Last night, District 14 Dallas City Council Member David Blewett held a town hall meeting to discuss Streetlights Residential’s proposal for a residential tower at Lemmon and Oak Lawn avenues. You’ve seen it before, so I won’t belabor the point (to catch up, skip the first listed story and you’re there).

In reading those older columns, you know what I think. I’d like more parking underground and I’d like the ass-end facing north Lemmon returned to its original, thinner profile. Kinda done. These sentiments and more were raised during the meeting.

The meeting was less vicious than expected, although the same elements that trail all zoning cases were in attendance. Speaking of attendance, while this meeting was posted on every social media light pole, about 100 attendees crammed into the Methodist Church’s meeting room – not a stellar turnout given the ubiquitous notification and density of the local neighborhood. Near the end, Blewett asked a series of leading questions to gauge the room. Who supported, who was drop-dead opposed and who was on the fence depending on some specific issues being managed. In other words, “who’s there?”, “who can get there?”, and “who’ll never get there?”  To cut the suspense, somewhere between a quarter to a third of the room were drop-dead opposed. Again, not a stellar turnout given the level of static this project has engendered.

Another telling metric came when Blewett asked the attendees how far away they lived. As Blewett closed the circle down to areas that might actually feel an impact, representation was sparse. Once the lack of local-locals was noted, attendees piped-up that they crossed the Lemmon and Oak Lawn Avenue intersection regularly. That’s a pretty shaky position. Are commuters’ opinions about development along their route a new bellwether? Construction would cease.

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Last night, District 14 council member David Blewett held the first community meeting of an authorized hearing involving the Arts District. The purpose is two-fold:

First to update the original Arts District plan (known as the Sasaki Plan) adopted by the city in 1981 – no surprise that urban planning has changed.

Secondly, the desire to expand one of two Planned Development Districts (PDs) to grow the district one block south to San Jacinto Street from the DMA to One Arts Plaza and unofficially encompassing Klyde Warren Park.

So far so good, nothing too odd here. But …

An authorized hearing is called when the city needs to decide on appropriate zoning (changes) in a specified area and in certain instances (i.e. all authorized hearings are zoning cases, but not all zoning cases are authorized hearings). But off the bat, we heard that Dallas Arts District representatives have been working on the Sasaki rewrite for roughly five years. They presented full-blown-and-baked renderings of their proposed streetscapes and appeared to have the new PD verbiage captured. We also saw that 90 to 100 percent of the stakeholders were already in agreement.

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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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