Swiss Avenue Residents Say Aldredge House Ignored Pleas, Refused to be a Good Neighbor

Aldredge-House

Nightmare on Swiss Ave: Neighbors of the Aldredge House say that vendors have turned what was once a tolerable social venue into a nightmare.

Nick McCune has lived in the Swiss Avenue Historic District for more than 16 years at 5514 Swiss Ave., a sublime two-story Craftsman home that is right next door to the Aldredge House. His home, like the Aldredge House, was built in 1917 and is pristine, with a large front porch and an expanse of lush St. Augustine in front. Homes like McCune’s are the reason why the neighborhood is one of the most adored and sought-after in Dallas. Having a Swiss Avenue address is something of a status symbol, though many of the people who live on this storied street in Munger Heights would blush at the thought.

But it’s not all roses and Mother’s Day tea, as there has been a war brewing between one of the most recognizable homes in the neighborhood and the households that surround it.

In what has quickly become a he-said-she-said shouting match between neighbors of the Aldredge House and the Dallas County Medical Society Alliance that owns the property, McCune has been consistent and level-headed, open to a dialogue between those who want to see the Aldredge House return to a single-family residence, and those who say that such an action would effectively ruin the immaculately preserved home.

Nick and Rhonda McCune's gorgeous two-story Craftsman home is next door to the Aldredge House.

Nick and Rhonda McCune’s gorgeous two-story Craftsman home is next door to the Aldredge House.

The problem of loud weddings and large tents didn’t develop overnight, McCune said, but it has steadily become the norm over the past few years. Despite several attempts to rein in the size and volume of the events, McCune says it’s a Sisyphean task.

From his accounts, McCune’s weekends are full of noisy trucks idling, crews shouting as they set up tents, a busy street as valets usher cars past his driveway, all capped with receptions that feature loud emcees, long toasts, and send-offs that test the limits of polite society. Sometimes they get to enjoy it all twice in a day.

“It has spiraled completely out of control in the last several years,” said attorney Chris Hamilton, who is representing six households near the Aldredge House. Together they have filed an application with the City of Dallas Board of Adjustment to revoke the Aldredge House’s ‘legal non-conforming use’ allowing it to host private events.

“In 2009, there were 20-something private events at the Aldredge House,” said Hamilton, who has lived at 5521 Swiss Ave. since 2011. “In 2014 there were 64 private events.”

Hamilton echoes McCune, saying that the neighbors have been trying to work with the Aldredge House for years, and yet no permanent resolution has been found. After going back and forth with the city over a period of months and years, neighbors felt that their only recourse was to take their complaint to the Board of Adjustment.

“[Wedding vendors] would say, ‘I’ll talk to the bride about this,’ or ‘I will ask the bride about that,’ when the neighbors had concerns about music,” Hamilton said. “But nothing was ever done.”

It all came to a head when Hamilton, McCune, and other neighbors found out that a vendor had been allegedly forging their signatures in order to get tent permits from City Hall.

5521 Swiss Ave.

Chris Hamilton bought this stately brick mansion at 5521 Swiss Ave. in 2011. Since then, the size and frequency of weddings at the Aldredge House have become intolerable.

“The Aldredge House is required by law to get the signatures of homeowners within 100 feet if they plan to put up tents,” Hamilton explained. “That was the turning point for me — when they started forging government documents to do whatever they wanted. They were falsifying government documents and not addressing the concerns of the neighbors.”

Neighbors who submitted affidavits in the application include McCune and his wife, Rhonda; David and Jean Dean; Anne Hamilton; Robert Rose Jr.; Stacey Copeland; Stephanie Stanley; James and Jeanette Dunkerly; Lloyd McDaniel; and James Finley. You can read the affidavits, along with other supporting documents, at the end of this post.

Officials with the Aldredge House say that the vendor who allegedly forged the signatures to gain tent permits no longer works with the venue. Still, Hamilton has supplied a healthy amount of evidence to show how frequent signatures were copied. He says it shows a pattern of putting the desires of wedding clients and vendors ahead of their neighbors.

“The DCMSA essentially, and perhaps unwittingly, handed over the keys to a third-party vendor to run the Aldredge House as an ‘events for hire venue’ for 40 to 60 events per year,” McCune said. “The vendor has an incentive to host large parties, which is presents challenges within a residential neighborhood.”

Still, he and other neighbors want a resolution that keeps the Aldredge House preserved, but the situation as it stands now is untenable. The house has hosted events for 40 years, ever since Rita Munger Aldredge bequeathed it to the DCMSA, but it has turned from a “tolerable social use to an entirely commercial use of the property,” Hamilton argues.

“It would be difficult to live in the Swiss Avenue Historic District and not be a preservationist,” McCune said. “The Aldredge House deserves better and the neighbors certainly deserve better. We know the Dallas County Medical Society Alliance can offer up a better solution by finding less intrusive means of supporting the property. Quarterly fundraisers, endowments and donations are options that come to mind.”

Angela Hunt, the former District 14 city council representative who is lobbying on behalf of the Dallas County Medical Society Alliance, says that a Planned Development district could solve the neighborhood discord over events at the Aldredge House.

AH PDApplication

But Hamilton alleges that the PD would turn the Aldredge House into a commercial venue.

