the office headquarters.


Despite this, the history of suspicion surrounding the building and plans was present.


“There has been so much that has gone on with this site. I mean, if you guys had come forward with an office building, and not this warehouse that then was labeled ‘printing and publishing’ with two big huge loading bays that kind of suggest something different than just an office building, then it might not be scrutinized so much,” said Kirk


In order to receive an administrative site extension, developers had to fulfill one of four criteria. In this case, Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey explained that the extension was granted on the grounds of “good faith.” The good faith criteria expresses that the developers have been earnestly trying to move forward with the project.


Roeder, the applicant who appealed the extension, argued that Reagan had not proceeded with the project in good faith. To that end, he produced two emails. The first was from Reagan to Guernsey, dated Feb. 6, 2012, and states he had selected Noack Little for the project, had negotiated a contract, and that they had started work.


The second was an email written from Little stating, in no uncertain terms, that this was not the case.


The email from Little, dated March 6 2012, is addressed to Guernsey and states, in part, “I wanted you to know that we did interview with Mr. Reagan some years ago, but were NOT retained to do any work at that time and have not been contacted by him since then. We have done no work for him on his potential building along I-35 and Woodland Ave. I wanted to bring this to your attention as I do not want our name associated with Mr. Reagan in any way.”


Meade explained that Little had done work prior to signing any contracts, and that her client assured her that “they absolutely have program documents in their files that Noack Little prepared and they got into a dispute with respect to additional fees that they wanted. At some point during the process Noack Little was no longer working with them.”


Meade told the commissioners that her client had since hired Hatch + Ulland Owen Architects, a fact that was confirmed by In Fact Daily.


Guernsey stated that, even in light of the emails, he would have granted the site extension. He explained that environmental testing on the site and the fact that Reagan went through the process to interview architects showed enough good faith to satisfy the criteria.


Nonetheless, the email seemed to damage the credibility of the project enough that “good faith” became almost a moral issue for the Planning Commission.


“This really goes back to one critical point, and that is good faith,” said Commissioner Mandy Dealey. “Mr. Little says that there was never a negotiated contract, and that he has not been retained to do any work for Mr. Reagan. That really, for me, is the crux of what this is all about. It is about good faith. And I think Mr. Reagan, in writing this letter, shot his good faith in the foot.”


Paul Linehan of Land Strategies told the commission that his project had been delayed first by the sudden move from US 290 (which was cleared for a toll road) and then by extended negotiations with the city’s Wastewater Department, who were concerned about a city line on a neighboring property.


The extension, which was until May 8 2012, was granted February 6.


“There is no time to get this building built by May 8, or even start construction on it,” said Linehan. “It has been a long process. It has taken me ten months to get here in front of you, and I didn’t expect to have to be here in front of you.”


Linehan told In Fact Daily that they would be appealing the decision to City Council.

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