Council Briefing: Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay

Today the City Council had a special joint briefing with the Plan Commission on the proposed Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay.

Residents had to wait FOUR HOURS before we got to the overlay. (FYI, I’m looking at how we can be more respectful of visitors’ time.)

The Mayor called a joint briefing with the Plan Commission. Director of Development Services briefed us on the overlay and then presented the alternative proposal the Mayor put together:

–No prevailing standards interim protection period
–75% of all property owners must sign petition
–Neighborhoods have 60 days to collect signatures
–Smallest overlay area is the original subdivision
–Height, side and front setbacks, garage placement and entry, and impervious cover on front lawn may be regulated

The Mayor then invited Michael Jung to present the proponents’ position and Paul Cadauro of the Home Builders Association to present the opponents’ position.

Michael Jung did a superb job of summarizing the arguments in favor of the older versions of the ordinance, both the version endorsed by the Housing Standards Task Force and the version that came out of ZOAC. Paul Cauduro also gave the Council the results of an economic study funded by the HBA. It was supposed to show how older neighborhoods benefit from being knocked down and rebuilt.

Bruce Wilke, chair of the Plan Commission, made a presentation of some figures in his possession about 100 new homes sold recently, supporting the idea that the City would lose enormous tax revenue if it passed an ordinance that slowed down the “McMansion” building boom.

After the presentations, most Council members and some members of the Plan Commission voiced their opinions and concerns. Bill Blaydes was the most outspoken opponent of the ordinance. He and Mitchell Rasansky stated that the present Conservation District ordinance can be used to do everything the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay is trying to do.

I spoke about why it is so important to give neighborhoods the tools they need to make decisions about their future. We have made neighborhood quality of life one of our top five priorities in our city, and nothing is more integral to our quality of life than our neighborhoods.

You can watch my statement here:
Small (6MB, Windows Media Format)
Large (25MB, Windows Media Format)

There are three primary problems with the overlay alternative as proposed. First, the 75% petition requirement is too high and is not required for any other zoning change or area designation in our city. If 50%+1 is good enough to allow Public Improvement Districts, Tax Increment Financing Districts, Special Use Districts, etc. to be presented to the City Council for determination, then why isn’t it good enough for our neighborhoods?

And when was the last time we required 75% of all registered voters to pass a referendum or elect a councilmember? Remember, the City Council doesn’t have to pass an overlay (or PID or TIF, etc.) just because folks collected 50%+1 signatures. We have discretion to make those decisions. In a neighborhood where some people are absentee landlords or just don’t care either way, a threshold in line with our other standards makes more sense.

The petition must be collected over the course of two months. Speaking from personal experience, this is too short a time period. The M Streets Conservation District moved at the speediest clip of any conservation district, and it took us six months to get signatures. This time limit is particularly harsh considering neighborhoods have to get 75% of an entire subdivision, which can be over 1000 homes.

Lastly, a subdivision is too large to be the minimum area permitted. Often, one or two streets get developed before a neighborhood realizes they want to protect the character of their neighborhood. Shouldn’t they be able to protect the remaining streets? A more reasonable alternative may be the 50 homes, in a compact, contiguous area, which was proposed by the Plan Commission.

At the end of the day, the Mayor appointed a committee of five council members to work on this issue and arrive at some version of the ordinance which could be submitted for a vote, perhaps as early as September 28. The Mayor appointed me along with Leo Chaney, Bill Blaydes, Ed Oakley and Elba Garcia (James Fantroy has taken Dr. Garcia’s place).

There was no formal public input at the meeting, but Wendy Segrest, Nancy Moore, Danielle Arvanitas and Ken Lampton had all signed up to speak at the “open microphone” session at the end of the briefing. They gave excellent short speeches about the need for the overlay.

I will be meeting with the committee over the next few weeks to work on the overlay. If you think we need an overlay, write to members of the City Council and let them know.

(My thanks to Ken Lampton for his summary of the meeting from which I’ve borrowed.)

