By Michael Amonett
An authorized hearing has been set in motion to rezone an area in Oak Cliff at the intersection of Hampton and Clarendon roads. The area was once a small farming community settled in the 1870s called Jimtown. Clarendon Road was Jimtown Road, and was built along the old Santa Fe Railroad right of way. Historic buildings and car repair shops dot the area, including the Sunset Theater built in 1922 at 1112 S. Hampton. The theater partially burned in 1957 and today is part of the M.S. Lumber Yard. Oak Cliff was annexed into Dallas in 1903, and Jimtown was annexed later in 1915.
Authorized hearings can be initiated by an applicant, the City Council, or can start with the City Planning Commission. This particular one was authorized by the CPC and former CPC member Chad West at the behest of some of the area commercial property owners. The area fronting Hampton is currently zoned Community Retail (CR). Clarendon is also zoned CR as well as Community Services (CS). There is a small parcel adjacent to the CS zoning on Clarendon that is zoned exclusively for parking and approximately 45 single-family homes in the southwest corner are zoned multi-family.
These zoning classifications are outdated and unstable. The single-family homes can become apartments or shared-access condos by right at any time. The one- and two-story historic buildings that sit directly on Clarendon and Hampton roads can be torn down for a CVS or a Wells Fargo and pulled back away from the street with parking in the front. Not only would you lose irreplaceable historic resources, you’d lose the current urban streetscape forms that interact with pedestrians and cyclists and replace them with parking lots that break up the historic block-face. The businesses inside these buildings currently are stable mom-and-pop businesses; most of them Latino.
Authorized hearings require an initial neighborhood meeting to solicit input. At November 29th’s meeting, neighbors voiced their reservations about the zoning process and the gentrification it might spark. As development moves deeper into Oak Cliff, fears about unaffordable property taxes, traffic, and the loss of neighborhood character to out of scale development are real. Neighbors recognize changing the zoning could stabilize the neighborhood from exterior economic forces and breathe life back into old buildings with new adaptive reuse but they also recognize those same economic exterior forces could take advantage of the process and destabilize the area even more with drastic upzoning.
History teaches us that overzealous upzoning that allows much larger, wider, taller buildings contrary to what exists will over-inflate the land values, increase taxes and possibly bring demolitions. A one-story historic building in need of repairs doesn’t make much economic sense when you can put a 4-story, block long, new building in its place.
During the process, residents must be cautious of out of scale height, incentivizing the aggregation of several small lots to create large ones and insensitive residential proximity slopes. You can dress up these concepts up with elaborate power points and disingenuous sales pitches but most often the reality of what ends up being built isn’t discussed. Commercial property taxes that jump up 100 percent in a year end up being passed along to tenants and older established businesses can go under if they aren’t prepared.
This first meeting was part of a multiprong process. The next step is for Councilman Scott Griggs to appoint a steering committee, representative of the area, to review the current zoning and identify possible changes and develop proposed amendments. Afterwards there will be another community meeting where these changes are presented to the public for feedback. Then the matter moves onto the City Planning Commission for their recommendations and then onto to the City Council.
As long as the matter is open, the neighborhood must stay engaged. If the neighborhood drives the process, it will stabilize the area and be positive. The new zoning will only be as good as their involvement. That will involve going to all the community meetings and commission and council hearings until the very end or the people who do this for a living will smile in their faces while they write the rules to favor themselves.
Michael Amonett is an Oak Cliff business owner and longtime resident. Ammonett has worked tirelessly to preserve Oak Cliff through Heritage Oak Cliff, and has been recognized by the City of Dallas for his efforts.