Dwellings, offices, factories, warehouses, restaurants, even zoos, are all built for people. Seems an exceedingly obvious statement. Equally obvious is the fact that as society changes, its man-made structures change, too. Ebb and flow and all that.

But what I find fascinating is how little we learn. The old saying goes that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but when have we ever really learned? Most people want to live in an area of human contact, human proximity. After decades of decline, cities made a resurgence (until a lot were priced out). The mantra was vibrancy, walkability held in stark contrast to the suburbs’ winding roads to nowhere (an environmental and economic waste). But just as that happened, vibrancy was spirited away with a mouse click leaving only restaurants and dry cleaners.

Vacant storefront on Madison Avenue

Retail and People

Earlier this year, Candy wrote about the vacancy issues faced by retail spaces in New York City. We’ve seen it writ large whether New York City or Dallas, brick-and-mortar retail is changing rapidly because transportation changed – yes, transportation.

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Dallas ISDIt happened again this week. Someone (in our comments section, no less) came in at a rate of speed somewhere between Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball and the Kool-Aid man through a wall to utter this phrase: “Dallas ISD is failing.”

Now, to anyone who has paid attention, we know this isn’t true. Anyone who is a regular reader here knows this isn’t true, because I’ve told you it isn’t true, in five-part harmony and in interpretative dance, and continue to do so weekly as part of our ongoing School+House feature.

But instead of going with facts and figures (and yes, I’ll have a deeper dive on the latest TEA scores later this week), I’m going personal.

I’m going to tell you why my husband and I chose Dallas ISD over the plethora of options we had for our son. And I’m going to tell you something else that isn’t really a secret, but something I don’t think I’ve ever shared here. (more…)

I’ve written about new developments in the Oak Lawn and Preston Hollow areas for a few years. Many of you have read about the PD-15 antics with the same hoary relish you watch a reality show. But as Dallas grows, and development reaches into more neighborhoods, there are lessons to be learned once you cut through the caustic tomfoolery.

By-Right vs. Zoning Cases

There are two kinds of developments – by-right and those requiring a zoning case. In a by-right situation, there’s not a lot you can do, it’s as it says on the tin, by right. A building permit is filed and they’re off to the races.

Construction requiring a zoning case is where the action is at. Whether large or small, any variance to a property’s underlying zoning requires the approval of that exception. Those cases are filed at City Hall and are then publicized in the immediate neighborhood – typically within 500 feet of the edges of the property filing the case. Those cases are taken up by and require approval from the City Plan Commission and the City Council. Between all that is the community wooing.

And if you’re going to be wooed by developers, there are some things you should know.

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Dallas

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

By Phil Crone
Executive Officer, Dallas Builders Association

Dallas and surrounding areas have obviously experienced remarkable growth over the last few years, especially with commercial construction and multifamily. Residential development struggles to keep pace with builders primarily focusing on infill lots and small-scale, shared access projects. Dallas permitted just over 2,000 homes last year and is on track for a similar figure in 2019.  

Dallas is also not exempt from the impact of rising housing costs. It is well documented that the city needs 20,000 affordable housing units. In the single-family context, new affordable housing needs to be priced around $250,000 to $350,000. Getting there is especially difficult in Dallas, with land prices and, in some cases, neighborhood opposition to new affordable homes. 

While some factors are out of our control, we need to take ownership of what we can. The stakes are too high not to. Homeownership remains the number one path to wealth creation for the American family, and the attainability of that dream here in D/FW remains a primary impetus to job creation. However, for too many people, homeownership is becoming less attainable, the drive to work is getting longer, and the options for safe, quality homes at a reasonable price are getting fewer. 

A major barrier to affordable housing in Dallas is the city itself. Development processes are not operating as efficiently and effectively as they should. Attempts to build attainable housing suffer disproportionately from these unforced errors. 

This is not a new issue. Builders, developers, and small business owners have bemoaned Dallas’s lack of transparency and predictability for years, yet Dallas has succeeded in spite of itself. 

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property taxes

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Allen Gwinn is a number cruncher. Or a gadfly. Or a muckraker/local political analyst. By day, he teaches at SMU School of Business as a Professor of Practice.

