Friday, December 28, 2007

Growing with Frisco in 2008

The World Trade Center was still standing in 1999. Bill Clinton was in the White House. Osama bin Laden was just another middle-eastern name associated with Afghan rebels. And that year I moved from Salt Lake City to Frisco, Texas. At the time, Stonebriar Mall was just taking shape, you had to drive to Plano to buy beer and Coit Road ended at SH-121.

Fast forward to 2007. Things have changed a bit here and there. We’ve gone from around 30,000 residents to almost 100,000. One high school is now four, and more are on the way. We’ve got a brand-new city hall, central fire station, and police headquarters. This year alone, we’ve seen a few landmark events. The Dallas North Tollway opened, speeding access from North Frisco to the Metroplex. The SH-121 toll road project was finalized. The first city athletic center opened in the fall. Harold Bacchus Community Park was dedicated, adding multiple sports fields to the city’s inventory. It’s been a wild ride and (mostly) fun to be part of.

But I’m not one to look back. Instead, at this time of year, I prefer to cast my vision to the future. As we move from being a small time city into one of the key metropolitan entities in North Texas, we face some big challenges. Can we support this level of growth? What happens when things start to level off? Are we adequately planning for our future? Or are we writing checks now that future generations will have to cash?

The answers to these questions may not be apparent for some time to come. So I’ll crank my vision back to the short term. Here are a few things, in no particular order, that I’d like to see in Frisco in 2008.

A playoff win for FC Dallas. With a healthy Kenny Cooper back in the lineup, can the Hoops finally notch a playoff win, after 3 straight fruitless seasons?

A competitive game for Frisco vs. Centennial. Yes, there are two more high schools in town. But for the time being, this is the rivalry. And with an average victory margin of over 20 points – including a 41 point shelling this year – the Raccoons have owned the Titans.

A good turnout for the mayoral election in May. After the dismal display of apathy in last year’s city council race, I trust that city residents realize that their mayor has a far more immediate impact on their day-to-day lives than any of the officials in the upcoming national election. Don’t sit this one out, folks!

All of Frisco’s soldiers to return home safely. Anti-war. Pro-Bush. Left-wing. Right-wing. It just doesn’t matter. My desire is that all of Frisco’s sons and daughters serving in harm’s way can make it home to Frisco in one piece.

An east/west thoroughfare north of Main Street. Now that the whole 121 toll road controversy has been laid to rest, let’s hope that we can see some progress on expanding at least ONE of the major arteries –whether it’s El Dorado or Panther Creek.

New sections of 121 open. Speaking of the 121, I can’t wait for the new lanes on 121 to open from the DNT to Hillcrest. It’s maddening to see the pristine concrete on that stretch, but not drive on it.

The outdoor portion of the Athletic Center. The new athletic center is a great facility, and memberships have far outstripped expectations. If phase two – the outdoor water park – goes as smoothly, we’ll all enjoy a splashy summer.

A real bagel shop. Sorry, Corner Bakery, but your bagels seem to be a sideline. Whatever happened to the specialty bagel shop – with seventeen different flavored schmeers – on every other corner? Curse you, Dr. Atkins!

Rain spread throughout the year... We had record rainfalls in 2007. Sadly, most of it came in a short period last spring. Since then, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve slipped back into a dry pattern. Let’s see the moisture spread out more evenly in 2008.

… but people continue to conserve water anyway. And if the last wish doesn’t come true, let’s hope everyone remembers some of the conservation lessons we learned during the drought.

Tax rates take a dip, instead of just holding steady. We all love the great new facilities in town, and most would agree that we needed them. But perhaps next year we can curb the spending and focus on reducing the property tax rate instead, particularly for those citizens on a fixed income.

Certain land owners stop holding the city hostage and allow them to finish key roads. You know who you are.

If the past years are any indication, we’re in for a lot more twists and turns, ups and downs before this ride slows down. It’s an exciting time to live in Frisco. Here’s wishing you and yours a prosperous 2008 and beyond.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Deck the Halls with Rip-Stop Nylon

Let’s talk about Christmas decorations, shall we?

Now, before we get into it, a bit of disclosure is in order. I admit to being somewhat of a Grinch. Don’t get me wrong. I love celebrating the Solstice as much as the next pagan. Every year my wife and I host a small gathering to toast the shortest day of the year (next Saturday, by the way). Every day gets a little bit brighter from that point on, which is a major issue when you commute to work and home in the dark each day. I certainly enjoy the looks of joy on the faces of our children when they open their gifts on Christmas day. And the spirit of peace, joy and happiness espoused in countless Christmas cards would lift the hearts of any man, were they ever actually present around this time of year. Instead they’re being drowned out by the hubbub of commercialism and a flurry of end-of-year socializing.

I suppose that goes a long way to explain the problem I have with the direction modern Christmas decorations have been taking. I recall fondly the Yules I spent in Bavaria as a child. Those homes didn’t need strands of multi-colored lights to evoke the season. In fact, my aunt didn’t use electric lights at all. Instead, her Tannenbaum was simply decorated with candles tucked between the ornaments. I can just hear Frisco Fire Chief Mack Borchardt’s stomach churn at that thought.

But I’m more than happy to drag the plastic tree out of the attic each year and help bedeck it with ornaments collected over the years. We’ll leave the fake versus real debate for another day. But every time I catch a glimpse of the price tags on live trees, I feel like our tree is an investment any fiscal Magi would be proud of. (Ours even has the lights pre-strung. Score!)

