Downzoning Oak Lawn’s Mansion Park Area Back On Docket

Share News:

The authorized hearing initiated (and paused) by former council member Philip Kingston is moving forward as new District 14 council member David Blewett continues clearing old issues. Wednesday night at Oak Lawn’s “Kroger library,” Blewett held a meeting to re-kickoff the process to downzone Mansion Park, a tony neighborhood in Oak Lawn.

This all started back in 2016 and 2017 when a pair of high-rise projects sought approvals from the Oak Lawn Committee and the city on interior lots within the Oak Lawn Avenue, Cedar Springs Road, Turtle Creek Boulevard, and Fairmount Street. It’s an area the city rezoned in the 1960s to MF-3 designation under the old city zoning Chapter 51, which among other things, allows for unlimited height barring FAA issues.

Those two high-rises were brought forward by developers Toll Brothers and Teixeira Duarte. Toll Brothers created a lot of angst but was approved by the city and is currently under construction. The Teixeira Duarte parcels at Hood and Dickason were cleared, but financial troubles at the parent company saw the project grind to a halt and the parcels put up for sale (where they remain).

Hood and Dickason corner for sale

These two proposals galvanized the area resulting in a group campaigning to downzone the area to prevent future development. At the time residents had hired former District 14 council member Angela Hunt and law firm Jackson Walker to push their case.

Within the area two types of people exist. One wants the eclectic mix of townhouses and single family homes to remain unchanged as far as height and density are concerned and the other group who wants the property appreciation brought by existing zoned-for height and density.

Group one consists of longtime and newer residents in one- to three-story properties, or those living in the existing Plaza high-rises fighting rights they’ve already taken advantage of. Group two largely consists of those living in older buildings ripe for redevelopment and its resulting cash out.

An authorized hearing is supposed to bring the neighborhood together to hammer out a compromise agreement that’s then approved by plan commission and city council. Unfortunately, like PD-15, the two sides are diametrically opposed and so compromise will be a fool’s errand.

And, as I wrote back in 2017, downzoning will likely result in the city being sued for taking buildable rights (which equal money). In fact, after Blewett’s meeting last night I told two city staffers they needed to ask the city attorney about the likelihood of the city being sued and losing big-time. (Could that be the reason Kingston never held a second meeting?)

There are cases all over where municipalities have attempted to downzone and lost – essentially owing those landowners the difference between the original and lesser zoning rights. If we think land in this area is roughly $9 million an acre (conservatively) based on MF-3 zoning. Downzoning to MF-2 would be millions less per acre. In an area this size, the city could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

And you know once there’s a payout in the wind, all those protestors would quietly want their fair share of the settlement. I doubt you could count on one hand those willing to see the city pay millions to their neighbor for the altruistic goal of a low-rise neighborhood. B’cause, that’s just people.

From 2016

Also, before your hot little fingers get to the “comments” to correct me that this isn’t downzoning, it’s “right-sizing” the zoning, let me say that with unlimited height already zoned, what else could it be?  What else could it be when the two cases that got this all rolling were high-rises?

What about the meeting?  The city got up, explained the authorized hearing process and an imprecise history as to how the authorized hearing began. We learned of the task force Blewett would be forming and the steps that would be taken to eventual hearing before plan commission and city council.

Then there were questions and (eye roll) ruminations masquerading as fact.

I’m all for questions where people are genuinely wanting information. It had been a year since the last meeting and there were new folks there. But patience evaporates at questions that are thinly-masked statements of opinion, including Mr. 37 and the former council member opining endlessly.

Here we are at the end and you’ll have noticed I’ve not given an opinion. Here goes. Do I think the city should have upzoned this area in the 1960s?  Probably not. Do I think the area can now be successfully downzoned without a tremendous monetary cost paid?  Probably not. Therefore, will the area be rezoned down?  Probably not.

Since this is the gift-giving season, here’s mine: The one trick everyone missed was about the roads many complained were too narrow. They’re probably right. But what they missed was that they should ensure the city demands the roads be brought to the correct width. That will force developers to lose depth which might impact how and what they build.

