The historic Winnetka Heights neighborhood in North Oak Cliff had a big win this Wednesday at City Hall. The city’s thoroughfare plan was amended to take away the 12th St. Connector, knitting the neighborhood back together with parks and open space. It was a change 40 years in the making, with some of the original residents still part of the fight.

When cars became big in Oak Cliff and everywhere else, Tyler and Polk streets were made into a one-way couplet, and this connector, installed in 1967, allowed northbound traffic to reach West Jefferson Road by skipping the Jefferson St commercial core. More importantly it has allowed first responders (located at Polk and 12th streets) to access the neighborhood to the north more quickly.

The election of Dallas City Council member and mayoral hopeful Scott Griggs to the District 1 seat in 2011 is a big reason we’re seeing this change.

“The project got legs when Scott joined council” says Lee Ruiz, president of the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association. “He understands the new urbanist feel of how neighborhoods should be.”

Conversations began with City of Dallas staff and elected officials in 1981 when the neighborhood association formed and work began to dedicate the area as a Conservation District. But the project wasn’t a priority.

“Our neighborhood is known for its tenaciousness,” says Ruiz. (more…)

Chris-Craft-House

The Chris Craft House, designed by architect Vince Snyder, at 22 Vanguard Way in Urban Reserve, the brainchild of Dallas developer Diane Cheatham.

Dallas developer Diane Cheatham is a dedicated modernist and committed environmentalist.

As CEO of Urban Edge Developers, Ltd., Cheatham has brought those values to her work in multiple settings, from small infill condos and townhomes that won multiple design awards, to her masterpiece at Urban Reserve, a signature modern neighborhood that uses sustainable features creatively.

Diane Cheatham

Diane Cheatham

It’s a trend she’s happy to say is showing up more in North Texas.

“I see more developers and builders responding to consumer demand by building modern and green,” Cheatham said. “The style is much more accepted in Dallas now, and a growing segment of homebuyers are interested in green building and a more modern aesthetic. I’d like to see more developers thinking out of the box, providing more options at all price levels.”

Cheatham envisions and creates enclaves that are both eco-friendly and people-friendly. At Urban Reserve, for example, a reservoir that gets neighborhood run-off water is used to irrigate common spaces and individual lawns. Every house is required to have LEED-H certification. Her own house at 1 Vanguard Way, which she shares with her husband Chuck, has geothermal heating and cooling, energy-saving windows, and an 18,000-gallon cistern that collects rain runoff from the roof. Homeowners in the community are encouraged “not to do the standard Dallas fences,” and many of the homes feature indoor-outdoor living spaces that encourage interaction with neighbors and passers-by.

These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Urban Reserve has earned multiple recognition and awards, like the 2007 Dallas AIA Excellence in Sustainable Design, 2007 CLIDE Award (Celebrating Leadership in Development Excellence), and a 2009 award from Eco-Structure Magazine, where Urban Reserve was distinguished as one of seven innovative projects.

All this took rule-breaking by Cheatham as she customized street widths to slow traffic, created rain gardens and retention ponds, and made the basic infrastructure and layout of the development conducive to her overall vision.

“It’s taken longer than expected, but there are only six lots of the 50 left and work is proceeding on six homes with eight more in various stages of design,” she said. “The realization of Urban Reserve has been the hardest [of all my projects], and as it nears completion, it is also the most satisfying. Being out there on the cutting edge proved to be more complicated than I anticipated.”

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