I do like the look of a home outlined in lights. My taste runs toward the single-color motif, but I’ve seen some multicolor displays that aren’t bad. A few years ago I tried to string lights around my own home. One trip up the 30-foot ladder and a scramble along the steeply-pitched roof convinced me that this was one tradition I didn’t need to establish.

These days, however, the lights are getting out of control. They’re starting to take over the entire yard. What began as simple strings around the eaves has evolved to the point where no tree, shrub or mailbox goes unlit. Don’t have a tree in your yard? No problem. A tall pole and a few strands of lights and you can build your own.

Which brings us to the topic of “lawn art.” I can take a couple of simple lawn ornaments, tastefully lit. But that’s where I draw the line. Too many lawns in my neighborhood have been taken over by a veritable herd of twinkling reindeer, with their heads bobbing up and down all night. I used to think that the large, wooden figures were extreme. But those have been eclipsed by the latest trend: blow up figures. These often colossal figures are flood lit with enough wattage to supply a small third-world village for a week. And the constant drone of the air pumps certainly violates the concept of “Silent Night.”

But the ultimate extreme can be found in those homes that program their own personal light shows, some of which would be the envy of the stage crew at a Pink Floyd concert. One of my co-workers spends hundreds of hours every year choreographing his display, which draws visitors from all around the Metroplex – and even appeared on a Channel 8 news report earlier this year. He uses his display as a fund-raiser for local charities, and to collect support letters for the troops stationed away from home during the holidays. While this gives an admirable purpose to the excess, I still wouldn’t want to live next door to him! (Check out for details and directions, if you’d like to contribute.)

In our high-tech, high-wattage, rip-stop nylon world the concept of decking the halls with boughs of holly seems awfully quaint. Perhaps our Jewish friends have it right, opting for a simple row of candles to celebrate Chanukah. At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to decide how best to bring a little light to the darkest time of the year. And whether you’re a sour old Grinch like me, or the Cindy Lou Who of North Texas, my fondest wish is that we can get off the high-tech roller coaster and remember why we’re celebrating in the first place. Joyous Solstice, everyone!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Frisco Traffics in Vehicular Addictions

Where do you park you car?

It’s a simple question. But it’s one that evokes a passionate response among many, particularly if your answer is “on the street.”

Frisco is the quintessential suburb. With the lack of any convenient mass transportation, we’re dependant on our vehicles to get to work, shopping and most other aspects of our lives. For many of us, cars are our primary connection to the world. How many cars do we own? The average Frisco household has two to three cars. Families with kids old enough to drive can often have four or more (along with stock in the pharmaceutical company that produces their favorite headache remedy).

Meanwhile, the average Frisco home has an attached two-car garage. Doing the math, you’ll see that these – along with the requisite drive-way – should accommodate most residents. Sadly, it is a rare breed of home-owner that actually uses their garage to store their car. Instead, a surprising number of my friends and neighbors seem to have made peace with the concept of using their garage to store piles of seldom used knick-knacks, seasonal clothes and worn out furniture, while their twenty-three thousand dollar investment sits exposed to the elements.

So if their garages are full, they must use the driveway, right? Not always. Following a nationwide trend, Frisco has a large number of “rear entry” homes. These layouts provide some advantages in terms of development, but also mean that driveways are often shadowed by tall fences, making them easy targets for thieves and vandals.

That leaves the curb. A quick tour around any Frisco neighborhood tells you that a lot of our residents make that choice. There’s no law against parking your vehicle on a public street. Quite the contrary, the law states that you can park your car on the street, as long as you follow certain guidelines. And that’s where the problem starts.

One of my personal pet peeves is people who park their car too close to a corner, particularly a busy intersection. State law dictates that you leave 20 feet between your car and the corner. Too often, the people living in corner lots will park theirs right up to the edge, causing a hazard for anyone turning onto that street.

And speaking of distance, another regulation stipulates that a vehicle should be no more than 18 inches from the curb. Given the narrow nature of many residential lanes, this one can cause a real problem. If there are cars parked on each side of the street, the narrow gap between them allows only a single car to pass at a time. When this occurs on a busy street (say, on the way from my home to the local elementary school) it leads to some interesting dances between conflicted (and impatient) drivers. But the real hazard comes when parked cars creep away from the curb. In case you haven’t seen one lately, fire trucks and ambulances aren’t small. While you may be able to squeeze your mini-van through the gap, the same may not be true for emergency crews, leading to the loss of valuable time.

Another gripe I hear a lot is people parking in front of other people’s homes. This one people will just have to deal with. Face it, you don’t own the street in front of your home. And the law says anyone can park there. (Don’t confuse this with privately-maintained roads found in some gated communities in town.) Nobody is going to pass a law that says someone can’t park their car in front of your home. If it really bothers you, talk to the vehicle owner and ask them politely to move it. Otherwise, put it on the agenda for your next anger therapy session.

Frisco has several ordinances on the books to help ensure that people don’t leave broken-down heaps propped up on blocks for generations. But beyond that we have to recognize that we live in a community where personal vehicles abound. As with anything of this sort, there’s bound to be some friction. So the next time you have to choose, leave the car in the driveway. Better yet, dust off that “honey-do” list and get the garage cleaned out. You’ll sleep better knowing that your car has replaced that 7-year-old treadmill behind a locked door.