Merry Christmas.

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

Posted in

Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

Reader Interactions


      • Marcus Pestl says

        Hi Jon,

        We appreciate our council member’s commitment to move forward with this. And since you have highlighted my role in the campaign to “downzone the area to prevent future development” please allow me to describe a little more context, nuance and background than your reporting on this issue sometimes has.

        You’re correct in stating that the area was up-zoned long ago without laying out stipulations for increasing minimum roadway width. But you state an assumption when you say a certain “group one” wants the area downzoned. You then cite my name under a statement of your opinion regarding individuals you think would seek to claim part of a future city settlement. You might consider apologizing to your readers about these inaccurate assumptions. You possibly didn’t like Laura Miller accusing you of wanting dramatically increased density in PD-15 (where you owned property) without asking you for more details:

        In the same spirit, it doesn’t serve anyone for you to label me a “down-zoner”. Nor does it serve anyone for you to posit that no compromise between the groups is possible, and that the city would inevitably be on the hook for incalculable sums. The trick most are missing is likely not a patchwork of bottlenecks where portions of streets are widened. It’s more likely a more sophisticated planning tool that is available to address zoning shortcomings, namely TDRS (aka transferable development rights).

        Residents in the area concerned, including myself, put considerable time and resources into exploring ways in which TDR planning could be implemented in our area. You yourself are familiar with how TDRS work, and you even proposed them in PD-15. In your vision for PD-15, Diamond Head would have given up future development height/density in exchange for receiving payments equal to the present-day value of those rights. In the case of our area, it’s no different. The fundamental concept of a TDR system in Mansion Park is that owners of interior street properties could receive payments in exchange for transferring their height and density rights to developers who wanted to build beyond current zoning limits on the thoroughfares bordering Mansion Park. That is where the streets are the city-mandated width required for MF3 development.

        While no one is saying it would be easy to develop or implement, discussion of a TDR system is likely one starting point for our opposing sides to reach compromise. Properly established TDRS could maintain appropriate density to street width whilst ensuring land appreciation benefits continue to accrue to all stakeholders. Under a TDR system, the city would not be on the hook for any compensation. Payments would ultimately flow from developers who can utilize the height and density rights they purchase in bordering thoroughfare developments to owners who bought properties in the inner streets seeking the land appreciation they expect due to the present zoning. This approach would be a win-win compromise for all stakeholders, including the city.

        • mmJon Anderson says

          “Highlighted your role”, “labeled me a ‘down-zoner'”, “cite my name” ???
          Your name was listed once on a slide/graphic distributed by a group opposing downzoning from 2016. That’s quite a leap to make so much all about you.
          TDR only works if one side wants and another side wants to give. I don’t think the perimeter properties need much, if any, more.
          It’s also a lie that while fighting Toll Brothers out of your front door, you’d have supported 20-stories in your backyard on Oak Lawn Avenue.
          And I stand by my point on greed. There’s no way those with MF-3 zoning who oppose interior development wouldn’t jump at the chance to sell their air rights under a TDR scheme. If you’re all so high-minded about your neighborhood, let those who want to redevelop sell – and those who want to maintain the neighborhood (downzone) extinguish their rights voluntarily.
          That scenario would equate to less available rights to transfer resulting in the lower density that some crave. But there is no “goodness of their hearts” when there’s cash involved.
          But if enough of you strategically deed restricted/downzoned your properties to MF-1, you could create such a patchwork as to make larger buildings unworkable. But then, no one gets paid.

          • Marcus Pestl says

            Jon, you’ve never once spoken to me so how could you possibly assume you know what I do and don’t support? I support higher density/height on perimeter thoroughfares, and lower density/height in narrow interior streets. Not a one size fits all approach.

            Plus it doesn’t matter much what you think the perimeter streets need, that’s a matter for relevant community/developer/city stakeholders to discuss and agree.

