Plan Commission 2

Coming as no surprise, the final Preston Center Area Task Force plan passed Plan Commission Thursday. Even with all the political puffery and backslapping, approval took about 15 minutes. I say it comes as no surprise because there’s nothing surprising, insightful, or controversial about it. In fact, it could have been written two years ago before a single meeting was held or a single dollar spent.

A few self-congratulatory task force members got up to heap praise on the plan. Peter Kline and others said that for the first time in 40 years this group is actually in agreement.  Bill Archer said, “I don’t think there’s anything controversial in the plan.”

Well, ya got that right.

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Tax vs Income Chart Dallas 1

Our real estate market has never been better. North Texas sales were up 26% in November. Our median home price is now $230,000. Yeah, the trophy home sales are a little soft, but  our region saw some of the biggest property price/value increases in the country in September, just three months ago. We are up a whopping 8% year over year from 2015 (Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index) and only Seattle, Portland and Denver have bigger price gains. We are among the top U.S. cities with the greatest annual home price gains. Nationwide, prices were only up 5.5 percent from 2015. Says Standard & Poors:

“Other housing indicators are also giving positive signals: sales of existing and new homes are rising and housing starts at an annual rate of 1.3 million units are at a post-recession peak,” S&P’s David Blitzer said in the report. “We are currently experiencing the best real estate returns since the bottom in July of 2012.”

Dallas-area home prices are up over 30 percent from the pre-recession high in mid-2007, according to Case-Shiller.

But I am still terrified. And confused. All this could be wiped out by the absolute Class A disaster going on down at City Hall: figuring out how to save the Police and Fire Pension plan. Which has been around since the mid 1990’s. Did everyone just ignore the problems up until now? (Including me — wasn’t on my radar.) And where is the tax revenue on all these gains going? I sat at City Hall in late August and heard, with my own ears, Mayor Rawlings say there was “room in the budget”.

Could this be the next perceived nail in the Dallas real estate coffin? “Bad schools, bad taxes, let’s look in the ‘burbs.”

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CityMAP main graphic 1

Last night I attended the first public roundup for the CityMAP project.  Haven’t heard of it?  Well, neither had I until 72 hours ago.  Turns out it’s a framework for traffic mitigation and neighborhood revitalization that’s been put together for the past 15 months based on input from people who know about traffic and neighboring residents.  So far, it’s unlike the crony-driven Preston Center plan.  CityMAP is based more on research than avarice.

And … oh my … is there research.  There’s a 15-page summary for the kiddies or the 351-page doorstop for the minutia-driven.

Guess what I read?  Yup.  Both.  What can I say, I need more fiber in my diet.

Before I get too far in, don’t expect a bloodbath from me.  There’s only one plan component that I question and just one scenario I think is totally doolally … but it’s the internet, so I have to tease you into reading more.

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1928TrolleyandInterurban-Red

Tyler and Polk Streets in Red, 1928. Thick black lines denote trolley and Interurban routes. (Source: MC Toyer, phorum.dallashotsory.org)

You have two more chances to add your input to the redesign of Tyler and Polk Streets in North Oak Cliff. They’ve been a couplet of one-way streets for decades and are under consideration for a conversion back to two-way. Tyler-Polk isn’t alone in this conversation either — next up, McKinney and Cole.

Even if you just work or play in North Oak Cliff you can submit input. Speakers at the last meeting tended to qualify their opinions with their address and tenure in the neighborhood, but anyone can submit a comment card, or even easier, shoot an email to Councilman Scott Griggs: scott.griggs@dallascityhall.com.

Here’s What You Should Know

“The [newly converted two-way streets will] function as part of a safer, more comprehensible, less intimidating network, one that promotes multiple forms of transportation and better serves economic development.”  – Southbend, Indiana discussing a similar road conversion project

The primary objectives:

  • enhanced economic development opportunities for existing businesses and potential future development along these roads
  • increasing safety of other modes of transportation, especially biking and walking, but also bus transit
  • improve pedestrian experience (accomplishing the other two objectives) by slowing car speeds

Remember the first ever Better Block at Tyler & 7th, April 2010? That’s basically the inspiration here — more street life, which is better for business. Only the sidewalk widths aren’t changing and we won’t be adding outdoor cafe seating.

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The stately home at 4901 Live Oak was torn down by investors last year. It's just one of many that has faced that fate in Dallas.

The stately home at 4901 Live Oak was torn down by investors last year. It’s just one of many that has faced that fate in Dallas.