Tour of Dallas’ Hurricane Katrina Evacuee Facilities

Today I visited Reunion Arena and the Dallas Convention Center, the two Dallas sites where Hurricane Katrina evacuees are being housed. After seeing other shelters being criticized in the news, I wanted to make sure that our guests from Louisiana were being well taken care of.

I have to say, I could not be more proud of our city right now. Our City Manager Mary Suhm and her staff have done an incredible job in short order, housing over 14,000 Louisiana residents. The Red Cross is running the facilities, and they, too, have imposed order onto a situation that could be very chaotic.

The federal government’s FEMA operations will begin in our city on Tuesday.

I toured the Reunion Arena and Convention Center evacuee facilities with Louisiana’s Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu, his wife Cheryl, and Dallas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Director Phillip Jones.

The Landrieus have been touring shelter sites around Texas and Louisiana to reach out to evacuees. They were very appreciative of the help Dallas has given.

It was clear that evacuees were happy to see a familiar face in the Lt. Governor. It was also apparent that the massive scale of this disaster has touched every corner of Louisiana. While we were at the Convention Center visiting evacuees, the Lt. Govenor ran into the former secretary of his father, Moon Landrieu, who has served as New Orleans’ mayor, among other elected positions. She will return home when it is safe to do so.

A few moments later, Mr. Landrieu’s bodyguard — a Louisiana State Trooper — found two of his cousins who evacuated Louisiana to the Dallas Convention Center. Luckily, they were all okay.

Witnessing in person the scale of the tragedy and visiting with some of the thousands of evacuees being housed in City of Dallas facilities made me proud of our response and our hospitality. Being a good neighbor in a time of crisis is a responsibility that we in Dallas — and the state of Texas — bear with grace and compassion. I have no doubt that if the roles were reversed, our good friends from Louisiana would do the same.

Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay – Update

This past week, the Mayor has been meeting with councilmembers to discuss an alternative proposal for next week’s briefing on the neighborhood stabilization overlay. I met with the Mayor and other councilmembers yesterday and today, and want to give an update on where we are on this issue.

If you’re familiar with the overlay, jump past the history lesson and read “Council Briefing on September 7.”

For those unfamiliar with the overlay, it is intended to provide neighborhoods with a zoning tool to stem the tide of teardowns and incompatible new construction. Many residents are frustrated with the McMansionization of their neighborhoods and want to do something about it. They want to be able to address issues like height, setback, and garage placement, but not get into architectural design or details.

Right now, the only real tool neighborhoods have are conservation districts. Although conservation districts can take care of McMansionization, they are really intended to provide regulations not just for height and setback, but for architecture and design. Using CDs to address massing and scale is overkill.

More importantly, the line to become a conservation district is a long one. Half a dozen neighborhoods are in line right now, and the City can only handle two neighborhoods a year. (The planning department holds many meetings in a neighborhood to discuss proposed zoning changes, and these meetings take several months.) I started the conservation district in the M Streets, and am very familiar with the process.

In September 2004, the Single-Family Standards Taskforce was formed to look at single-family housing in Dallas. The Taskforce was made up of residents, home builders, realtors, architects, and other professionals.

Near the same time, in November 2004, the city held a townhall meeting to listen to residents’ concerns about teardowns as part of ongoing comprehensive plan discussions. The meeting did not go well. The City did not really address the teardown issue as much as talk about the development needs of the particular area near the meeting site.

The City tried to fix its mistake by holding more productive meetings in January and April. During this time, City staff, along with the comprehensive land-use plan consultants, researched the teardown issue and how best to address it in Dallas. The Single-Family Standards Taskforce was provided updates and given feedback on the teardown issue by staff.

