Last night’s community meeting with Huffines Communities at the Golf Club of Dallas on Redbird Lane felt like a bad setup. The room was at capacity with literally hundreds more still standing in line, out to the middle of the parking lot, when the presentation began.
“I hope all these people are against the project” said one woman in front of me. Everyone seemed to be talking about how the proposed small lots and low price point were a bad fit for the neighborhood. It was a very diverse crowd – a cross-section of the diversity that people love about Oak Cliff, from very young to very old and all types and kinds of ethnicities of people. Even Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price was there.
When Donald Huffines — who is also a Texas state senator — got to the mic. he began by showing images of developments he’s built in his 30 years of experience. Water parks, waterfalls into lakes, Cape Cod-inspired town homes, and ‘no brick facades’ – so homeowners are able to paint their exteriors … Demonstrating in pictures what their website says about another project they planned, “This community will offer residents the signature Huffines Communities lifestyle along with traditional resort-style amenities, several highly regarded builders, and year-round resident activities.”
The neighbors didn’t want slick pictures of other places — they wanted to hear what was planned for their neighborhood. The presentation was cut short and the crowd got rowdy. Dallas City Council Member Casey Thomas did his best to calm the crowd. Eventually we heard, “There is no plan yet. We’re here tonight to hear what the neighborhood wants.” With over 500 people in a jam-packed audience that was a tall order.
Eventually the neighbors began to talk.
Some spoke of the former glory of the neighborhood – the Golf Course of Dallas, formerly the Oak Cliff Country Club, opened in 1953 surrounded by the city’s elite in their custom-built, midcentury modern homes. The golf course hosted the PGA Tour’s Dallas Open from 1958-1962, and from 1964-1967. The neighborhood was quite prestigious in its glory years.
Some spoke of the Sack ‘n Save that closed over decade ago and is still vacant. One woman begged the question, “Why don’t we have places like Cedar Hill has here in this neighborhood?” Another said the neighborhood needs jobs more than it needs more housing. And, as Huffiness pointed out, the comps show sales in the mid- $100,000s to the mid- $200,000s.
Yet, the anecdotal stories from new residents revels another trend – one man announced the $700,000 home he’s building nearby. And these inexpensive older homes are being rehabbed and flipped into the upper $300,000s and $400,000s. Especially the ones with a golf course view.
“I have a $25,000 premium on my house because of the amazing golf course view I have,” Ryan Frahm explained. “I lose 25 grand the minute I lose that view.” Since moving to the neighborhood a few years ago, Frahm has become an active member of the community, even meeting with the Golf Course management last week when he heard of the potential for a sale. “We don’t know that they’re struggling unless they tell us. And now that we know, we can support it.” said Frahm. “There are about 35 members now. Or for just over $500 you can have pool access all summer.” Golf memberships are available for $300 per month.
What Huffines finally told the crowd was “If not us, then someone else will develop it. It’s not a matter of when but who.” His attempt to underscore the quality of their product was met with attendees shouting about it not fitting the neighborhood. One elderly gentleman referenced the tall townhouse and narrow space between buildings. The zero-lot-line, medium density doesn’t match the existing character of the area, not to mention the architecture. Huffiness explained that his company simply plans the layout and builds the infrastructure. They work with home builders to construct residences. It’s conceivable that he could have custom home builders construct unique products throughout the project but he made no mention of the likelihood of that happening.
One neighbor asked Councilman Thomas if the city could buy the property with bond funds to run it as a city-owned golf course. Not completely out of the question. But the building facilities are in need of significant maintenance, not only aesthetic updates.
The conversation got heated and people began leaving. Yet Councilman Thomas continued to lead the way toward a more in-depth conversation by calling forward all the neighborhood association presidents in the room.
At 9 p.m. a good handful of people were still talking and asking questions for Huffines.
Councilman Thomas asked David Marquis to speak about his work over the previous few months to put together a conservation development deal structured similarly to the Oak Cliff Nature Preserve project he helped orchestrate. In 1999 the preserve was created by providing land for a school and a library, as well as new residential units, saving 120 acres of woods and creeks. As with the preserve, money sources could include city, state, and federal funds. A partnership with the Trust for Public Land would be key.
Councilman Thomas assured everyone that he would be mailing information about another community meeting to all neighbors in his district. The biggest opportunity this created is for the neighborhood to start looking at options and talking about what they want to see happen. Huffines made no commitment to moving forward nor stopping the process – they’re under contract for the property now. Huffines did, however, recognize that the neighbors were adamant about not wanting this type of development, and many want no development at all.
[Editor’s Note: According to Dallas City Council member Casey Thomas, Huffines Communities plans walk away from their contract on the Golf Club of Dallas.]