A Bit of a Dilemma

I’m feeling rather grumbly just now because several developers are putting large swaths of tract housing, more retail space, and other buildings around western and southern Amarillo. This irks me because 1) anyone who insists on building houses in a playa bottom should be thumped with the consequences stick until they see reason, 2) I prefer hawks and mockingbirds to the kind of development shown in the fancy drawings on the news, 3) I’d rather see infilling and all that downtown development that was SUPPOSED to have happened 15-20 years ago and that far too much tax money has been, in my opinion, squandered on not doing, and 4) I firmly believe that the property owners have every right to do with their land what they see fit, so long as it does not endanger anyone else. You can see where #4 causes my problem.

There are days when it strikes me that no one seems to look at the aggregate effect of development in each section. Ditto the larger municipality, as best I can tell. Each project gets approved without serious thought about how it will fit in with all the other pieces of the urban puzzle, until one morning, after three inches of rain falls overnight, the playas reappear and no one can figure out why the drainage is such a mess. It’s as if no one stops and goes, “Hmm, if they build 50 houses with 3000 square-feet of hard surface for runoff, that’s X amount of hardscape and Y amount of runoff for a half-inch rain. Now, we’ve also gotten a request for zoning for another residential and commercial district with A amount of buildings with an average of B square feet of hard surface that will also drain that direction and” (runs numbers) “Houston, we may be about to have a problem. Or need to require permeable paving, and less hardscape.”

The land belongs to the owners to do with as they wish. I fully support that, with the caveat that if what the landowner wants to do will endanger other people, the county or city should say, “Mm not so fast, please. You need more of a berm for that backyard high-power rifle range.” Or, “Wildlife conservation is a wonderful thing but your 2000 square-foot backyard is too small for a rhino, even with a ten-foot fence.” I also oppose building within playas, for groundwater as well as structural reasons. If it is not my land, I will speak up at planning and zoning meetings with the understanding that it is someone else’s property to use as they see fit (again, within safety limits).

As for downtown . . . thpppth. The way back, once-upon-a-time idea was an old-fashioned blend of residential and commercial properties, as had existed down there in the 1940s-50s. I like that idea a great deal. And then the last grocery store in the area was replaced with a wholesale furniture store. And the whole idea of building the not-a-ballpark MPEV got tacked on, and building a big convention center hotel, and parking garage to pay for the not-a-ballpark (or maybe not), and the developers from out-of-town got paid a considerable sum of money and have both fled the US (with several other municipalities also chasing them). The sense I get is that a swath of Amarillo’s development-minded folks forget that Field of Dreams was not a documentary. What if they build it and “they” don’t come? Then what does the city do?

Municipal politics and development – just as messy as the national version, but more touchy since you are far more likely to cross paths with your mayor (or alderman or the gal building the new subdivision) at the grocery store or a charity event than with the Speaker-of-the-House (at least in my world you are). And the people involved all really do seem to want what they think will be best for the city. Just, their best and my best are rather different. I’m not nearly as optimistic about building the nest and then planning on the bird arriving and bringing deer, trees, wildflowers, and gentle spring rains with it. To terribly mangle an already overly mixed metaphor.

10 thoughts on “A Bit of a Dilemma

  1. I happen to think flooding DOES put others at risk… and that it might behoove them to use the ‘carrot’ approach of offering an untaxed area that can be made into a park with a really excessively deep pond hole, maybe with a nice wheelchair type ramp going back and forth from the surface of the water, and a good supply of something that eats mosquitoes like candy.


    The big issue I find in every “downtown development” plan I look at is that they’re not trying to attract folks, they’re posturing. There isn’t parking, there….well, every problem is solved by “let’s make people do stuff that is Good For Them!” Like walking and biking rather than owning a car.

    The idea of attracting folks by offering what they want… eh, who needs that?

    • Aye. There was some Twin Cities (well at least one of them or one of the MANY cities make up that metro area) plan that pushed rail and such and intentionally made automobile use difficult if not impossible to “make transit attractive.” Except it doesn’t. Personal transit is already quite attractive: you control it all, save the road itself. Don’t like Ford? Fine, Chrysler and Toyota and who all are ready for you. Don’t like Citgo? Fine, Shell and others await you. Don’t like 5:15? Fine, pick any time you like! Any day you like! But to make MASS transit attractive would be hard work – not as easy as making personal transit more painful. “Mass transit: A system that takes you from where you are not, to where you do not wish to be, at an inconvenient time, for a fee. And you get to meet frighteningly interesting people along the way.” I’d properly credit the source, but I forgot it years and years ago.

    • Cincinnati’s Banks (as in river, not financial institution) is an urban development project seems to be fairly successful. It may have taken 15 years longer than touted to actually get started, but they included a number of parking garages in the plan and its at the southern end of the newly-opened streetcar line. It is also adjacent to the stadiums and the new parks along the riverfront, so there’s plenty of foot traffic for the multitude of restaurants that have opened up. I really like it… but I wouldn’t pay the small fortune to rent one of the apartments or buy one of the condos that make up the residential component of the project. The developers don’t seem to be having trouble renting and selling them.

    • A drainage lake doesn’t “work” quite like a playa does, because of how the soil geology and hydrology function. And the city is very careful to keep the area around lakes trimmed and mowed, so no native plants or wildflowers. I prefer the shaggy local look, but “snakes!!!!!!” and “shaggy!!!!” Everything that can possibly hold enough water for a guppy gets stocked, despite the city’s best attempts to prevent it. 😉

      There’s a lot of “Oklahoma City has” and “San Antonio has” and the like I’ve heard from various downtown MPEV supporters. They seem to forget that we’re less than a quarter of the size of both, way out of the way for a lot of people, and a ball-park/concert venue is not something people usually drive 250+ miles just to visit. But that’s just me.

      • My cousin down in Tacoma was mildly horrified at the little swamps they have everywhere, but that seems to work– my area is more into the run-off ponds, but they have them all blocked off because… well, Seattle?

        Wish there was a cure for “if we put this here, we’ll become big city.” I’d make a mint selling it.

  2. 2) I prefer hawks and mockingbirds to the kind of development shown in the fancy drawings on the news,
    4) I firmly believe that the property owners have every right to do with their land what they see fit, so long as it does not endanger anyone else.

    I’ve run into a similar situation here. Field across the road from office complex is being torn apart to put in townhouse style condos. The field in question is next to a small creek. I have spent close to 100 hours walking down to that creek and taking pictures. (many of them are on my WP page if any care to look)

    It is the right of owner to develop the land, but damn it – what about the deer, bats, box turtle and various birds that live there? Where do they go now? We’re running out of places for them to live.

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