Delayed Demolition Overlays: Dallas’ Long Goodbye to Historic Properties

Proposed East Dallas-Oak Lawn Delayed Demolition Overlay (abuts downtown DDO to the south)

Last (stormy) night I attended the only community meeting to discuss the planned Delayed Demolition Overlay that is essentially bordered by the Tollway, Highland Park, Haskell, and Matilda.  The East Dallas-Oak Lawn DDO would be Dallas’ third.

This third proposed DDO covers some 15,000 parcels of land. Between this and the downtown DDO, much of the Oak Lawn Committee area of PD-193 would be covered (for what it’s worth).

What’s a Delayed Demolition Overlay (DDO)?

Delayed Demolition Overlays are areas of the city that contain at least some historic properties worth preserving. The first is essentially downtown including parts of Uptown. It was created via city ordinance in 2015 after the Joule Hotel developer demolished historic structures without warning. The preservationists went bonkers and Dallas City Council created the legislation needed to create a DDO.  The second DDO is in the Bishop Arts area with enlargement planned.

DDOs are different from named historic districts like Swiss Avenue or 10th Street.

The key word in the DDO is “delayed,” not halted. Let’s say a property owner wants to demolish a structure that meets certain historic criteria. Once the structure is identified by Dallas’ Historic Preservation Officer as meeting their historic criteria, a 45-day delay is imposed on the demolition.

During that time, the city meets “to discuss alternatives to demolition” with the property owner (essentially, move it, sell it or renovate it). If the property owner (not the city) wants to continue the conversation, a further delay can be set. But if the property owner wants to demolish, the structure is demolished.  You see, the property owner has the last word in demolition of a historic property.

In addition to being over 50 years old, to receive the 45-day delay a structure must be listed within one (or all) of the following:

  • Located in a National Register District or be individually listed
  • Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
  • State Antiquities (Archeological) Landmark
  • National Historic Landmark
  • 2003 Downtown Dallas / Architecturally Significant Properties Survey
  • 1994 Hardy-Heck-Moore Survey

Yes, you read that right.  A property can be on every list above and still be demolished after a 45-day stay.  Sad.

The 95 Percent Failure Rate of DDOs

All this was presented by Mark Doty, chief planner within the Sustainable Development and Construction Department and Historic Preservation for the City of Dallas (whose business card must be as long as a ruler).

When asked about the track record of DDOs, Doty said that since their inception in late 2015, some 40 demolition permits were requested to knock-down historic structures within a DDO.  Of those, just two resulted in non-demolitionOne structure was moved and one was renovated.  That’s a 5 percent success rate. Or in other words, 95 percent of historic structures seeking demolition in the City of Dallas met their maker.

Many a teary-eyed speech has contained the words, “if just one…” Frankly, one is pretty much the lowest bar you can set — 5 percent success for a program crafted to save historically significant structures is pretty poor indeed.

Of course there’s not much meat on the bone to work with, is there? I mean it’s the legislative equivalent of your mother telling you to “go to your room and think about what you’ve done.”

As a property owner within a DDO, build an extra six weeks into the schedule, listen to the city whine, and call it a day.

Thankfully the Sistine Chapel isn’t in Uptown

DDOs Are Placebo Policy

DDOs were knee-jerk policy intended to give folks a chance to breathe and gather opposition so there weren’t middle-of-the-night historic demolitions.  They seem to make preservationists feel a little better (Yay! We saved 2 out of 40 properties!). But in reality, they’re a stay of execution where the noose almost always wins.

One woman in the audience was very concerned about the poor showing for the only public meeting on this latest East Dallas–Oak Lawn DDO. She was concerned that the city wasn’t doing enough to educate property owners. But why bother?  If the owner of Dallas’ Sistine Chapel wants to demolish it, it will just take 45 days longer, during which they’ll be pockmarked by a few angry editorials and placards. DDOs are a pat on the head to preservationists and the barest of annoyances to property owners.

If we were serious about what’s historic and worth keeping, the property owner wouldn’t have the last say. That’s because the last say is always money. And damn-near every time, money wins.

Real Protection

In 1882, England enacted its first legislation to protect historic buildings. That original list of protected structures contained 50 prehistoric monuments. A resurvey was conducted after WWII taking 25 years and growing the list to 125,000 properties. Today there are over 400,000 “listed” properties designated Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II.

You’ll note that the government created the legislation and categorized the structures.  By and large, it wasn’t something a property owner applied for.  As a “listed” building owner, you need government consent to change, augment or demolish.

Here in the USA, and particularly Dallas, we’re the opposite. We don’t protect buildings so much as give you time to kiss them goodbye.

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

5 Comment

  • mm

    But you are forgetting one of the very best “saves” in history, that of Old Parkland Hospital, saved and restored by Trammell Crow. Problem is, as you know, land costs go up and it doesn’t make financial sense to restore/remodel/redo these buildings, especially if issues like asbestos have to be mitigated. So it’s just a huge outlay of cash. I think we need to have more developers genuinely interested in preservation, and I feel the younger ones are.

    • mm

      I don’t think Old Parkland was planned for demolition by Crow, was it?
      .
      Yes, older, historic buildings require money. But that’s part of the responsibility of owning a historic property (where you’re more caretaker than owner). If that’s not something an owner wants to do, sell it, don’t demolish it.

  • But how about all the rundown single-family homes that need to be torn down in order to beautify the neighborhood? This is just going to delay (and increase costs) for new homes. Who determines whether or not a single-family home that we’re mainly built in the 1930-40’s and have little, if any, architectural significance are on these lists. Homeowners in these areas are taking advantage (rightfully so) of a sellers market to maximize the value of their properties. We already have CD’s, NSO’s, Historic Districts in many of these areas. If something is truly “Historic”, let the landmark commission mark it as such. This is the wrong way to go about it, just blanketing 15k properties with these new restrictions! I enjoy your articles and agree with many of your opinions, not this one!

    • mm

      The city planner, Mark Doty, can tell you if a property is on one of these lists. But remember, the list doesn’t really matter beyond a 45-day stay of demolition. You can still demolish whatever you want.
      .
      Years ago, M Streets was a run down neighborhood. Would the cookie-cutter brick and Austin stone McMansions that litter Vickery Place have been a better outcome than the largely preserved neighborhood that exists today (and buyers pay a premium for)?
      .
      I’m glad you agree with me usually, but I’m unsure what you disagree with here. I think DDOs are time-wasters that don’t really effect outcomes for historic properties. Or are you disagreeing with my opinion that some properties just shouldn’t be torn down?