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.
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.
“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.
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.