Preservationists in Dallas have had plenty of opportunities to get outraged in the past few years as building after building of historic significance have faced the wrecking ball and lost.

These treasures are gone forever, and this rash of destruction has inspired a reinvigorated, community-wide focus on preserving the older structures that make up part of Dallas’ vibrant and rich cultural heritage.

With that momentum, Preservation Dallas is partnering with several groups to offer a slate of free and ticketed public events, exhibits, talks, and tours for 43rd anniversary of National Preservation Month in May. The month-long observance is recognized nationwide, created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Their slogan for the month is This Place Matters, an idea that resonates with many Dallas residents.

“In the past we’ve recognized it, but haven’t done a full-blown month of activities and since I’ve been here, this is the first time we’re partnering with other organizations,” said David Preziosi, executive director of Preservation Dallas. “We wanted to highlight historic preservation in Dallas, why its important, and look at all the groups who are involved and so important.”

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The Iconic Meadows Building

What do new owners GlenStar have planned for the iconic Meadows Building?

The past year has been full of firsts for me at 1500 Marilla. First there was the Planning Commission (who, as unpaid appointees, I wonder how the commissioners live) and then a full council session. Today I was last-minuted into attending a meeting of the Dallas Landmark Commission. Each new experience in the Dallas City Council chambers has had its own frustrations … and free wifi.

Today’s agenda tipped the scales at 420 pages … yes, 420 pages. If I was ever going to start a 4:20 habit, wading through this agenda might’ve been a catalyst.

Anyway, the lion’s share of the agenda is for small, relatively piddly things … lots and lots of piddly things. Paint colors on historic structures, window restoration techniques, fence construction, brick repair, landscaping … every piddly decision an owner needs approved because they own a protected structure. Adding to the agenda’s bulk were pictures, paint chips and drawings for every morsel of work needing approval. Don’t get me wrong, these are all fine and right things someone has to do, but to someone not part of it all, piddly.

Luckily for us all, those types of decisions and deliberations are/were done in a work session before the Landmark Commission hit the horseshoe … otherwise we’d all need a 4:20 the size of a Sequoia tree.

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10300 Strait Lane ext

10300 Strait Lane was razed, and Dallas’ new demolition delay wouldn’t have done a thing to save it.

We’re still reeling from the loss of 10300 Strait Lane, a gorgeous Bud Oglesby-designed modern on one of the most beautiful streets in Dallas, so you can imagine how heartening it was to read Robert Wilonsky’s post announcing that the Dallas City Council voted to approve a demolition delay. The new law is intended to help slow the process that allows property owners to acquire permits and raze historic buildings in a matter of a few days.

I have to say that it’s a grand idea, with a wonderful intent, but will it work?

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Lakewood Theater Dumpster

The city of Dallas Landmark Commission voted unanimously to start the designation process for the Lakewood Theater Sept. 8. (Photo: Save The Lakewood Theater)

It was a packed house today at Dallas City Hall as the Landmark Commission opened the floor to discuss designating the Lakewood Theater as a historic landmark.

Just months ago, Lakewood Theater owners Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham courted Alamo Drafthouse as a tenant for the property, but when problems over parking kept the pair from sealing the deal, Kinney and Willingham proposed dividing up the interior into restaurant and retail space. They tried to assure Lakewood residents that the exterior of the theater would remain unchanged, but all bets were off after blue and red balcony seats started filling up a dumpster outside the building. To some, this was a shot over the bow.

In most cases, the city of Dallas Landmark Commission doesn’t start work to certify a building unless the property owner requests it. However, thousands signed petitions and rallied supporters to preserve the hand-painted murals and Art Deco interiors of the theater and the truly iconic neon spire and marquee.

The commission heard from all manner of Lakewood Theater supporters, as well as the property owner, at the 1 p.m. hearing. Even Blazing Saddles star Burton Gilliam came to 1500 Marilla to speak for the theater. When the final vote was tallied, the landmark commission unanimously agreed to start the process of designating the beloved theater as an official City of Dallas landmark. This means that work on the theater is effectively shut down, and nothing inside or outside can be changed without the approval of the commission.

To say that supporters of the Lakewood Theater were overjoyed would be accurate. They came out in droves, clad in their “Save the Lakewood Theater!” T-shirts, clapping and cheering when the commission’s vote came down.

This is a unique situation in business-friendly Dallas, one where the voice of the neighborhood stymies the plans of a property owner. What are your thoughts on the vote?