Recategorizing zoning to reflect reality.

[Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com. His opinions are his own.]

The actions and words of many city plan commissioners and city council members should be a warning to all who live in multi-family areas – discrete zoning designations don’t matter. Personal investments made in part because of existing zoning don’t matter. You as residents don’t matter.

When the Lincoln Katy Trail project was at CPC, chairwoman Gloria Tarpley said in response to huge neighborhood opposition to changing the MF-2 designation to MF-3, “we do this all the time.”  For those uninitiated in city zoning, among other things, the change would increase buildable height from 36 feet to 90 feet. It’s also real estate alchemy, administratively making land a lot more valuable for the sellers.

When the Lincoln project hit city council in January, Mayor Rawlings swept away neighborhood opposition to concentrate on snagging less-affordable housing that currently exists (and calling it a “win” for affordable housing in north Dallas).

This is just one example of a city unconcerned with residents in multi-family areas. For some reason, city leaders think that any change is OK, and that residents should just buck-up. Somehow, they feel that constant worrying about huge increases in density is part of what living in a multi-family are means – in contrast to near bullet-proof zoning in single-family neighborhoods.

In a Faustian deal, multi-family areas are the carpet Dallas can sweep its increasing population under as a way to preserve single-family homes, which are rarely converted to multi-family. The exception (of course) is a sliding scale of resident income. The poorer the well-located area, the more likely single-family will be swept away in gentrification.  Middle-class and up?  You’re pretty golden.

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Surprisingly, Jon ain’t a big ol’ hypocrite on zoning

I write a bit about development projects that include zoning changes of some sort.  This is mostly because those that don’t require a zoning change just file their plans and they’re off.  There is no public discussion, except after, when we see the usual awfulness that we’re all left to look at.

Some, even CandysDirt.com’s editor, question me on what are seen as wildly inconsistent opinions with regard to zoning and resulting density.  I thought detailing my thought process would help others in how they think about zoning issues.

Every property is zoned for something.  Anything from Agriculture (AG) all the way up to the tallest skyscraper.  Land within a Planned Development District (PD) also has rules for what can be built on the land.  Land use within a PD may not be defined in the same language or categories as the standard zoning tables, but the documents that created them detail height, lot coverage, uses, etc.

That’s where I begin.

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Dallas zoning map. Don’t worry, we’ll zoom in for a closer look.

As the City of Dallas grows, it will grow up and become more dense.  Neighborhoods that were thought to be fully developed aren’t. Streetscapes and views, unchanged for decades, are changing. And honestly, it’s a good thing overall.

The only way to grow and leave everything alone is to continue to build out into the unsustainable money pits of the suburbs.  Their miles and miles of endless roadways, sewers, water pipes, and bridges make these low-density spaces impossible to support from their tax base. If you think Dallas has potholes, visit a built-out, middle-income suburb on its 50th birthday.

Besides, you really want to live inside LBJ, right? And even if you don’t, you still need to understand zoning.

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Plan 1 SM

Last night’s Preston Center Task Force meeting laid bare their purpose — development.  It’s funny how way back when, this body was begun to study traffic and parking in the Preston Center area and yet, as we’ll see, these critical concerns from neighbors have been kinda pushed into the back seat by development.

Back in February 2015, I outlined the need for a Zone Zero that would concentrate on developing the overarching calculations for what’s possible given the current infrastructure.  How could existing roads best be optimized?  What traffic patterns need to emerge? Once you’d optimized raw traffic flows, then you could measure impacts of development and resulting capacity increases against that baseline.  Roadway optimization is something that must be done before development impacts are assessed.

Last night, near the end of the meeting we saw one slide outlining the three-stage project TXDoT and NCTCOG will be embarking on IN THE FUTURE to address the optimization of traffic flow (here’s my plan from July 2015) and the central parking garage.  Their work will be barely begun as the Preston Center Task Force draws its last breath in June.  The Task Force was invited to be a part of that new project but several members responded that this “was beyond their scope of work.”

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New-Transwestern-rendering-Preston-Rd 

After attending my first Dallas Planning Commission meeting yesterday, I called my doctor for some anti-depressants to keep from cutting myself. I’ll give Commissioner Margot Murphy credit for putting attendees out of their misery quickly by moving the item up in the docket, but fault her for asking for a two-week delay in what has been nearly two years of tedium (history here, here, here and 25 more stories posted on Candysdirt.com). When the vote was taken to postpone, clearly not everyone was a “Yea” but no one had the guts to rock the boat and say “Nay.”

Why was the delay asked for? Shenanigans. Plain old political shenanigans.

Ya see, the Preston Hollow EAST Homeowners Association (PHEHA) which is directly north of the proposed development is apparently claiming surprise at the Planning Commission vote and in general at not being notified of the latest Transwestern proposal that’s been floating around since March. (You remember March, that was when we were hoping for a little rain.)

Ashley Parks, previous president and current PHEHA board member for the seemingly new post covering “zoning,” apparently missed the stories in the press, the discussions from the Preston Center Task Force meetings (of which she’s an appointed neighborhood representative) and the meeting last Thursday at the Baptist Church called by homeowners to talk one last time with Transwestern.

Oh, and apparently Parks missed the strings of communications sent directly by and to her and current PHEHA president Judy Smiley. Here’s a refresher …

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