Basically a detailed data miner, he has taught information technology at SMU Cox School of Business for 30 years. For years, Gwinn also ran a popular website called Dallas.org, which was 18,000 registered users rich, as large as many local media sites. As he puts it, “I had lots of bandwidth.”

Now Gwinn is gearing up a reboot of Dallas.org, because he believes that taxpayers need a constant stream of data about government spending. An informed citizenry, he feels, makes better voting decisions, which is why he analyzes public data.

“I’m putting together a bunch of data to analyze revenue and expenses at DISD,” he said by phone. “We can show exactly what tax dollars they are getting. It’s eye-opening. DISD historically has been very, very closed with the very data taxpayers need.” But before we dug into school taxes, I flipped out over his tracking of who pays property taxes. I hope a fainting couch is nearby:

Keep in mind that tax revenues levied on Dallas residents and renters have (not quite) doubled since 2013.” (more…)

Will the city stop playing politics and do what’s right to help the Pink Wall’s PD-15 get the update it deserves? 

Beginning in April 2018, city staff ran the Authorized Hearing process working with the Pink Wall’s PD-15 committee. The Authorized Hearing process, whereby the city oversees a community response to zoning changes, was kicked off because the original 2017 neighborhood committee stalemated. That stalemate can be blamed on the intractable NIMBYism of the Athena and Preston Tower (catch-up on last meeting here). The Authorized Hearing ended in a similar stalemate. At that point, November 2018, city staff was asked by council member Jennifer Gates to write the changes they’d propose to make to update the decades-old PD-15.

Of course, the “N” in NIMBY stands for “Not” and that pretty much summed up the towers’ response.

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You’re the North Texas Tollway Authority, so I get that you’re unlikely to walk a lot to clear your head. But as a minimal driver, I get plenty of walk/think time in.

I was re-reminded recently of your debacle in trying to put a useless tollway down the Trinity River – an automotive Schlitterbahn if you will. As I recall, no one seemed to want it except those who were building it and raking a profit from its operation. Not your finest hour.

But the other shoe no one really talks about is the fact that you were planning to mortgage your soul of tollways and their future revenue generation to secure the funds to pay for it (the part state and fed wouldn’t cough-up).  As I recall hearing, NTTA uses existing tollways and future tolls as “collateral” for more toll roads.  Fine, nothing unusual there.

But that “soul” seems to still be mortgageable. I have a better idea than sending it down a river.

When I think of the petroleum industry, I see them scrambling to ditch “oil” for the less burn-y “energy” just like another greasy business woke up one day as KFC. Both realized they were too narrowly defining themselves in unsustainable language. It’s time for NTTA to broaden its horizons too by replacing “tollway” with “transportation”.

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Have you ever wondered why Texas cities are more liberal than outlying areas?  It’s not a Texas thing.

Large urban environments are typically more ideologically liberal around the globe. Like a blast zone, liberal ideals diminish the further away you get from an urban environment.  But why?  The clichés of vibrancy, higher average education, and these days, younger populations.  But research is beginning shed a slightly different light on the phenomenon.

In a nutshell, liberalism today can be equated with empathy. The regular immersion and interaction between the daily lives of diverse peoples makes it easier to empathize with the effects of policies and ideas on people you know. Conversely, the further people are from those affected by negative actions, the easier it is to accept them. Call it skin in the game.

From the media we select, to friends (sometimes family), to the very real estate we inhabit, humanity has built its own echo chambers (often referred to as “bubbles”) in recent decades.

As a nation we cared more about war when there was a draft that (most) everyone was subjected to. When it was your children or your neighbor who was conscripted, you paid more attention. Would the Vietnam protests have changed the course of that war without mandatory service? Would the U.S. still be in Iraq and Afghanistan were there a draft? Would we have gone at all?

I hear you asking what this has to do with real estate. Simple. The vibrancy brought about by urban environments is not only great at attracting good restaurants and sidewalk-littering scooters, but it’s also good at breeding empathy, which today unfortunately equates to liberalism. Unlike the faceless online world, real life is generally kinder when real people are face-to-face.

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