If you’ve been following the Bishop Gateway project near the Bishop Arts District in North Oak Cliff, you know it’s been quite a contentious project. If you haven’t been following, here’s an overview along with an update. Either way, take note of the process they’re going through.
The first-pass draft of the project showed hideously sterile five-story blocks, just as the current zoning allows, covering three blocks in three phases.
Planned for both sides of Seventh St. from Zang to Madison and the northwest corner of Zang at Davis, the project would have replaced popular businesses such as Zoli’s Pizza, Local Oak, and Ten Bells. The neighborhood was in an uproar.
The properties had not yet been purchased — as with many large developments, the developers like to get the project details lined up before pulling the trigger on the purchase — so the plans were still somewhat negotiable.
And, luckily, the project is in a TIF (Tax Increment Finance District) and planning to apply for incentive funding. The process for TIF-elligible projects triggers a design review and requires TIF Board approval and City Council approval.
Alamo Manhattan hired former City Council rep Angela Hunt to assist, and held a number of community meetings to gain feedback. The one I attended in May was a bloodbath of criticism. But the developers seemed to have heard what was being said on multiple levels.
At the community meeting in September, all stakeholders seemed to at least accept the proposal as “less objectionable.” The project has been scaled back to two blocks, which takes out fewer beloved buildings and businesses, and the design and project focus seems to be a huge improvement. Some of the highlights:
- Rent prices will allow a similar mix of existing residents, with 40 “affordable units” (for someone who makes the regional average of $48,000/year) and eight micro units which will be a bit more “affordable.”
- Architectural details will reflect the area’s brick facades, architectural details and distinct adjoined buildings, contributing to the area’s unique sense of place.
- Retail space, between a few hundred square feet and 1,000 square feet, would accommodate small entrepreneurial shops while repelling national chains which typically require more space. Priority would be given to locally owned businesses.
- Iconic art pieces and specific areas in the development will support (and reflect!) the strong artist community.
- And the key to it all – how they’ll use the TIF funds.
- Lastly, the elevation – something the neighbors were very concerned about since the five-story buildings would seem too out-of-scale with the single-story Bishop Arts District. But as you can see from this slice, its on a hill which kind of makes it work!
Here’s the new design. Note how Zoli’s Pizza and the Sonic drive through are now the only businesses that would be removed. Interestingly, you can vaguely see in the site plan below how the building along Seventh St would traverse the existing little street that had made Roy’s Transmission Shop an island at the corner of Davis and Zang. Here will be our future trolley stop.
Alamo Manhattan recently took their project before the city’s Urban Design Peer Review Panel (UDPRP) for architectural and design review. The UDPRP is comprised of the most well-respected architects and designers in DFW. They volunteer their time to review projects applying for TIF funds. Every project applying for TIF funds must present to the UDPRP. Recommendations made by the UDPRP aren’t binding, but they inform the TIF Board and the City Council, both of which must approve the project before it can be slated to receive TIF reimbursement funds.
After their extensive review by the community, Alamo Manhattan actually had a strong project of which the UDPRP was generally very supportive. Their recommendations, however, will ensure that the fine-grain details of the project are well-thought-out and executed with the pedestrian experience at the center of their design. Their recommendations:
- The panel suggests that further detail be shared regarding the site plan, landscape plan, and the organization of elements within the public realm. Attention should be given to streetscape layout and elements to introduce a highly usable pedestrian realm and to further tie the project together as a whole.
- Consideration should be given toward building signage to ensure that it fits within and contributes to the character of the larger district.
- Particular attention should be given to an overall strategy for project lighting concerning both the building and the public realm.
- Explore opportunities to introduce rain gardens and other integrated storm water management techniques where appropriate.
- The panel asks that the streetcar plaza and associated elements be brought back for specific review once developed further.
(It does look pretty minimal, vague, and not well-thought-out in the image below. Yes, those little benches and bright yellow signage near the bottom right corner.)
Next up, the TIF Board review, as soon as late November, then on to Council approval. But that’s generally all downhill from here. They’ve just about completed the hard work of designing a quality development with great attention to “getting the details ‘right’.”
The amazing thing is, if they hadn’t been requesting TIF funds, even if the project was in a TIF there would have been NONE OF THIS DESIGN OVERSIGHT, nor community involvement — unless they were just nice developers who really wanted to create a neighborhood uproar and create more work for themselves instead of just building what they wanted.
Projects in Dallas don’t typically receive this kind of attention, much less these kinds of incredibly insightful recommendations, that contribute greatly to our experience in vibrant cultural districts like Bishop Arts. If Dallas is to live up to its potential as the region’s hub of vibrant, walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods, we need to raise our design standards for every project, not just the ones willing to subject themselves to receiving TIF funding.