“The Aldredge House Planned Development application would change their current commercial use from a nonconforming to a conforming use,” Hamilton said. “The PD application would permit the Aldredge House — or any subsequent owner — to operate the property as a full fledged commercial business.

“I don’t believe there would be any realistic or effective recourse,” Hamilton added. “If the PD is granted, it would be ‘Katy bar the door.’ ”

On the flipside, Hunt says that the PD could help bring both sides of the argument to the table for a resolution, which would be preferable to leaving the Aldredge House without a way to consistently fund its upkeep and preservation. So far, more than 1,900 people have signed a petition to “Save the Aldredge House,” which, according to the petition text, would mean defeating the neighbors’ Board of Adjustment application and approving the PD.

“This neighborhood has an incredible amount of power over the operator of a business,” Hunt said. “I think there might be a misunderstanding with the PD and how powerful the neighborhood is.”

If the city approves the PD for the Aldredge House, Hunt says that neighbors could insist that enforceable restrictions are included with regards to noise and traffic.

“At the very basic level, we’re talking about fines, but the city would also be able to strip their certificate of occupancy,” Hunt said.

In all, Hamilton and McCune say that if they saw some good-faith measures from the DCMSA, they would be open to negotiation.

“They are way outside their certificate of occupancy,” Hamilton said. “If they would back down to within the restrictions, that would be a start. But they have been unwilling to negotiate.”

Hunt tells a different story, though.

“The first time we were approached about this was in the spring. There have been some concessions that have been made, such as contracts with vendors, but it’s been clear that there is not a willingness to work with Aldredge House,” Hunt said. “There has been a clear desire to have the Aldredge House shut down. I think we can come together for a positive solution, though. However, we have not been meet with a positive response.”

Here’s hoping the stalemate ends soon for the good of Swiss Avenue.

Brief – Application

Appendix Index

Tab# 1-12

Tab# 13-17 by Joanna England

Tab# 18-35

Tab# 36-51

11 Comment

  • Nice work, Jo. This was well-written and reported.

  • I don’t have a dog in this fight but I think that Ms. Hunt and the 1,900 who signed the petition to “Save the Aldredge House” would change their tune if they had to live next door to the ongoing neighborhood nuisance created by the activities at the Aldredge House.

    • mm

      Good point, Brad, but all that activity probably deters crime!

      • Ms. Evans, thanks for the comment regarding crime (and please pardon my lengthy response). The neighbor’s Board of Adjustment affidavit lays out a few incidents of crime. Note that this is included in the lengthy attachment to Ms. England’s very thorough article.

        The criminal incidents in just the last few years include multiple burglaries, several very serious assaults and unfortunately, a death by suicide in the Aldredge caretaker’s residence.

        What isn’t represented statistically is what we didn’t report to the police. It was a salient point made by the DPD when we presented to them a few months ago regarding our issues with the Aldredge House operations. We now report everything. As the DPD said, “We can’t help if you don’t call us”.

        Over the last few years, we’ve dealt with many incidents on our own. Early on, we had Aldredge party attendees throwing beer bottles over the fence into our pool. One night, several of their ‘guests’ jumped over the fence for a ‘less than friendly’ shoving match with several of my guests. Just in the last two years, I had to clear out a homeless encampment on the Aldredge House property and clear away the debris and hedges where they were sleeping.

        The crime I deal with most often is the loud music, as it is the most difficult to police. The party DJ’s are gear heads by nature and play to their audience. This means the inside speakers are being dragged outside to the back yard for an open air ‘disco’. Or, if the music is kept inside, the doors are opened so we get a direct blast into our bedroom.

        One element of crime that is most difficult to track: the ‘over served guests’ who are feeling the impacts of the Aldredge open bar as they pile into their cars after the events.

        The house simply isn’t designed for this type of operation. The Aldredge House is a historic home that needs the same tender loving care that the actual residents of Swiss provide to their own homes. It needs preservation, not 40-60 events per year.

        I truly believe the crime will diminish over time once the DCMSA gets itself sorted. They are good people who don’t have expertise, or belong in the hospitality industry. The DCMSA, and the Aldredge House would be better served by limiting their use to internal DCMSA meetings, SAHD meetings, Home Tours, Preservation presentations and of course, a few very well planned and attended fund raisers to pay for the upkeep.

        • What is being forgotten is that Aldredge House borders a very low income, perhaps even transient, neighborhood. I have seen a pitiful older woman walking down Fitzhugh past Ross who was vomiting into the street (early afternoon time) while her companion stood patiently by. While some of the area is becoming high dollar property, there is still plenty of people struggling economically or down on their luck. These large parties would not deter criminal activity — common sense says they would encourage criminal activity, because it is “easy pickings” at these gatherings. There is a lot of criminal activity just a few miles west in Uptown and West Village. Car break-ins and armed robberies of people walking their dogs. Same type of “easy pickings.”

      • Well then, Candy, I will gladly throw raucous social events on your neighbor’s lawn every weekend in order to protect your home from criminals.

  • Is having drunken sex in the car and/or urinating in public on Swiss Ave. and nearby dedicated parking lot after the wedding a crime?

  • What an unfortunate situation for everyone involved. The Aldredge House is a Dallas treasure, but neighbors certainly deserve tolerable levels of traffic and noise. Great reporting, Jo!