Single-Family Standards Taskforce Recommendation
After reviewing the city staff’s presentations, the SFST proposed the following:

  • Neighborhoods could use overlay tool to regulate massing and scale, but not architecture
  • Neighborhoods would have to collect signatures from 50%+1 of property owners to begin process (just like conservation districts and historic districts)
  • After collecting signatures, “prevailing neighborhood standards” would be interim building standard for neighborhood for up to 18 months until neighborhood reached concensus on permanent standards
  • Prevailing standards would include:
  • >Stories
    >Garage access, location and connection
    >Paving surface in front and corner side yards
    >Front and side yard setbacks

  • City would hold neighborhood meetings to gather concensus on permanent standards that could include:
  • >Height
    >Garage access, location and connection
    >Paving surface in front and corner side yards
    >Front and side yard setbacks

  • Residents would have the opportunity to vote on the finalized standards, and the Plan Commission and Council would vote on whether to approve the zoning change.

SFST’s proposal then went to the City’s Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC), which reviews potential amendments to the City’s Development Code and forwards recommendations to the Plan Commission.

ZOAC and CPC Recommendations
To the frustration of many residents, ZOAC held the overlay proposal for months. ZOAC made some changes to SFST’s proposal, and then that proposal went to the Plan Commission. The Plan Commission amended ZOAC’s proposal. I’m not going to go into detail about ZOAC’s and CPC’s proposals because it’s easier to look at a side-by-side comparison.

Now the ball is in City Council’s court. On Wednesday, the Council will be briefed on the foregoing. A single representative from the proponents and opponents will each speak and answer questions. Public input will not be taken at the briefing (there will be opportunities when the Council holds a public hearing).

The alternative proposal being floated next Wednesday will look like this:

  • There is no interim standards period
  • Neighborhood has 60 days to collect signatures for overlay petition (we’ll also discuss 90 days)
  • Clock starts ticking on neighborhood when neighborhood picks up petition forms from City
  • Petition must contain the specific standards for the proposed overlay
  • Neighborhoods must get 75% of residents to sign petition (we’ll also discuss 67%) Note that in no other zoning change in the city of Dallas do we require such a high threshold.
  • Standards may include height (not stories), front and side setbacks, garage placement, and impervious coverage of front and side yards
  • Minimum size of overlay district is an entire subdivision (we’ll also discuss the CPC’s recommendation of 50 houses)
  • After verification of signatures, CPC will authorize a public hearing to vote on the overlay
  • If it passes the CPC, then the Council holds a hearing and votes on it.
  • Note that the CPC vote and City Council vote can each be delayed by 30 days if someone pays a fee

It’s unclear when the Council will vote on the overlay issue. It may be late September or early October before we vote on this.

I’ve got grave concerns about this alternative proposal, not the least of which is that if we’re trying to make a “conservation district lite” process to make it easier for neighborhoods to protect themselves from incompatible development, why are we instead making the process much more difficult?

District 14 residents, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Dallas’ Relief Effort for Hurricane Katrina Evacuees

The City of Dallas has quickly put together a response to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. As of September 1, over 500 Katrina evacuees were being housed in Reunion Arena. Additional evacuees will be housed in the Convention Center. We are estimating that that we could receive as many as 20,000 evacuees. The City is coordinating our response with Dallas County, as well as surrounding counties, so that we can comprehensively address the issue.

The City’s Office of Emergency Management has been the nerve center coordinating the City’s response, and department heads have been meeting continuously the last few days to meet the challenges of housing and caring for the evacuees. The City met with Dallas County officials today.

In addition to the City of Dallas, other local organizations are playing key roles in responding to this crisis: Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Dallas Health Department, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Dallas Housing Authority.

DART will distribute 1000 rail and bus passes good for two weeks. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department is going to provide recreational facilities in the Arena garage. The Zoo and other city recreational facilities will be open for free to evacuees. The Library is issuing cards to evacuees and stationing the Library on Wheels at the Arena on Saturday. The Texas Workforce Commission is going to begin scheduling an on-site job counseling service at the Arena.

Residents of Dallas have shown an outpouring of support for evacuees. If you want to help, please visit the City’s website on Hurricane Katrina relief.