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).
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.