Openly gay man appointed by Lill 8 years ago has reputation for being code expert, tough on developers
Openly gay Dallas City Plan Commissioner Neil Emmons is getting ready to step down after eight years due to term limits.
Emmons, a longtime Oak Lawn resident who represents District 14, was originally appointed by Councilwoman Veletta Forsythe Lill and reappointed by Councilwoman Angela Hunt.
Emmons has treated the volunteer position like a full-time job, and he’s earned a reputation over the years for being an expert on city zoning code and for his tendency to be tough on developers. The Dallas Morning News reported this week that, “Emmons’ departure is certain to change the character and tone of the powerful Plan Commission.”
A former president of the Oak Lawn Committee and a current Dallas County Democratic Party precinct chairman, Emmons told Dallas Voice he’ll greatly miss the Plan Commission.
“It’s been a wonderful eight years, and it’s been great to have a hand in the seemingly little things that make a big difference in people’s lives, and that most citizens take for granted — because they’re the things cities should do for their citizens as part of the contract between taxpayers and government,” Emmons said. “I’ve never had a personal interest besides the public interest in any of it. My job or livelihood didn’t depend on me pleasing one group or another, so I have always been free to do what I felt was in the public interest, and that’s a liberating place to be.”
Emmons said one of the things he’s most proud of is an update to the Oak Lawn zoning ordinance that increased the frontyard setback from 10 feet to 20 feet, allowing the area where construction is prohibited to include most old-growth oak trees.
“Over the years we’ve saved a ton of old-growth trees and we’ve kept the oaks in Oak Lawn,” Emmons said.
Emmons also talked about the importance of requiring trees between the sidewalk and curb on streets like Lemmon Avenue for aesthetics and safety. And he said he’s glad the commission was able to create a historic overlay for the Daisy Polk Inn at Dickason Avenue and Reagan Street.
“We saved that wonderful prairie house from demolition and there’s now a bed and breakfast there,” he said.
Hunt has nominated Julian “Bill” Peterson to replace Emmons as District 14 commissioner. Peterson is straight.
Emmons noted that he isn’t the only openly gay commissioner who’s leaving the body due to term limits this month.
James Prothro, a member of Log Cabin Republicans and a supporter of Black Tie Dinner, attended his last Plan Commission meeting Thursday, Sept. 24, according to Emmons. Prothro, who represented District 1, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Last year, LGBT activist Jeff Strater, who represented District 2, resigned from the Plan Commission.
The three departures leave the Plan Commission without a known openly LGBT member for the first time in decades. Emmons said Hector Garcia occupied his seat for eight years before he was appointed to the commission in 2001.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 2, 2009.