            Not to mention that selling rights under a TDR scheme is not greed. It’s simply realizing the value of an investment one made, and under a TDR scheme selling those rights voluntarily to a developer. Don’t confuse an opportunity to profit from an action against the city (which you implied “group one” would take advantage of) with the rights a property owner has to sell their property (or property rights) to a developer.

          • mmJon Anderson says

            I’m sorry you continue to think this is all about you. And no, I didn’t read that you’d have supported Toll Brothers on Oak Lawn instead of the 1-story Starbucks.
            “…that selling rights under a TDR scheme is not greed. It’s simply realizing the value of an investment one made…” Investment made? I’d hazard a guess until TD and Toll Brothers, few even knew the underlying zoning (almost no one checks). That makes TDR a “cake you found that you now want to have and eat too” windfall. And so for those opposed to others using their rights as they see fit while in turn profiting off the same rights, is greed. Like The Plaza protesting high-rises while sitting in their own.
            Finally, my not thinking the perimeter streets “needing” much, I meant given existing zoning. Which BTW, on Oak Lawn Avenue would likely have to include height on the north side of Welborn for the deeper lots needed for height to be efficient.
            As usual, I’ll be writing about this as it unfolds to final outcome, highlighting both sides of the argument as I parse reality from wishful thinking. Everyone is welcome to agree, disagree or call me any name in the book (as long as they spell my name right).

  1. Robert W. Hicks, Jr says

    Hello! New arrival to Greater Dallas-Fort Worth from Boston (not entirely by choice, but that’s another story) where zoning and development politics are a lively contact sport. Living in Boston gave me a layman’s interest in these matters, and I happened upon your site while surveying on-line coverage of such topics in DFW. Your reporting on real estate and development is interesting and enlightening. I’m fascinated by the ways cities evolve and all the attendant machinations, what does and does not get built. So this Mansion Park drama is emblematic of the sort of conflict and contention that mark the changes we see around us. I find myself alternately depressed, encouraged, annoyed, amused, and pleased at how situations are resolved. Thanks for helping me to feel a bit more in the loop about my new home.

  2. Marcus Pestl says

    Maybe you are not familiar with the area zoning that you write about, but the north side of Welborn St. is already zoned for unlimited height (up to FAA limits)..

    If you are implying that neighbors who fought Toll Bros. were denying the property rights of their neighbors, that’s simply not correct. Toll Bros. wanted a larger scale (higher-density) building than what they were allowed by right. They could have built as high as they liked on the Welborn St. site (up to FAA limits, FAR limits, setbacks, etc.) without requesting any zoning exception, and without facing any valid neighborhood opposition. But when developers request exceptions for much larger scale developments than what they are allowed under existing zoning, it’s the fundamental right of the neighborhood to question whether granting those exceptions is in the best interests of the neighborhood as a whole, and consider whether what the developer is “giving back” in exchange for those asks is a value to the neighborhood. The Toll opposition was about those questions, not about denying anyone their property rights (even if some didn’t know those rights existed). So whether owners knew or didn’t know about the area zoning is somewhat irrelevant. And please don’t drag Plaza II into this – that was a by right building. No zoning exceptions were made for Plaza II, no Plaza II resident could have denied any neighbor their existing property rights under current zoning, and Plaza II residents had as much right as anyone else to question whether granting zoning exceptions to Toll Bros. was in the neighborhood’s best interest.

    Residents have been involved in zoning issues involving our neighborhood for longer than this blog has been a go-to resource for interested parties, including for PD-193 updates. So please do continue to report on this as it unfolds, and I’m sure we all appreciate the forum it provides to comment/agree/disagree, etc. I don’t know what we would do without you!

    Happy Holidays to you too, Jon, and everyone at Candy’s Dirt!

    • mmJon Anderson says

      I know Welborn’s zoning. My point was that “perimeter streets” on Oak Lawn would likely have to include height remaining on north side of Welborn for needed depth (otherwise known as an interior street).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *